Strength in numbers: Tips for newbie mums at mothers and babies groups
Not only do you have to contend with the possibility of being the newbie at a mother and baby group, you also have to find one that suits you. Gwen Loughman outlines some guidelines on how to make it less daunting
Your baby is a couple of months old and the never-ending stream of visitors has petered out. It's time to get out of the house. You've heard a lot about mother and baby groups but you're not sure.
What if you're the only new mum there? Maybe everyone else has been attending for months. What happens if you casually mention your baby still isn't sleeping for longer than four hours and someone tells you you've been doing it all wrong? Perhaps they'll frown when they hear you are considering baby-led weaning when the time is right.
The last time you felt this nervous was at a job interview.
Maybe you won't go. Maybe you might stay at home and catch up on the laundry followed by a bit of mid-morning TV.
There is no doubt about it; mother and baby groups can be a very daunting prospect. Something our own mothers never had, they are hugely popular now.
By very dint of that popularity it means there are plenty to choose from.
Catherine Wells, a Parent to Parent Support Worker with Cuidiú, says research shows parents benefit from the social support received from toddler groups. "Some parents go for a short period while others build a network and make friendships that last for years."
Angela Cahill, breastfeeding counsellor, agrees. "Having a good support network can make the world of difference. Also, some mothers find it helps to have made contact with the group facilitator prior to attending."
However it works out, here are some tips to make mother and baby groups a little less intimidating.
Find one that suits you and your needs.
For example, if you chose to formula feed your baby, you may feel under unnecessary pressure attending a group that is aimed at breastfeeding mothers. Some groups cater for mothers with toddlers and some don't. An older child might be bored if there are no other children their own age to play with. Some people can be put off by group size, be it one that is too big or even too small. Suzanne, mum-of-four, has this to say. "There are so many options; breastfeeding groups, toddler groups, support groups for mums with post-natal depression. You will always find another mother following the same journey. It's nice to not feel alone."
Where do you find a group? Your GP's waiting room is a wonderful resource and usually filled with posters advertising the local mother and baby groups. If there is another mum there with her baby, don't be afraid to ask her. Chances are she may know of one or two. Your public health nurse is also a mine of information. Use social media to your advantage. Parenting websites will also have details of groups in your locality. Check out your local leisure centre and even the supermarket noticeboard.
You don't have to be on time. It's difficult enough scheduling feeds and nap times without stressing about being late for something that is supposed to be enjoyable. Regardless of what time the group of your choice meets at, the intention behind it is there will be someone available for you between the hours given. Naomi, mum to Leon and Cayden, says it's okay to be late. "With Leon I didn't come back for three weeks because by the time I was ready, I was late. It wasn't until I went a few times I realised most people were like that."
Nerves are okay. There is a strong possibility that you will not be the only "newbie" there. Keep in mind that everyone was a first-timer. Mother and toddler groups offer a lovely support system for the parent who is tearing her hair out with broken sleep, or the mother who feels her two-year-old could do with social interaction with children their own age. Let's not forget the seasoned mum who has it all in the bag but is crying out for a chat over a cup of tea and a biscuit. Like Suzanne. "I didn't go to a support group until my fourth baby. You don't need to find things difficult or be a first-time mum. For many it is about the company, plus it's a great reason to get out of the house."
Prepare like a boy scout. Take some loose change with you. You might need to pay for parking and most groups ask for a small charge to cover refreshments and possible hiring of the hall. But this is usually only ever a couple of euro. Bring a bottle of water for yourself, the usual baby bag requirements, your phone, a pen and notebook in case someone mentions an interesting book. You have just grown and given birth to a human being; you can do anything now. Go in there like a boss.
Finally, don't give up. Catherine Wells from Cuidiú says: "Sometimes parents think they are the only ones who struggle with parenting. Meeting other parents in the same boat can help overcome this feeling."
You will meet lots of different people at group and it's perfectly okay to sit there and absorb your surroundings until you find your feet. You've got the loose change and your baby bag would put Bear Grylls to shame. Worst case scenario is you might have to share chocolate biscuits with your greedy toddler but the other side of the coin is you just may have found your new tribe.