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.