Preparing for a Child; Preparing for Motherhood

The arrival of a child is one of the most defining moments in a couple’s life. In many ways, it signifies the birth of a family. If a child is born from a loving and trusting relationship, most women look forward to this phase in their lives. But pregnancy is not just about the impending birth, it is also about the huge transition towards motherhood. Many mammas spend a large portion of their pregnancies sifting through umpteen options and information revolving around their unborn baby. A major part of pregnancy thus passes and before they realise it, they are facing childbirth and the inevitable role change. We forget that a mamma is born when her baby is born and needs nurture, comfort and reassurance herself. 

The journey towards motherhood requires just as much thought, time and preparation. A small care package with moral, psychological and physical support can be a source of strength and support during the transition.

Personal Support: Something or Someone to lean on

The days and weeks following the arrival of a baby is often overwhelming for a new mamma. A personal care package carefully put together during pregnancy might come in handy during this time. 

  • A hospital buddy 

The moment a baby is born, the attention immediately and naturally shifts from the mother to the baby. While the whole world spins around the baby, having someone exclusively for the mamma can be just the support she needs. Someone whom she trusts – a parent, partner or friend – who is around and able to regularly check on her can be the emotional nourishment that sees her through those vulnerable moments.  

  • A chore buddy

In many cultures, chore buddies are typically the grandparents of the baby. In some other cultures, friends usually pitch in as much as they can. New parents have a lot to grapple with and in this phase, having to worry about shopping, food and laundry might take a toll on resting and recovering. Planning for a chore buddy during pregnancy might be one of the best gifts a mamma can give herself for the fourth trimester.

  • A reflective journal/ friend

A reflective journal can be a best friend in those initial months. When we want to pour our racing thoughts somewhere, a journal might come in handy. This journal can hold some of those emotions, those overwhelming feelings, joy over small wins, a string of  gratitudes, frustrations and worries. For those mothers who find that talking works better than documenting, reaching out to a friend can lend the same kind of support. Sometimes, talking to someone outside might give just the perspective needed to support their own changing dynamics. Both a journal and a friend can show how far we have come and also guide us when it is time to seek help. 

  • A support group 

The power of a support group in helping new mothers is largely undervalued. A support group is a small group of mothers, all going through or having recently gone through the changes of motherhood. The members in this group often answer and support each other because they are all walking in similar shoes. Finding or creating a small support group during pregnancy might make the journey towards motherhood smoother while also being a source of great strength in the fourth trimester. 

Excerpt from Promoting Maternal & Infant Health in the 4th Trimester: “Mothers may be anxious about their baby for good reason and providers must respect that perspective as valuable and valid. In order to support maternal and paternal role attainment, it is important to affirm and encourage all that is going well with the parent–infant relationship and caretaking. Women need affirmation of their newly acquired abilities as mothers; they are very sensitive to any perception of guilt or shaming.”

Professional support: Reaching Out 

After the high of the birth, most women who have had a relatively smooth birthing experience return home and this is when everything starts to feel real: the cycles of breastfeeding, sleep deprivation, the sway of emotions, soreness, tiredness and the drastic hormonal changes. In most countries, a new mother is typically not scheduled to see a doctor for up to several weeks postpartum. While new parents are swamped with the task of ensuring everything is progressing well with the baby, mothers are often not asked how they are coping with the changes. 

Excerpt from Postnatal Care for Mothers & Newborns: According to the WHO, as of 2013, “at 10-14 days after birth, all women should be asked about resolution of mild, transitory postpartum depression, also known as postpartum blues. If symptoms have not resolved, the woman’s psychological well-being should continue to be assessed for postpartum depression, and if symptoms persist, evaluated. Women should further be observed for any risks, signs and symptoms of domestic abuse. They should be told whom to contact for advice and management.”

Despite WHO recommendations, the reality is that most women are left to navigate the changes in surroundings where symptoms of postpartum blues or depression go unnoticed. Putting together a self-care team prior to the baby can help new mothers know that they do not have to navigate every crisis alone. 

  • Breastfeeding Support 

The uncertainty and questions surrounding breastfeeding are not only plentiful, but emerge in the weeks following childbirth. It might help to see a lactation consultant who can reassure new mothers and help them navigate any crisis that might be brewing in their breastfeeding journey. Sometimes, having a professional perspective from someone who deals with many women going through breastfeeding changes is far more reassuring than talking only to a small group of women who share anecdotes from their personal experiences.

  • Postpartum Physical Support  

Many mammas suffer from postpartum perineal pain and some even develop infection from a cut or torn perineum. They return home after childbirth with little or no information on urinary incontinence, back pain, organ prolapse or pelvic-floor weakness. The toll that pregnancy and childbirth takes on women must never be overlooked; mammas need to feel no shame in reaching out to a doctor or physical therapy for support in  the weeks and months following childbirth.

  • Postpartum Psychological Support

According to the WHO, about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience depression. In developing countries this is even higher, at 15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after child birth. So, postpartum depression and depression during pregnancy is all too real! By neglecting this important transition, we put new mothers and babies at risk. If a new mamma feels consistently low, it is important to reach out for psychiatric help. 

Excerpt from Promoting Maternal & Infant Health in the 4th Trimester: “Listening to women and families, whose opinions and needs often go unexpressed or unheard, or both, is foundational to providing high-quality care. Well-meaning providers and practitioners may assume they know what new mothers want and need, and should do a better job of asking them, phrasing questions in a manner that solicits their goals and engages them in program design and development. It is likewise important to honor mothers and fathers as experts about their babies. Truly, no one can know or understand the infant as well as the baby’s primary caregivers.”

The Fourth Trimester Agenda

  • Eat. Sleep. Love.

The fourth trimester to every pregnancy is often the most neglected. A mother has months to prepare for childbirth but soon after the baby arrives, her body goes through a sea of immediate changes necessitating plenty of support and rest. This is a period when the mother-baby dyad must continue to to be looked at as a single entity. The mamma needs external support to sync up to her baby’s schedule, eat healthy, nutritious and simple food, sleep when she feels the need to sleep and have plenty of time to cuddle with her newborn. When this is offered, she has better chances at being able to address the needs of her baby.

By nurturing a new mother, we are not just nurturing the bond between her and her baby, but also supporting the emotional & physical wellness of the next generation.

  • Music. Mindfulness. Positivity 

Being in a positive frame of mind is the best gift a mamma can give herself and her baby. But, it might be challenging to wonder how to keep this positivity alive when the body is going through changes. So, creating a playlist of songs that lift you up or put a smile on your face, collecting a few books that help you be mindful and joyful  and surrounding yourself with people who lift you up are treasures to keep at your arm’s reach for those blue days.

  • Keeping visitors to a minimum

Sometimes, new mothers are faced with a swarm of well-meaning visitors in the days following birth. While this may be just the source of strength for some, some others find that socialising is overwhelming for both the baby and themselves. From the outside, it is important to respect a mother’s wish and honour this space. The time to socialise will come and when you feel ready, you can step out of your cocoon.

  • Making gratitude your friend

Perhaps the most forgotten of all virtues is gratitude – a dear friend to keep close during trying times. Devoting a few moments in a day to just focus on things that are going well can drastically help shift ourselves to a more positive frame of mind. This simple practice can help significantly improve the quality of our lives and also give us perspective when everything seems to be spiralling down.

In The Fourth Trimester Companion, Cynthia Gabriel says, “The work of mothering and fathering is slow paced and repetitive. Parenting challenges can be measured in hours, while joy is measured in moments. If you can believe the difficult moments are just as normal, as necessary as the delightful moments, you will come out of the 4th trimester with more stamina and reserves for the months ahead. 

The fourth trimester should ideally be a nesting retreat for a mamma and her baby. This is a time when we continue to look at the duo as a single unit, depending on each other for physical and psychological support. From the outside, we can offer them plenty of support, understanding and nurture to adapt to their new lives. It takes a village to raise a new mamma and it is the responsibility of all those who surround her to make this beautiful phase as comfortable as possible.

 

My Journey as a Working Mother: From One Mamma to Another

They say a mother is born when her child is born. Motherhood can be a journey of varied emotions – love, protection, anxiety, frustration and guilt. With more mothers balancing work at home as well as in society, the dynamics of motherhood as well as parenting are changing tremendously.

So, we approached a wonderfully compassionate, working Mamma of a four year old to share with us the joys and learnings of her parenting journey.

Hi Dhivyaa, tell us about yourself and your family.

Hi, I am Dhivyaa Naveen Kumar, a working mother. I moved to Basel, Switzerland in 2012 soon after my marriage and my husband and I have a 3.5 year old daughter named Mila.

Can you share your birthing experience with us?

I actually had a very trying birthing experience; it was not very pleasant. During pregnancy, I had hyperemesis gravidarum which is a case of excessive nausea and vomiting. This lasted my entire first trimester and I couldn’t keep even water down. This led to excessive weight loss and I was on infusions during this period. Eventually, things got better in the second trimester. I went to work until the end of 36 weeks gestation and went on maternity break when my doctor advised me to do so.

During labour, after almost 24 hours, just as I was pushing, my daughter got stuck. Although the doctors tried hard for a normal birth, they had to eventually go for an emergency cesarean section. This led to a lot of physical and emotional pain before, during and after my daughter’s birth.

How soon after Mila did you get back to work?

We had only 12 weeks of paid maternity leave in Switzerland. As a new mother, this naturally increased my anxiety and I had symptoms of postpartum depression; thankfully I was not on any medication. The only medicine for me was my child. I kept admiring her smile and holding her against my skin. Skin-skin contact with the baby is helpful not just for the baby but for the mother as well.

What steps did you take to prepare yourself and your baby before getting back to work full-time?

Mila was completely on breast milk until about 14-15 weeks. She already fell into a routine and would feed every 3-4 hours. Around the 15th week, I began pumping milk and feeding from the bottle. She thankfully took to the bottle immediately although I was worried that she would refuse. After the 15th week, I started pumping milk for two feeds at home and gradually, I increased this to three feeds. I used to pump and store the excess milk in the fridge. I wanted to give her milk as fresh as possible and so would pump and store in the fridge only for a day. The most important tip I can give a working mother who wants to breastfeed her baby is to never change the timing for pumping milk. Once you fix a time and routine and stick to it, even during weekends, the flow is consistent. Although, this might get stressful, it is better than not having consistent flow.

Eventually, I asked my husband and my mother or mother-in-law to begin feeding Mila from the bottle. Just a week before I went back to work, we began transitioning her to this routine.

What steps did you and your husband take to help Mila adapt to a new environment and caregivers? And, what steps did you take to emotionally support yourself from being away from her?

This was the most challenging phase for us. My daughter was with my mother and mother-in-law soon after I went back to work, which was when she was around 19 weeks. So, she was still with family members at home. But once they left at around 32 weeks, we had to send her to a daycare. I was able to trust my family even though I had to go back to work but it was not easy for me to leave her in a completely new environment with many other babies. I could not imagine how she would sleep peacefully or eat well and this used to worry me a lot. Thankfully, we found a place that is literally a 2 minute walk from home. The daycare centre had a transition phase where I could spend a couple of days with Mila. We could also observe how they took care of the other babies. This gave me a lot of confidence and I began to have trust that she was in safe hands. Mila did cry a lot initially after the big separation from home and I used to cry on my way to work, but gradually, she settled down with all the fun activities she could do at school like singing, painting, outdoor walks and was happy to go.

Pumping milk at work is not an easy experience both physically and emotionally. How did you deal with this and what kind of support did you receive?

I made it a point to pump milk regularly at work at the fixed time and thankfully, I had the support to do so. Although, initially, I used to miss my daughter and our skin-skin bonding, I used to watch her videos and pictures while pumping at work. We both fell into a routine; Mila used to drink milk around 8 times a day. Three meals were from a bottle with expressed milk and the other meals were directly from me at home. I would feed her from my breast at 7 am, then leave for work at 7.30 am. I pumped consistently at 10am, 1pm and 4pm. I used to store the pumped milk in the fridge at my workplace for her next day meal.

For interested parents, I used the Medela swing maxi double electric breast pump which worked like a charm. And for storing milk, the lid on the bottles came with labels to mark the date and time. They also came with a tray which helped me organise them by time and date in the fridge.

Did Mila find it difficult to transition between breast and bottle everyday? How did you address challenges around this?

Right from the first day, luckily, Mila never had difficulty transitioning between bottle and my breast. I did notice that she used to wake up a lot more in the nights and feed directly from me. Gradually, as I started weaning her, she used to feed from my breast only in the nights. I started replacing every ‘expressed-milk’ meal with solid foods. By the 7th month, I stopped pumping milk at work. However, until she turned three, she used to wake up in the nights to feed from me. I attributed this to her longing for skin-skin contact and bonding with me and enjoyed it.

How did you manage to strike some kind of balance between healing after a cesarean section, being available for Mila and also working both at home and outside?

I have to thank several people for this. My husband is my biggest support and shares all the household chores with me. There is no task in the house that is done only by me. I also have to thank my work environment as I never had to bring back any work home. In the initial months, my mother-in-law and mother helped me a lot. I definitely have to thank Mila’s caretakers at her daycare who gave me the trust and confidence.

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We made this work by always waking up and going to bed on time. We tried and planned ahead. For example, it would take me only 5 minutes to come up with a meal plan, but this saves time and energy instead of worrying what to cook and what to shop everyday. I also learnt to listen to my body and never pushed myself beyond a certain limit. When I knew I couldn’t handle something, I learnt to ask for help and look for alternative solutions. On those days when the routine becomes mundane, we helped each other or just went out as a family to break the repetition. I also helped my body and mind heal by engaging in activities like swimming and running, watching movies once in a while and taking breaks to relax when needed. All of this helped me rejuvenate and get better.

Many working mothers go through a lot of emotional turmoil for not being with their baby the whole day. Did you also experience this? 

Yes, of course I did. Hundreds of thoughts ran in head. “Did I dress her appropriately for the weather?, “Will she eat?”, “Will she be happy?”, etc. I used to chat quickly with her guides at drop off and pickup. I started noting down what she ate, how long she slept and how she was. In the mornings, I used to update the guides at daycare on how her morning was so far, which helped them plan better and I used to ask them the same at pickup. I had an open and honest relationship with the guides at daycare which helped me communicate my needs clearly with them.  At home, my husband participated in all household chores and has been my biggest support. It was he who took care of Mila during most of her sick days. Only because it is a 50-50 partnership, we have been able to keep the family going smoothly. 

From your experience, what kind of support do you think working mothers require from family and society?

I strongly believe that fathers play an equal role in raising a child. We did not have a baby-sitter. We just used to take turns in being with Mila and did our best to balance it all out. Our society must understand that fathers are important figures in children’ lives and willingly offer emotional and physical support to mothers and fathers who work both at home and outside. Of course, every family has their own style and there really is no right or wrong way in parenting. We need to figure out between each other and go from there.

We all do what is best for our children. It is important for us as mothers, as women, to be strong, positive and have faith in what we are doing. Everybody likes to advise us but I have learnt to take what makes sense to me. 

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Can you please share a word of support and love to other mothers in similar situations?  

Dear Mammas,

Please speak out when you think something is not correct and ask for help when you cannot do something. There is no shame in asking for help!

Don’t blame yourself and think that it is always ‘you’ who is responsible for your child. Many of us hold onto our children tightly; we must learn to let go and find trustworthy people to engage with and interact with our children. Being with different people will help our children socialize better and grow.

Take some time for yourselves. Be grateful when people around you respect your feelings and, again, speak out when you need something. You get only when you ask for something. Lastly, stay positive and pat yourself on the back once in a while for doing the best that you can!

Kanaa’s Winter Cream Adventure: In the Words of her Mamma

The work of a child is hidden in the form of play. Through innocent and mischievous play, little children understand much about themselves and the simple lives that they lead. However, adults often fail to pause and understand the intent behind these acts and view them as behaviour that need to be reprimanded. Without comprehending why and how the innocent play began, we swoop in and rearrange the child’s play to restore our idea of order.

This story is narrated by a tired mother who recollects her little child’s innocent play and shares with us the events that ensued. Between the lines of this story, there is much left for us learn from the mischief, the innocent 2 year old behind the mischief and the mother who witnessed the mischief!


It was a usual weekday noon. I was busily preparing lunch while Kanaa was occupied in a rather quiet activity. Usually, I have to plead with Kanaa to find something to play on her own but that day seemed easy. She had found something to busy herself with and stayed unusually quiet. Since I was a first time mother, I hadn’t fully realised what it meant when things were quiet in a toddler’s room. I was happy and relieved that I had avoided a power-struggle with my toddler and continued to cook peacefully. It had hardly been minutes since I began feeling a sense of zen when Kanaa came running out with her hands and face WHITE! They were completely covered in layers of thick, winter moisturiser. 

My first reactions were speechless! I was absolutely dumbstruck. The tired mom in me began to wonder how much cleaning would have to go into this. This particular winter cream is extremely thick  and used for harsh winters that we experience in Switzerland. The box recommends a very thin layer which stays on and shows clearly. So, you can imagine! But before I could react, I just stopped to notice the pride on the two year old’s face. She was smiling wide and her nose was up in the air feeling ever so proud of what she had achieved. She broke the silence by saying excitedly, “Amma, look I applied cream all by myself. I also applied for Georgie.” Yes indeed, she had perfectly applied moisturiser for herself and her favourite plush toy ‘George’ – curious George, the monkey. 

I just began to laugh. I laughed incessantly and grabbed my phone to take a photo before the scene could change. I just wanted to freeze the moment, before the tired mom in me woke up again. This photo still remains precious to our family. I knew at that moment that I should cherish this for it will never happen again. I simply stood there and listened carefully to her endless explanations of how she had achieved her dream goal! 

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She then took me by my hand and walked me over to her room to show HOW she had achieved this feat. She took me around the room and described the whole process to me. To my surprise, there was hardly any mess at all. Imagine a two year old had opened a box of cream that she could dip her whole hands into! There were no marks or white patches anywhere. The box of cream was open, it was as good as new just a day earlier, but now it was almost over. 

She wanted to come clean with me. She pointed out the areas where she had accidentally smeared the cream on while applying for herself and Georgie – the bed sheet, the side table and the mirror. She then narrated a long story of how she had used the roll of tissue, which I usually kept handy in her room because of how it gets with toddlers, to wipe out the messy areas. They were hardly visible since she had wiped them out quite well and neatly collected the used tissues by the side of the bed. 

The tired mom in me, which had wanted to giver her a piece of my mind about all the cleaning that I would have to do, had just disappeared. I was thoroughly impressed by ‘the process’. In the photo, on close observation, one might notice how neatly she has applied the cream. She had intended to make no mess. It wasn’t a joke to her. It was serious work. Kanaa’s goal for that afternoon was to impress herself and her Amma by giving her one less thing to do for the day – apply moisturiser by herself! And, IMPRESSED, I was. 

Nevertheless, I did spent the next three days giving her thorough showers and soaks in the tub to get the thick layers of winter cream out of her hair and face. As for Georgie, he went into the washer for two full wash cycles. 

My little baby is now five years old and applying cream might never impress her, or me, the way it had, three years ago. I’m so happy that both of us could live in that moment and enjoy it. It is so hard as a parent, to choose the right way to react to situations like these. I learnt then to remember to stop, think, re-think and make the choice and then react.