It’s both a challenge and an absolute blessing. Whether you’ve been trying for a long time, adding to a growing brood or still considering whether it’s the right time, the pressures of being a new mum can make or break your motherhood experience.
Along with the emotional and exhaustive experience that is childbirth and your rapidly changing hormone levels, there are added pressure of being a new mum that may have you feeling to throw the towel in.
The snap back.
If you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to how a woman may recover from having given birth to a baby. In society and media, however, it seems to have been glamourised as an obsessive desire to not look like you’ve just had a baby, after you’ve just had a baby. Why is our pregnancy pouch glorified when it’s carrying a baby but criticised after it’s carried said baby?
When I had my son five years ago, I was a lot slimmer pre-pregnancy and really didnt gain a lot of weight. By the time I really started to “show”, I was almost near my due date and ended up delivering early via a natural birth. Needless to say, I quickly returned to my pre-baby weight and honestly, not much had changed. My son was an easy baby, and I was often told “You don’t look like you just had a baby”.
Apparently, that was meant to be a good thing?
With my second pregnancy, things were very different. I experienced first trimester sickness, I started showing almost immediately, I gained thirty pounds and really had no energy at all.
The skin was glowing though.
For someone like me who has always been quite active, the pressure to snap back after pregnancy was very real. Not so much for my appearance, although I’ve always been quite fit, but more so for my energy levels, my discipline, my strength. I over-obsessed over the loss of my former self so that post pregnancy, this manifested into an obsession to lose all the baby weight and regain my activity levels.
A slim tummy wouldn’t have hurt, either.
But I realise, not only is the “snap back” not realistic for many, it’s also not important. I haven’t lost anything, in fact, I’ve gained two beautiful children and it took the changes to my body to bring them into this world healthy and thriving.
We show the Dad Bod all the love, let’s give the Mum Bod some much-deserved credit.
It’s shouted from the mountain tops. It’s slogans on T-shirts and taglines for experts in the business. “Breast is best, breast is best”.
Is it though?
Is breast the best option when baby finds it difficult to latch and it’s a painful and miserable experience? Is breast the best option when eighty percent of the time as a new mum is spent sharing your baby with a breastfeeding consultant? Is breast really the best option when a mother’s inability to successfully breastfeed her baby leaves her feeling like a failure and severly affects her mental health?
Is it really?
I get it- breastfeeding provides a host of nutrients and benefits that other sources of infant feeding fail to provide or may lack in but isn’t the mental and emotional health of both baby and mum not equally as important as their physical health, if not more?
I’ve always felt pressure to breastfeed both of my children for as long as possible. Coming from a country where a three-month maternity leave meant that my baby became dependent on the ease and quantity of formula and bottle-feeding, I was so adamant that this pregnancy would be different. I had a year off from work and I would be breastfeeding for THE. ENTIRE. YEAR.
My second baby was born at 9lbs and within a few weeks of breastfeeding was struggling to regain the birth weight she had naturally lost. Why? Potentially because I was using a nipple shield to protect my suffering nipples and she was getting too tired to get a full feed. So, sans nipple shield, I persevered. In pain, but to me it was worth it.
I came to the eventual realisation that all the pumping in the world could not produce enough breastmilk to feed her if I was ever gone for more than three hours. My mind raced, what if I end up in hopsital for whatever reason? I don’t have nearly enough stored milk. The reality of having to introduce formula became quite apparent and my husband had only been suggesting it every dry-nippled chance he could get.
Oh, the guilt associated with introducing a bottle to a breastfed baby! Why is making sure my baby is fed by any means something I should be ashamed of? It’s time being a milk source stops being aligned with being a sufficient or successful mother, don’t you think?
Luckily for newer mums, “Fed is Best” is becoming a dominant player in the baby feeding debate but breastfeeding pressure is still very real.
If you’ve ever been a mum, been around a mum or even have a mum, you know that everyone and their mum (pun intended) is an expert when it comes to babies. Everyone has their opinion and advice and it would seem a baby bump serves as a badge of obligation to receive it.
There is so much information out there on what is considered best practices for your baby, there are a world of experiences shared online and no two mothers in a room would be able to one hundred percent agree on what they think is best for their child. Having worked in the baby retail industry, I experienced and learnt a lot about babies and their care before I became a mother myself and it was my job to give this “advice” to expectant mothers. What the best pram is for them, what bottles they should use, you don’t need this, you don’t need that and so on. It was when I became a mother myself that I realised it’s not quite so black and white. There are so many things I said I would never do or never use with my own children, but in reality it was ultimately the circumstances that we found ourselves in that decided what I did and didn’t do for my babies.
I know as new mums we feel we need to accept all the help we can but we don’t. At least, not unless we need it. I’ve felt pressured to take other people’s advice, until I took this one- trust your own instinct. Health professionals, my mum, my mum-in-law and the mum down the street with five kids may be well-informed when it comes to babies but I know a lot more about MY babies. Sometimes, we mums need that reassurance that we’re doing everything right but we’re often seeking that reassurance from the wrong source.
This is not to say if you need the help or advice, don’t ask but let your gut take precedent.
Competition With Other Mums
From my first child, I’ve always been the only one in my friend group with kids. Now I’ve had another baby in a new country, this still holds true. However, this time around I felt it important to connect with other new mums who have children the same age as mine. Pandemic aside, I was able to meet some wonderful women who have babies my own could connect with but this also introduced another dynamic of being a part of mum groups. The competition.
Competition is present in every aspect of life. I mean, I’m an identical twin, I couldn’t avoid competition if I tried. Do I secretly compete with other mums? No, not really. Whether it’s by birth experience, baby’s sleep routine or reaching developmental milestones, I get that it’s difficult not to compare, I just think comparing will do more harm than good. When I became a mum, I found there were women around me who would point out every thing I do and compare it to what they may have done before and there’s a real sort of dictator-esque feeling to it. Has your baby walked/talked/slept through the night yet? Are you using eco-friendly, baby safe products, like I am? These are the questions the typical “alpha-mum” would ask. They may even suggest you read a selection of books so you can “mother correctly”. You know, just to make sure you’re doing it right.
In most cases, I’ve turned a blind eye to this. Not in complete ignorance, I always substantiate it with my own research and take away whatever beneficial tips I can. It’s hard not to sit back and second-guess my baby’s own development or my choices, especially when it’s vastly different to my first child, too. However, I don’t let another mother’s experiences or practices influence what I’m sure about in my decisions with my children and I really try to watch my own behaviour to ensure I’m not creating that unpleasant vibe with other mums.
The reality is, you can’t predict what life will be like when you become a new mum even if you’ve already been a mum before. You may be an organised genius at work but when it comes to dealing with a newborn baby, you may be reduced to sobbing wreck. You’re responsible for a whole human being, don’t beat yourself up if you’re still in your pyjamas by midday. Your life feels like its changed forever when you become a mum, but rest assured the pressures you feel in those first few moments pass with the time and the bad moments are worth it for the absolutely amazing ones.
So, take your new role in stride and enjoy the chaos it while it lasts, Mama.