The midwife has completed your checks, your baby has fed, the paperwork is done, and you’re told “You’re ready to go home”…
What? Really? That’s it? You’re really letting us go with this little bundle that looks so tiny and seems so vulnerable…
As a community midwife, I would often visit shell-shocked first-time parents the day after they were discharged home from hospital with their precious bundle. Now, as a health visitor, when my first postnatal contact is at around 2 weeks after the birth, new parents are often still feeling over-whelmed and full of doubt about their ability to fulfil their baby’s needs.
1. I/we don’t know what they want/need
That’s not surprising – you have only just met this little person and it will take time for you to get to know one another. You know more than you think: have you been checking to see if they are hungry? Have you been checking their nappy? Have you been having cuddles and close contact? Usually the answer to these three questions is “Yes”, which means you are already aware of and responding to your baby’s basic physical and emotional needs.
As new parents, you will be learning more and more about your baby each and every day. What we are really expressing when we say we don’t know what our baby wants or needs, is that we doubt our ability to meet their every potential need, or in other words that we are feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of our new role as a parent.
2. I feel nervous to be on my own with him/her
When parents tell me this I will usually ask if they have been on their own with their baby yet. Often the answer is, “No, not really yet, but I am worried about when I am”. The end of the two week paternity leave can feel a big milestone for some as partners return to work. As a new parent we often fear the first of everything (baby’s first immunisations, baby starting nursery, baby’s first solids, etc,etc) – so this is a feeling we will soon become familiar with! However, when parents feel nervous about being left alone with their new baby, what they usually mean is that they doubt their ability to meet their own expectation of themselves. So, again, what is being expressed is a feeling of being overwhelmed. I will often point out to parents that this is a a positive sign that they want to do the best for their baby, and that, in itself, is a great sign that they are on the way to becoming a receptive and responsive parent. Yay!
It is also important to remember, when it all feels too big and too overwhelming, to bring your thoughts back to the here and now. Meet yours and your baby’s needs today. You only ever have to parent one day at a time (that’s a relief!).
3. Everyone keeps giving us different advice
In my experience, nearly all new parents experience a little (or a lot) of this! My advice on this is very simple. Listen and hear people’s ideas and thoughts. If what they are saying resonates with you, give it a go; if not, let it go. Other than on issues of safety, there are not many absolute ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ to parenting. Believe it or not, you, the parent, will very quickly become the expert on your own baby (you will know them better than anyone else) and you will soon have more confidence to follow your parenting path as you develop a style that works for you and your family. None of us will be a ‘perfect’ (I hate that word!) parent. Most of us will be good enough.
In the early days, if you feel confused and overwhelmed with conflicting advice, have a chat with someone you trust and who wants the best for you – this may be a close friend, your mum, your midwife or health visitor. Share your feeling and make a plan to address your current challenges (eg. when my baby cries I will ….). Writing it down can help to keep you focused, but should never replace watching and responding to your baby’s cues.
4. I didn’t want to bother the doctor or health visitor but I’m worried…
Sadly, I still hear this quite a lot. The role of the health visitor is to support families with babies, toddlers and pre-school children. You are never ‘bothering’ your health visitor if you phone up to ask for advice or request a visit to discuss a concern you have. It is also vital that you contact your GP or out of hours medical service if you are worried your baby is unwell. Make sure you have contact numbers easily accessible and be clear on your own support networks.
Ask your friends…
Finally, if you have friends and family with babies or children, ask them how they found the early weeks. Nearly everyone will express feelings of being over-whelmed at times. I was a midwife when I had my babies – and guess what? I felt overwhelmed too! The weeks and months go quickly when you have a new baby, and it won’t be long before you look back and realise how far you’ve come.
Join a postnatal group…
There are times when nothing beats meeting up with others in the same boat to share experiences and learn together. Babyology’s Hello Baby Course is relaxed & supportive and led by a friendly & experienced midwife, health visitor & mum.
Rebecca is a midwife, health visitor and mum. She runs Babyology Dorset to support new parents in Bournemouth, East Dorset & Ringwood through home visits and classes.