Unsolicited advice: it’s just par for the course in pregnancy and motherhood.

I was ready for it, I was also ready to shut it down – not only because it can be presumptuous and overwhelming but because it happens so randomly it’s hard to capture and make sense of – like being hijacked by a gypsy throwing her baby at you.

I like information, I like sharing, but the scattered way that it occurred so many months before my daughter was due was impossible to make use of. Its only now – 2 days before she is due that I feel like I can make sense of it!

It’s fascinating to watch the way people provide baby advice and their own self-awareness (or lack thereof) of the way that a small human (and their survival) becomes so central to all conversations. What I have noticed is the most earnest advice givers are giving not for you but subconsciously for themselves – to relieve their own anxieties and provide reassurance of their own experiences.

Interesting too was how my partner also not immune to the sharing, but the conversations seemed much more steeped in humour and anecdotes than veiled dogma.

So without dismissing the wealth of knowledge and experience of my network of friends, I set up a simple survey to consciously request their advice.  This was I could not only capture but categorise the information into chunks and themes.  How nerdy, but also how sensible.

55 people complete the survey in the 10 days it was open (around the time I was 6 months pregnant).  It was shared to my approx. 700 Facebook friends and further shared by one of those friends to her network (which got about 10 responses from people I didn’t know). 6 blokes shared responses, 1 non-parent responded, 3 people remained anonymous.

There were 5 categories I was seeking information on: the birth experience and tips for pain management, the first week at home, breastfeeding, nappies, prams and carrying.  I left a section for ‘other advice’ and made it optional for people to provide their names. I also provided some brief context on my thinking or situation on the question, for example: the fact I’m booked into the Birth Centre at RPA, I plan to breastfeed, that we live in a 1 BR apartment on the 1st floor (and we’re averse to commercial ‘stuff’).

Here’s what we learned:

// GENERAL THEMES

Generally, the pattern of responses revolved around the need to ‘trust your gut’ and listen to yourself and your baby, without too much information overload (especially from anyone but the experts and even then with a grain of salt) or comparisons to what other Mums and bubs are doing.

Two people compared parenthood to going to India, nothing prepares you and you just have to give up control (that many of us are used to having over our lives) and go with the moment to moment flow, attuning to your baby and being responsive to her.

1. BIRTHING

The key ideas here were a combination of have a plan and have no plan, but definitely do not be attached to the plan. Also that you need to do waaayyyy more than just breathe. Water is good. Being in the bath is amazing. Heat packs are helpful. Use the gas, but beware of the ‘motherfucker of a headache’ it can give you. Consider a doula for extra support. Epidurals also work (and there is no shame in screaming for one immediately – or after 15 hours)!

Ina May Gaskin’s work  and Juju Sundin’s books were referenced several times as great tools to prepare ye for the pain.  A sense of surrendering to the pain and being able to see each contraction as progress towards the goal resonates with me, as well as seeing the pain as temporary (relatively!), positive and leaning into it, not tensing up and resisting it but attempting to do the opposite.

Several people pointed out the fact that while you need to surrender the idea you have/are in control – you also must not forget that you can do it, and to not doubt you/your body’s ability to birth this child.

I am not quite sure what I am supposed to do with the Zooper Doopers someone suggested I’ll need!

// How we’ve prepped for the birth:

  • We went to the RPA parenting course over 2 Sundays (which was excellent – and just enough information without being overwhelming) and read the main birthing books (BIRTH, Birth Skills, NSW Health handout). I didn’t see the benefit in spending a whole weekend and $700 at SheBirths or the like – but was generously shared the link to their resources on DropBox which I browsed.
  • I shoulda/coulda done more yoga to prepare and keep stretchy, but feel that I have been walking and active enough (only stopped Spin class at about 28 weeks and did lots of walks in Bali).
  • I wrote out our ‘Birthing Intentions’ and we talked through the different stages, I put my key visualisations/affirmations on the blackboard in our kitchen and spent time each day thinking about the process and reminding myself of my key words (Trust your body – you’re built for this, etc).
  • I plan to be in the bath – I spend a tonne of time in the bath early in the pregnancy and love it.
  • I had 4 weekly acupuncture sessions with Emma Wong from 36 weeks (and some at about 24 too, just to keep things in balance) and bub’s head has been down for several months, so I feel like I am in a good place – time will tell!

2. THE FIRST WEEK (and beyond)

Stay in hospital as long as you can vs get out as quickly as you can come up across some responses.  I think my brain had focused on my body giving birth then cut to breastfeeding - not the physical aftermath. I realized that I was more focusing on logistics of having a baby to feed than a bruised vagina (or somesuch variation through to C-section scar to heal). The concept of resting my body from feeling ‘like a car crashed into your vagina’ and/or ‘like you have been hit by a truck for 6 weeks’ had slipped by. There were some creative solutions for ice packs to heal your lady bits and other home remedies and preparations (must really, get around to that perennial massage!).

A strong theme emerged of the partner acting as gatekeeper for visitors and the communication manager for wrangling folks.  Be willing to be explicit with visitors about when to come and/or go and what to bring. Put your phone on silent and/or screen calls, put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on your intercom buzzer.

A good distinction I got out of responses was ‘welcome support but limit visitors’.  Be willing to ask for help and have your nearest/dearest around (to cook, clean, hang out washing, hold the baby while you shower etc) but put off seeing others for a few weeks. “You don’t want visitors when you are stripped to the waist trying to manhandle a wriggling thing to your boob”.

An extension of this was the provision of food. I realized I’m going to need a bigger freezer after all the comments about having frozen meals ready to reheat! And to have the local takeaway joints on speed dial.

Another aspect emerged recently too – how you will handle the birth announcement on social media (and how to ensure others don’t steal your thunder with their excitable posts)?  I commented on this for Kidspot recently. While you might like to think people are considerate and have boundaries with what they share, many don’t especially those who might not be as well versed in social media netiquette (hello grandma!).

The baby blues and hormonal crash was noted many times, along with the rollercoaster analogy and encouragement to ride it, along with other suggestions:

  • Allow the sobs and emotion to flow, don’t resist or question it (unless it goes on for over a week).
  • Sleep when baby sleeps, take turns with your partner at sleeping
  • Know that this too shall pass (but when exactly is different for everyone from 6 weeks to 6 months!)
  • focus on bonding, its ok if all you do is snuggle the baby all week. Allow yourself to fall in love with the baby, don’t have too many people around getting in the way of this time to attach (physically and emotionally)

 //How we’ve prepped for the first few weeks:

  • I’m ready for the rollercoaster – Leigh has time off work, so does my Mum.
  • The freezer is stocked and Foodora is our friend.
  • You won’t be seeing our kid’s head on social media much – sorry. We’ll set up a private group for family and close friends and the rest of you will just have to meet her IRL.
  • I swapped a perfect basinet for a good bottle of red!

 3. BREASTFEEDING

This was by far the most problem prone area for people – much more fraught than birth (I guess it’s a much longer, bigger part of the new parent experience).

Using Lactation Consultants (aka ‘booby whisperers’ and lovingly called ‘the breastfeeding entrepreneurs’ by one person!) are top of the advice theme here (over 50% of people referred to them and many said they’re worth every cent to engage privately) along with feeling empowered to get help early from the Australian Breastfeeding Association if needed (even if it’s the middle of the night). There’s the general sense that every midwife/nurse has different strategies and to take this wisdom and adapt it to you and your child’s instincts and to trust this.

Generally people’s first choice was to breastfeed – no one reported not giving it a go, however there were mixed responses about whether or not to ‘stick at it’ (depending on the issues and the extent of them) and the disappointment felt by those for whom breastfeeding didn’t work. The importance of good early attachment, being flexible with the approach and willing to practice (not expecting perfect feeding straight away) was clear.

Mastitis and the good old cabbage leaves (cooled in the fridge, clever!) got a bunch of mentions, along with remedies (mainly lanonlin, lanolin, lanolin with sheep placenta) for cracked nipples (petrochemicals, scoff!). Getting the right kind of tops and having them on high rotation is suggested so you don’t small like a cheese cellar!

Other comments:

  • Relax, its easier if your relaxed, breathe deeply and are comfortable
  • Your nipple is not a straw to sip on, get half your boob in her mouth!
  • Cracked nipples can suck, expect them to be sore to begin with but it shouldn’t hurt, at least not really hurt constantly.
  • Get the medela pump if you have an oversupply and use a bottle on occasion so she gets used to it if needed (but then watch out for ‘nipple confusion’!).
  • Your baby will seem like a vampire – this is ok, so is passing out drunk in a milk coma.
  • Use heat packs to soften the boob.
  • Get organised with Netflix/streaming services
  • Never leave the house without spare breast pads!

// How I’ve prepped for breastfeeding

4. NAPPIES

Disposables won out over modern cloth nappies (MCN) and good environmental intentions in most cases, especially with newborns where we have well and truly been alerted to the poo-explosions and sheer number of nappies we’re likely to go through in addition to how much washing gets done daily (compounded with the fact were in an apartment, in a very wet season and heading into winter).

Sanity took precedence over the environment, as did conserving energy for bonding relationships not housework/domestic chores. Several people pointed out that the environmental cost of both was comparable when you weighed up water and energy use and that disposables are better at preventing nappy rash.  The cheapie home brands are apparently good for the days and more premium brands for night time.

Some have managed and love cloth after baby gets a bit bigger and swap between MCN and disposables as needed/convenient. There are several styles and types of MCNs and a bunch of Facebook groups that exchange all the logistics of washing them etc., as well as the illustrious MCN washing services that abound. There is even a nappy library that lends you a range of different MCN’s to try – how cool is that?

//What we decided to do on the nappy front:

  • We’ve been given a box of newborn huggies and we really like Thankyou brand and what they stand for – so we’ll give them a shot to begin with and possibly move to MCN’s a bit further down the track when we get the hang of it all.
  • We got a smaller bin from IKEA to keep the just dirty nappies in to empty more regularly and strong bin bags.

5. PRAMS AND CARRYING

Strollers, joggers, prams, capsules, inserts, forward facing, outward facing, wraps and slings, clips, accessories, new or secondhand – ZOMG it was sooooo complicated.

I was really very confused and overwhelmed by this. In fact, getting the car capsule was the only thing that has made me cry in the last 7 months. Truthbomb: car capsules are huge (given their cargo is tiny) and I have a small city car so many of them simply would not fit (even with the passenger seat aaalll the way forward!).

Many people found that they ended up with a random pram to begin with then upgraded to their dream pram/stroller once they had the hang of things and knew more about the options and the child wasn’t going to outgrow it in 17 seconds.

The space underneath was really important (we found a great eco pram called GreenTom – but it didn’t have a good storage so go bumped) for carrying stuff – and a coffee holder is essential! Also noted was the cost to replace blown tyres and a warning about the ability of the dreaded bindi grass to create punctures!!

Lots of combination uses of carrying styles with the need to have a pram (few were just carriers).

// What we decided about prams:

  • We very generously were given a Mountain Buggy Swift (that only just fits in the boot of the car), so that decision was kinda easy.
  • We were planning on hiring capsule but ended up buying the Britax Safe’n’Sound Unity NEOS purely because it was only 55cm and would (only just) fit in my car (cue: my teary breakdown) HOW ABSOLUTELY CRAZY IS THE WORLD IF YOU NEED TO BUY A NEW CAR TO FIT A BABY IN IT?? I refuse to buy into this bullshit.
  • I bought new (one of the only things I actually bought new – it was on sale!) a Hugabub wrap and then was also given a lovely handmade one.
  • Was given an Ergobaby with newborn insert to have as well – probably for when she is older.

// OTHER

People really got into this bit, sharing lots of great tips and ideas across a whole range of topics, I’ve broken them into two sections below.

My biggest learning here was: press studs are the devil, who knew this?!

The emotional bit

  • Trust yourself and key some people in your life (even when you feel like you’re losing it), don’t get too caught up with getting it ‘right’.
  • Ask for and accept help – you don’t have to have to do it all yourself, it can be very lonely.
  • Enjoy it – it goes quickly in retrospect. Similarly, this too shall pass – allow and appreciate the different stages as the weeks unravel.
  • Fuck guilt and comparisons with other mums – ‘Babies are not computers and you will have your own unique way’, understand that your old life kind of dies and for some there is grief in that even amongst the joy of the new arrival
  • The goal is a healthy baby, don’t lose sight of that with information overload and rigidity

 The resources

  • Your partner, let them do stuff their way even if it’s not your way (it usually never is!).
  • Give mothers group a red hot go, if you hate it don’t go back, or just hang with the folks you like
  • Mixed feelings about groups and forums online – some found them very useful, others that they played on your insecurities and are inaccurate regularly – will always depend on the content and purpose of group – always get to your GP or allied health professional if you’re not sure.
  • BOOKS: Buddhism for Mothers and the No Cry Sleep Solution (I found both at Vinnies)
  • The Mind the Bump app (from the makers of Smiling Mind, which I use a lot).

A very heartfelt thank you to everyone who took the time to share your ideas and experiences with me and apologies to anyone who has attempted to offer advice in person when my brain wasn’t ready to take it on. As I sit here drinking raspberry leaf tea, 2 days out from my due date, not only do I feel confident that I've got some great information to get me through the next few weeks but at least 55 people I can ring if I need to. See you on the flip side....