Sunday 18 February 2018

Tear up the rulebook, Mum

First-time parents are bombarded with advice, not all of it helpful. Mother of three Heidi Scrimgeour debunks the motherhood myths

It’s a myth that you make up for your own sleep deprivation with a nap when the baby sleeps
It’s a myth that you make up for your own sleep deprivation with a nap when the baby sleeps
Kate Winslet

Heidi Scrimgeour

Everyone's an expert when you have a baby; people will bombard you endlessly with well-intentioned advice – whether you want it or not. But guess what? Lots of the 'pearls of wisdom' that people foist on you when you're a new mum are largely based on old wives' tales.

So smile sweetly but don't feel compelled to believe what everyone tells you about life with a newborn – instead, let this sleep-deprived mother-of-three take you by the hand and walk you through 10 truisms to replace the silly old myths of new motherhood.

1 You can catch up on sleep when the baby sleeps

If I had a euro for every time someone recommended catching up on lost sleep during the day time when my baby naps, I'd be a rich woman.

But short of learning self-hypnosis I've never been able to work out how to master the art of sleeping on demand, and if I did ever manage to doze off during my baby's nap time you can bet your bottom dollar that she would choose that very day to wake up after a three-minute nap, leaving me shell-shocked and feeling vaguely hungover for the rest of the day. (Except without the satisfaction of a fun night out to warrant it.) So frankly I'd rather spend nap time easing the pain of sleep deprivation by messing about on Facebook, watching daytime TV and eating Nutella straight from the jar.

2 The baby stage goes by so fast

Except, um, no it doesn't. Other parents always wheel out this pithy remark to new mums. But when you're at home alone all day with a new baby an hour can feel like an eternity, and suggesting otherwise just makes us feel guilty that we're not blithely savouring every second of life with a little one.

3 Letting a baby 'cry it out' won't do any harm

Okay it's a controversial one, this, but I'm going to stick my neck out and say that just because something 'works' doesn't meant it's beneficial.

Yes, leaving my baby to cry at bedtime until she falls into an exhausted stupor today probably does mean that she'll cry for a much shorter time tomorrow night, and even less the next. But that isn't necessarily teaching her how to 'self-soothe' – maybe she's just learning that there's no point crying. So for now I'll just keep pacing the floor and rocking her to sleep, thanks. You can call it making a rod for my own back if you like but I prefer to call it 'parenting'.

4 Pacifiers / soothers / dummies should be avoided at all costs

Supposedly they ruin teeth, cause language delay, and make our babies look ridiculous. Actually they're a Godsend and they've been shown to play a part in the possible prevention of SIDS. Next?

5 The sooner you're back in your pre-pregnancy jeans the better

Kate Winslet said it best when she told Glamour magazine: "Having just had a baby, I'm not going to be thinking about my arse." And in a recent red carpet interview, the mother-of-three said: "So much attention is drawn to this thing of you know, post-baby body and how people did it, and I kind of think it's awful that so much focus is put on that.

"We're not supposed to drop all this weight. You spend nine months expanding your body for this baby to grow in and that doesn't disappear overnight." Well said.

6 The bond you feel with your baby is blissful

That's true for many mums, but it's also true that up to 15pc of new mums are likely to suffer from postnatal depression, with many more suffering in silence.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has spoken of facing PND, and while bombarding new mums with the message that they're bound to feel blue after having a baby is enough to make anyone feel a bit hopeless, leading us to believe that we'll be blissfully loved up and serene is even more damaging.

7 Never wake a sleeping baby

Okay, clever clogs, then exactly how am I supposed to get my other children to school, given that the baby will invariably start sleeping off the effects of the previous night's partying at the all-night milk bar just as we're heading to school?

8 Babies start sleeping through the night at six months

Oh really? It seems my six-month-old daughter didn't get that memo. I've tried carefully relaying this information to her at 1am and then again at 3am, and once more with feeling at 5am but, strangely, she remains unconvinced.

9 Breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world

So is growing old but that doesn't mean it's fun or easy. I wish the baby books and experts would convey to new mums that breastfeeding doesn't necessarily come naturally. I've breastfed three babies now but nothing – and I mean nothing – prepared me for how painful it was the third-time round.

From abdominal after-pains so intense that they literally took my breath away every time I fed my baby, to a sensation akin to having your nipples clamped in an ever-tightening vice every time the milk let-down reflex happened at the start of each feed, I cringed my way through many a feed in the first few weeks of my daughter's life.

And yet everything I read told me that if breastfeeding hurts then you're doing it wrong. I am now convinced that this is a conspiracy or an outright lie. Fortunately, breastfeeding does get easier in my experience, and I am delighted to report that I can now feed my baby without crying and without letting go of my wine glass. Which obviously contains just the recommended one to two units of alcohol every now and then.

10 You'll miss these days

What, even the one when my baby threw up her entire milk feed inside my bra? Or the one where I forgot to wear breast pads to church and – thanks to the early milk-supply issues and unanticipated leakages – I was forced to make my way to the nearest exit whilst facing the wall at all times, waving manically to friends as I went?

This is the kind of advice that people only pass on when they're well past the baby-raising stage and have utterly forgotten that life with a new baby isn't all toothless grins and milky, morning cuddles.

Frankly, the pressure to 'cherish it all' only makes us feel like we must be doing it wrong since sometimes we'd happily fast forward a few years. It also fuels the guilt we feel for mourning the loss of our old lives.

Yes, I miss having lie-ins and disposable income. No, I won't miss nappies so explosive that two people's entire set of clothing has to be discarded in the wake of them.

And I certainly won't miss long nights spent pacing floors with a sleepless baby whilst muttering through gritted teeth 'At least I can sleep tomorrow when the baby sleeps. . .'

Irish Independent

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