Mother’s intuition


For over 30 years I have seen hundreds and hundreds of Mothers and their babies – both as a Paediatric Nurse and as a Lactation Consultant. Most Mothers are like sponges, sucking information into their brains, trying to make sense of early Motherhood. Over the years I have noticed an enormous shift from face to face learning and interaction, to using technology to investigate, research and “talk” to other Mums. Groups like “Nursing Mothers”, now the ABA (Australian Breastfeeding Association) have offered support, as have “Play groups” and “Mother’s groups” but the “web” now gives Mums the opportunity to sit at home and “chat” to other Mums whenever they have the time.  The problem some Mums have with sharing in any of these face to face or online forums is that they feel judged or compared to other Mums and that their babies are also compared.  At a time when they feel very vulnerable and in need of reassurance, some Mums lose their belief in themselves.  They forget that nobody knows their unique little baby the way they do.

It’s fascinating that a Mum could believe that someone else can tell them what’s going on with their baby when they’ve never met them.  Babies are not the same, they are all different.  I recall working in a Maternity Hospital Nursery one night with 17 babies coming in and out over 10 hours. There were little worriers, wizened old men, squealers, screamers, grizzlies, contented, alert, spaced out and chilled faces while some slept, twitched or sucked .  I was fascinated and would have loved the chance to follow each and every one of them to see whether their personality stayed that way.

I should clarify myself here, I’m not saying Mums shouldn’t ask for help.  There are lots of issues that can crop up in the early days and early intervention can make all the difference – especially with breastfeeding or serious medical issues.  What I’m trying to say is that Mums can learn about their babies and know what they need by watching and observing their cues.  (Cues are signs that let you know whether your baby is hungry, tired, uncomfortable or just needing a cuddle.)

In the beginning it seems like crying is the only way a baby can communicate.  This is true but as a Mum watches her baby really closely, she will start to notice that there are subtle differences in the cries and there are other little signs that often appear before the crying. Soon, the Mum is saying –  “She’s tired”, “He’s hungry” and if she believes in herself, she will act on these cues and meet her baby’s needs without delay.  Every time she does this, her confidence builds, routines are formed and motherhood gets a little easier.

Of course there are always exceptions because all babies are different, as are all Mothers.  The thing is – if a Mother watches her baby she will also recognise when her baby is not ok and will learn when she needs to ask for help.

When a Mum comes to me and says there’s something not right – there usually is.


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Calming Mothers to calm babies

One thing that struck me throughout my nursing career was that looking after a sick baby meant looking after very very anxious parents.  Understandably, when a tiny baby is unwell and then ends up in hospital, the parents are thrown into a whirlpool of emotion. At first they really don’t know what’s happening because often if the baby is quite unwell, the medical staff are completely focused on sorting him/her first.  They fire questions at the parents and whilst they are acutely aware of the pain on their faces, they have to get the information they need to help the baby.  There are administration staff popping in to get paperwork filled in, nurses bustling around sorting bloods, fluids, medications and filling in observation charts: all while the Doctors are poking and prodding their precious little baby.  I’m surprised such fear doesn’t escalate til the heart just stops.  I have been on both sides of the emergency room and it is terrifying.

When there was a new baby admitted to our ward I tried really hard to reassure the parents as soon as they arrived.  One look at them told their story of a very long day or night in the children’s emergency.  They looked deflated, like an airbed the morning after a restless night camping.  I could tell they hadn’t slept a wink for days and probably hadn’t eaten, too scared to take their eyes from their sick baby.  I imagined they were so relieved to finally be in the ward and before their eyes the poking and prodding starts all over again.  Ward Doctors needed to admit the baby and blood ladies arrive again and nurses attach oxygen and fluids and and and………………the baby is crying and the parents dissolve – defeated, their hearts might not be able to take much more.

Amazingly, at this point in time, if a very kind, gentle person offers them reassurance and explains everything that is going on, they can be persuaded to follow that kind, gentle person out of their baby’s sight and enjoy a short but desperately needed cuppa and something to eat.  It may only last 10 minutes but it is enough to witness something incredible.  The second the distressed parents leave the room – the baby calms and goes to sleep – also incredibly exhausted.  You see the baby feels the parents distress just as the parents feel their baby’s distress and the tension is palpable.  When the baby can no-longer feel that in close proximity, he/she can calm and settle.  One of the nurses always stayed until the parents returned. It was really helpful to explain the importance of trying to be calm and relaxed around their sick baby.  The proof was there in front of their eyes.  Their baby had settled and when he/she opened her eyes and saw Mum and Dad looking a bit calmer and feeling a bit calmer – they too relaxed and became CALM.

This is an extreme example but even on a day to day basis  babies feel what their Mums and /Dads are feeling and reflect this back.  If you can find any way to relax yourself – perhaps using music or walking or even having a nap when your baby naps – you will find your baby relaxing too.


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Mothering Babies

I sometimes try to imagine what it feels like to be a newborn, exhausted from the effort of birth, awakening to a strange world.  He would leave the warmth of his Mother’s body and enter a lottery of possible new beginnings.  He could slip peacefully into a warm watery sensation before being lifted to take his first breath or he could pass into the waiting hands of a midwife and then find himself next to a familiar sound, his Mother’s heartbeat as he is gently placed on her chest skin to skin.  I like to think of this as the “norm’ but we all know many, many babies don’t have this beautiful, nurturing experience.  Some are lifted to life through their Mother’s open bellies while others are pulled urgently from the dangers of distress.  Some breathe quietly, some scream and others have to be encouraged to take their first breath with some or lots of help.  Tragically, for some it goes terribly wrong.

Mothers-to-be often have no idea of what lies ahead as they grow this new life within them.  For some it will be what they dreamed it would be, with an on-time labour and an “easy” birth.  Expectations are high, there’s lots of information confirming the path a pregnancy and birth should take.  We’ve all been to baby showers where horror stories abound and Mothers share all with the Mother-to-be. I’m sure it’s not meant to be harmful or hurtful but nobody can know what’s in store for that Mother-to-be before her time comes.

I do know this: all Mothers deserve knowledge and all babies need Mothers who feel capable and supported.  I have read many parenting/baby books recently and there is a common theme amongst them.  Babies need someone to respond to their needs and care for them gently in order to grow into adults with the same ability to nurture.  Mothers need to be able to talk and share their feelings with other Mothers without fear of insult or injury.  It is so important for Mums to know there is help when they need it, or maybe just a kind ear listening to them over a cuppa, so they don’t feel alone.

There will be lots of information posted here over time.  If you need a personal consultation don’t hesitate to contact me Joanna Molloy.

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