I’m sure you’ve heard it before… the line where someone says to you ‘oh, you’ll know’. Like somehow you magically download all of this information into your brain once your baby is born and you venture into motherhood.
Well, I clearly missed that upgrade… and found myself more often than not looking at my baby and thinking ‘well, what do I do now?’
In a world that’s obsessed with schedules, creating ‘bad’ newborn habits, doing everything right, then posting it on Instagram… we have dulled our own inner voice. The one that tells us what to do with our babies.
You know when your baby cries and you just want to cuddle them and hold them close? Or when they cry and your boobs start to tingle with your milk let down?
That is your instinct. That is your body literally telling you what to do with and for your baby.
So, how do we know when we should be listening to our instinct and how do we stop silencing our inner Mama voice?
1 – Get Educated On What Is ‘Normal’
One of the biggest reasons you should educate yourself on what is normal for a baby is so you will know when something isn’t normal.
Now, I don’t mean reading about sleep cycles and breastfeeding anecdotes from other mothers. While these can be interesting and informative, it’s important to base most of your self education on evidence based research.
For example, some mothers will ask you repeatedly if your baby sleeps through the night yet, giving you the impression that your baby should somehow miraculously know how to sleep through the night.
However, when you look at the evidence, and educate yourself about what is normal, you’ll find that babies have sleep cycles of around 90 minutes, that by age 2 children still wake on average once a night, and that waking through the night is an inbuilt natural way babies avoid SIDS (several research studies cited in this post).
Therefore expecting a baby to sleep through the night, even before the age of 2, can lead to parents feeling like they’re doing something wrong and resorting to methods they wouldn’t have otherwise considered if they understood that babies and toddlers waking at night is perfectly normal.
If the idea of reading research papers makes you fall asleep, be sure the articles you do read cite recent and relevant studies, are written by health professionals, and are in line with current World Health Organization recommendations (the WHO is also a great place to find information about what is ‘normal’ and what is recommended at different ages).
Or speak to appropriate healthcare professionals… as we discuss next.
2 – Surround Yourself With Appropriate Support
The key here is appropriate support.
While your Great Aunt Maude might be brilliant at supporting you and baking up a storm to feed your new Mama self, her stories of ‘back in my day, we just put them to bed and let them cry’ aren’t exactly conducive to helping you trust your Mama instinct.
Support by those who love you is important, but you need to make your wishes and your goals known and have them support you in achieving those.
For example, if you’re wanting to spend your fourth trimester with as much skin to skin time as possible, helping to establish your milk supply and build a strong secure attachment, then having someone telling you to put your baby down isn’t going to help. What does help is someone asking what they can do to help you, and doing so in a supportive way.
When it comes to appropriate support, finding the right professionals to help is important too.
Your Midwife is a great place to start, but you do need to be mindful of their limitations too. While most Midwives have some training in breastfeeding, it may be that they haven’t had any further training or refresher since their University days.
Whereas a Lactation Consultant (more specifically an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) has extensive training and is required to keep up to date with their practices. They are the most appropriate support for all things baby feeding – including if you need help with pumping breastmilk, finding donor breastmilk, mixed feeding and formula feeding.
Again, your GP might be a great start for someone to talk to if you’re not feeling like yourself after having a baby (you’re not alone) and a great person to talk to for Postnatal Depression, but a specialised Postnatal Psychologist is going to be far more appropriate and beneficial for helping you in this situation, and can work with your GP to help you in the best way possible.
Having appropriate support means these people can help you hone your instincts, help you understand your instincts and can help you feel more confident in your ability to respond to your baby, and feel more confident as a mother.
3 – Seek Help and Advocate
As a Paramedic, I’ve attended many first time parents who are nervous they’re making a fuss about nothing… but I can assure you, even if everything looks fine, if a mother ever tells me something isn’t right, I believe them. Because they know.
You know your baby better than anyone else. You spend the majority of your time with them, holding them, watching them, and in doing so you start to know what is and isn’t normal for them without even realising it.
You might not sit and count the number of breaths your baby has in a minute, but your Mama instinct will alert you if their breathing is slower or faster than normal.
You might not know the exact temperature of your baby, but you’ll know if they feel like they are hot and have a fever.
You’ll know if your baby is fussier, sleepier, more uncomfortable and unsettled than normal… which is why as healthcare professionals, we trust a mother’s instinct, and you should too!
If you ever feel like something isn’t quite right with your baby, seek help. Call an Ambulance, go to your doctor, call your Midwife, go to the closest Emergency Department at a hospital – and if you feel you’re not getting the answers you want, advocate for your baby and for yourself.
Keep asking for help until you get it.
Trusting your instincts as a mother isn’t always as natural as it sounds and as it should be. With so much on social media telling us what we should or shouldn’t be doing, it can quickly silence that instinct.
But using these tips to help you understand, trust, and use your mother instinct can help you feel more confident as a mother and more confident in trusting your Mama instinct in the future.