As Ted approaches his first birthday (crikey), I look back on his first few months with countless mixed emotions. I could probably write another blog post on that entirely, but to put it succinctly, those early weeks were tough. ‘The fourth trimester’ was a big shock to the system. To both our systems.
Now, I realise I’m probably stating the obvious for many mums. No sh*t, you were knackered and hormonal and wondering what the flip you’d done? Welcome to the club.
But I hadn’t really heard people talk about ‘the fourth trimester’ until we were in it. And to the other mums I met at the time, and those I’ve met since, it didn’t seem to be too much of A Thing.
Yet I think for Ted and me, it was definitely A Thing.
When I look back at the early days now, it is with relief – that things are *TOUCH WOOD* a bit easier – but also with pity for me as a stressed-out, knackered, completely-knocked-for-six new mum.
We had things relatively easy too, so I can only imagine how hard it is for those dealing with illness, with no support and/or post natal depression.
Dr Google will see you now
In those early days and nights – oh those long, lonely nights – I was the new mum cliché.
I continuously, frantically Googled ‘breastfed grunting seven week old’, ‘eight week old wakes every 40 minutes’ and so on.
I combed through ancient Mumsnet and Netmums threads for reassurance that Ted wouldn’t still be waking eight times a night with an upset tummy by his 21st birthday.
I wanted advice, but sometimes I got advice that didn’t sound quite right, or didn’t sit well with me.
I even got some advice – from a doctor, I hasten to add – that was completely laughable. It was honestly so awful I felt as if I was being filmed for Candid Camera, if it was still going. Or the hidden camera bit on Ant n Dec’s Takeaway, if I was, you know, a celebrity.
Anyway, where am I going with all this?
The bottom line, when sifting through the mind-boggling amount of advice out there, is usually ‘trust your instincts’.
But when you’re new to the game and sleep-deprived and the fourth trimester is very much A Thing for you, it can be difficult to do that.
So, partly for entertainment value, and also to share my experiences of receiving useless/potentially damaging professional instruction, here are the five pieces of advice I got that I chose to ignore.
1. Eat more McDonald’s and fewer vegetables
This is the Candid Camera moment referred to above. Alas/thankfully, there were no cameras on hand to record the preposterous episode.
It was advice offered to me by my doctor, after I’d taken a two-month old Ted to get checked over for reflux/silent reflux/tummy issues. At the time, Ted was very grumbly in the evenings and very unsettled at night. The doc examined his stomach and found no problems, thankfully. And because he was gaining weight, reflux was ruled out too.
I mentioned to the doctor that I’d virtually cut out caffeine and dairy and spicy food, as I’d read that they might be affecting my milk.
Big error on my part. Stupidly, I’d made the Supersized (sorry) mistake of mentioning my own research to the doctor.
Clearly Relishing this McNugget (yep) of ‘information’ – that, in his eyes, I was a know-it-all, neurotic first-time mum – he told me that cutting out dairy and caffeine etc would be having little effect on my milk, and on Ted’s stomach.
He then asked me what job I did, before turning to Graham to ask him what job he did. (All very relevant to the situation at hand, then. Oh wait.)
Next, he asked me if I was trying to lose weight and said that I shouldn’t be concerned with eating healthy foods. He said if anything was likely to be affecting Ted’s stomach, it would be things like cabbage, spinach and beans.
I was annoyed by this point. I asked the doctor what he thought I should be eating, if it wasn’t The-Buckets-from-Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory Diet that he assumed I was on.
That’s when he recommended the Golden Arches as a purveyor of fine quality nourishment. (“McDonald’s, anything really.”)
OK THEN. THANK YOU DOCTOR.
I am definitely not averse to a McD’s. God no. But I was averse to this doctor’s insensitivity and dismissal of me.
I think he’d asked Graham and I what jobs we did so he could confirm his suspicions about me being a know-it-all – i.e. educated – while congratulating Graham on his ‘proper’ manual job, and making me feel like a tit for worrying about my baby’s health. Nice chap.
Also, I was resentful of his assumption that I was concerned with losing weight two months after giving birth.
We didn’t head straight for a Double Cheeseburger. Ted eventually grew out of being grumbly and unsettled – it might have been reflux or ‘colic’ (whatever the flip that is) – and we all lived to tell the tale, which is the important thing.
A TALE WHICH I’M STILL FUMING ABOUT.
But moving on…..
The second bit of advice I ignored was:
2. Don’t give a bottle too early
From memory, there’s a lot of conflicting advice about when to try giving a breastfed baby a bottle – if you want/need to, that is. I can’t remember everything I read, obviously, but I seem to recall some unhelpful advice that giving a bottle too early is VERY BAD because it confuses them, and they might not get back on the boob if they like the bottle, but then giving it too late is VERY BAD also, as they might not ever take a bottle.
In Ted’s first days, we told a midwife that we had a night out (a gig) planned for two weeks’ time, and we hoped to be able to give him a bottle.
She looked at us like we’d just said we were thinking of leaving him at home with the cat and a couple of box sets.
(To clarify, the plan was for me to express and for my parents to care for him while we went to a watch The Charlatans play down the road from the apartment we were staying in for the weekend.)
We went to the gig, he had the bottle, I came back from the gig less than two hours later and he fed from me. And fed some more. And some more. Repeat ad infinitum. Oh the joys of those cluster feeding days.
And he was fine with taking a bottle the next time we tried.
I am not recommending one way or the other, but giving a bottle at less than three weeks was not detrimental to Ted’s breastfeeding (my breastfeeding?).
I have heard friends say that leaving it too late – i.e. two months plus – meant their babies didn’t ever take to it, but as with everything, I assume every case is different.
3. Don’t give baby formula
I subscribe, mostly, to the ‘fed is best’ argument. Feed your baby however you like.
I knew I wanted to breastfeed, if I was able to, and I persevered – and struggled, actually, for six weeks – even though it was painful and not as easy as I’d hoped. Until it got easy. And now I can’t get him off my bap at almost 12 months, but that’s another story.
Anyway, the point to this point, number 3, is to illustrate how the whole subject of feeding can be so guilt-laden, even a few months in when you think you’re getting your head around it all.
When Ted was heading towards the end of the fourth trimester (praise be), I was chatting to a health worker at our local children’s centre, where we were doing a baby massage course. I’d mentioned to her previously that Ted’s sleeping was all over the shop – when all around I was surrounded by sleeping-through-the-nighters, god love ‘em – and this lady was very lovely and mostly helpful with advice based on what she’d tried with her own children.
Then she said to me “I wouldn’t go down the formula route though, as it’s unlikely to make him sleep any better and you’ll be really upset with yourself that you’ve given him formula.”
NOW, I understand what she was trying to say to me, and – I think – there was a bit of covert cheerleading going on, as in ‘keep going, you’re doing great with the feeding’, and if I’m honest, I WOULD have been upset if I’d given Ted formula. Which is really silly – see ‘fed is best’. Therefore I don’t think someone in a professional capacity should be offering advice on feeding which refers to feelings of ‘upset’ and guilt, because there’s enough of that in our own heads (my head) anyway.
So I took what she said with a pinch of salt. I didn’t give Ted formula but I tried not to link it to any feelings of guilt or upset, rather because it was more convenient and it was working for us (and she was right in that there is no ‘proof’ that formula-fed babies sleep any better anyway. But she could have said that without the guilt attached, in my opinion).
4. A dummy won’t settle a breastfed baby
A health visitor told me this. I ignored her, and Ted’s had a dummy to help him settle at night since he was about three months old.
5. Leave him to cry it out…or don’t
A health visitor told me I should leave Ted to cry for a while during his many night wakings, because maybe he wasn’t really hungry/thirsty/upset. Whenever I did this, he got more upset, every time, and the wake-ups probably ended up being longer than they would have been if I’d gone to him in the first place.
A worker at the children’s centre said she’d never left her children to cry and they are the most emotionally-balanced, settled children IN THE WORLD. (OK, maybe not the last bit but again…the guilt…)
Now, with Ted at almost 12 months, I still debate the whole CIO / don’t CIO every time we have a really crap night. But we’re muddling through and that’s OK (for now).
Essentially, I could probably have saved myself typing almost 2000 words by saying something along the lines of ‘all babies are different, try not to get wrapped up in the advice of others, you’ll find your own way eventually…until another issue arises and then it all starts again, repeat until you die’. Sorry for the morbid bit but it doesn’t ever stop, does it? Yikes.
Can someone pass me a cheeseburger?
Bye for now x