The relationship between you and your baby starts right in the womb, and lays the foundation to your child’s physical, emotional and social development. Apart from good nutrition and stimulation, a secure attachment is key to ensuring your baby grows healthily. Studies have shown that early caregiving determines attachment patterns that last a lifetime, and these in turn will influence your child’s self-esteem and social functioning. The good thing is, you don’t need to be perfect, and it’s okay to sometimes get it wrong. All you need to do is to be a good enough mother, and to repair any breaks that can sometimes happen on a rough day.
To help you better understand your own emotional needs as a new mother, and the needs of your baby, here are some nudges that can help you nurture your baby’s development through the different stages until your baby reaches toddlerhood.
I’m pregnant but I’m not fully prepared.
Feeling unsure or ambivalent about your pregnancy is not uncommon, and doesn’t mean you will be a bad mother.
Talk to someone you trust about these feelings, and it can really help bring some relief.
If you have been feeling low in mood or have loss of interest in things you used to enjoy for most days of the past month, you may be experiencing antenatal depression – do check in with your doctor about this.
Baby’s almost here – it’s normal to feel excited yet nervous about the delivery.
Talk to your doctor if you feel anxious about labour pain as there are different options to help you cope.
Discuss your birthing plan with your obstetrician as best you can, but don’t feel too disappointed if things change because the delivery experience can be unpredictable. One in three deliveries require surgery or assistance - and you haven’t failed if you can’t deliver naturally.
You may feel exhausted and overwhelmed, or still surging with excitement.
It’s ok if you feel a little off balance because of all that has happened in the last week.
Your body is sore, and breastfeeding can really be challenging for a first-time mother.
Be gentle with yourself, and allow yourself time to adjust to all that is happening.
It’s quite natural to feel emotional and unsure of yourself – motherhood transition takes time.
In these initial weeks, take time to wonder at your baby – it can help you feel more confident as you get to know and understand your baby.
Baby is actually born with the ability to recognise your smell and voice, and feels secure when you hold him/her snugly. The sound of your heartbeat is also a familiar source of comfort.
And when you feed your baby, look into his/her eyes – because this is just what he/she needs to build the attachment strongly with you. And you’ll find your feelings stir and grow deeply over time, if you haven’t already felt it because you have been so tired.
Congratulations! You made it to the first month! Remember to give yourself a pat, and a good rest, especially if your family celebrates this moment in a big fashion!
You might feel slightly disappointed that baby still feels so defenceless and utterly dependent on you. Going into the second month, baby will be more wakeful and easily stimulated as he/she is learning so much. Don’t compare yourself to the confinement nanny – experience does matter, and everyone starts off having her first baby.
Just take it one day at a time, and don’t worry too much about finding a settled routine. Baby and you will get there in time.
This is probably the most challenging time for new mothers.
Your confinement help must have ceased, and your body is supposed to be fully recovered by now.
But baby is wakeful, increasingly curious about his/her world, and too easily overstimulated, and easily fretful.
Babies often go through periods of feeding a lot, then sleeping a lot during which the growth spurts occur. Their cycles seem so erratic and this is likely to make you feel as unsettled as your baby.
Sometimes, this manifests as infant colic, or fussiness.
Keep calm as much as you can, take a break whenever you need to, or once you have placed baby safely in the cot, or with your partner or family.
This phase will pass in time – just take one day at a time. Your efforts will add up, even if it does not seem to be helping right away.
If you are experiencing difficulties coping with your emotions, especially if you feel low in mood persistently, or have little interest in activities, or feel constantly anxious and unsettled, do check in with your doctor to see if a referral for help is needed.
Hopefully, it’s getting better by now, and baby’s night time sleep is extending and the colic is settling. If it hasn’t, don’t worry - babies develop at their own pace.
Just take each day as it comes, and spend time just watching and nurturing your baby through your voice and your touch.
You can tell your baby what you are doing, as you change his/her diaper, or as you are folding clothes next to the play pen or cot – try a gentle sing-song voice which can be soothing for your baby, and actually quite calming for you because baby will listen to your voice.
As you prepare to return to work, if that is the plan, help baby to adjust to his/her new caregiver – make a little ritual of saying goodbye and that you will see each other later – it does help your baby to feel comfortable about this change of caregiver, and helps you feel reassured too that all will be well.
For some mommies, difficult memories can resurface around this period if they have experienced unpleasant moments in their childhood. Do speak with someone for help if you notice this occuring – perhaps a counsellor or your family doctor.
Your baby is probably more settled now, and you are probably starting to find time for yourself once more.
In the coming months, baby will start to learn new things and develop stronger muscles. He/she will be able to sit up and begin the discovery about the world – that you are quite separate from him/her, and that things can disappear from sight and yet appear – that’s why the delight in throwing that cup yet again and again from the high chair. This might frustrate you sometimes, so it might help to sit on a low stool near the floor when your baby plays this game, so that it’s less tiring for you. It’s a necessary stage for baby, learning about what we call “object permanence” – it will help baby when he/she starts to feel anxious about separation, as all babies do, because he/she will know that you still exist and will reappear. You can peek-a-boo too for the same learning – a little more fun because you get to see his/her laugh in delight!
Your baby is growing more and more aware of his/her world – curious about all that it has to offer – the sounds, the textures, and colours. He/she is also actually now able to move away from you independently, tummy-crawling or going on all fours. Now keenly aware of whose face is familiar, and what a loving family member feels like, your baby will be anxious around strangers. Sometimes this can be a difficult phase for mommies because it feels as if baby is being clingy, or we worry that this is a sign of weakness or lack of independence. On the contrary, it’s a good sign that your baby is attached to you, as his/her secure base, and this allows him/her to venture out to explore and learn about the world. It’s ok to let your baby play beside you while you do your own thing, like reading a book, or doing the laundry – it’s when you move out of his /her mind’s base that baby frets. So just let baby know when you move around, and let him/her re-orientate with ease. Whenever your baby brings something to show you, take notice and delight in this moment because it’s what makes your baby feel secure and loved.
Take care of your own needs too, have regular ‘me-time’, and do spend quality time with your husband/partner.
Your baby is one year old! You’ve made it!
Even as you busy yourself with preparing for the birthday celebration, take a moment to reflect on your motherhood journey, and applaud yourself because you deserve it!
For some mothers who have had a challenging time in their first pregnancy, this should be a time when all the difficult emotions are resolved. However, if you are experiencing difficult emotions such as low mood or excessively worrying, do speak with your family doctor who can make the necessary referral to a specialist.
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