I'm sometimes blown away by the sheer volume of products and practices marketed to new and expectant mothers. I'm sort of the eye-rolling type, so I get a little cross when I see lists to the effect of "THE Top 100 Lifesaving Inventions Every New Mom Needs to Not Go Crazy and Take Us All with Her" go viral on Facebook and Pinterest. When did mothering get so complicated? Probably about the time we started being convinced that being a mother wasn't enough; that we had to get back to our pre-motherhood "normal" as soon as possible after birth, and that a baby is an inconvenience to manage vs. a blessed gift, but I digress.
Truth is, mothering is tough cookies, ladies. However, with a little help from some old tried-and-true (I'm talking ancient) mothering basics, it can be a little easier, a little simpler, a little less maddening. We can even do this while building and deepening our bond with our child(ren). Here are the magic three basics that I wish every mother knew, especially young mothers, whether or not every mother can take advantage of them. I still use all three with my two-year-old daughter.
The 3 Basics That Make Mothering Easier
While there is plenty of info out there about the physical and emotional health benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby, it's not number 1 on this particular list for these reasons. This is a list about making things easier on you. Breastfeeding is not easy, mind you. Nipples get sore, some babies need extra help to nurse properly, there's some social stigma to override if you want to do it in public, and a few other challenges that some moms face. Not every mother can breastfeed, either. If you can, why not?
My advice? Get a lactation consultant before birth, get educated on the subject forwards and backwards, and surround yourself with supportive people who'll cheer you on in this arena.
Support is all around you.
When it comes to nighttime waking (and all healthy babies will wake throughout the night for quite some time), we basically have these two choices:
Myth debunkers and support abound. There have been some outlandish marketing campaigns in recent years in some parts of the U.S. labeling all co-sleeping as dangerous. This just is not the truth. Sometimes bringing a baby to bed can be dangerous. It is dangerous for a mother to sleep with or very near her baby when the mom is on mind-numbing drugs or alcohol, or so unwell that she doesn't have the natural capacity to stay aware of her baby. It is also dangerous to have a young baby in a bed next to someone that isn't his mother (even sleeping next to dad or a sibling is dangerous). There's more, but it's kind of obvious (no covers that could fall over the baby's face, prevention from falling, etc.). Here's a helpful list of safe co-sleeping habits to use if you're taking this easier sleep path.
I'll share a little story that illustrates creative sleep sharing and following mothering instincts. I have a friend who is a brand spanking new mom. Her newborn daughter doesn't like to sleep away from her. In fact, she sleeps best right on top of mom. She sleeps so well there, that by following her baby's lead, my mom friend often gets a full six hours of un-interrupted sleep at night. Now, what new mom do you know that gets that kind of sleep at night? Is it unusual to let your baby sleep on you? We think so, but she's not the first person I've heard recount this advantageous arrangement. My own daughter spent her first weeks nestled right atop my chest. It was restful to say nothing of blissful and oh-so-connected. Food for thought.
Have you heard of the "second nine months", aka human exterogestation? Babies come out needing to be held, and develop more fully, more healthfully, when held a lot, especially by their mothers. There's a good reason why babies can often fuss and cry when we put them down, why we hear moms complaining at times, "He only wants to be in my arms! I can't get anything done." Here's another scenario where we have a few options. Instead of listing them out, I'll just cut to my strategy of choice: babywearing. "Babywearing" is a phrase coined to mean carrying baby with the help of a baby carrier (be it baby wrap, soft-structured carrier, ringsling, mai tei, what have you). Babywearing is an ancient practice and lucky for us, it is experiencing a stylish renaissance. Here are the top four ways babywearing makes mothering easier:
Ease Bonus: More connection = easier times now and ahead
There's a little secret that parents who follow this "keep them close" instinct have. Well, it's more of a personal super power than a secret, and maybe even more of a math equation than super power. It's that being more connected to your child (something that happens naturally with more nursing, more holding, more up-close observation and response), you get to know all sorts of things about them that separation may reduce awareness of. For one, a deeper bond and familiarity helps you learn the precursors to all sorts of problematic moments and to know how best to head them off at the pass or at least reduce their severity. I'm talking about the little indicators that baby is about to be too tired (i.e. headed for a melt down), or nearly hungry enough to cry, or probably getting a cold, maybe having an allergic reaction, nervous about a stranger in the room, etc. etc. Being more connected to your child will make discipline easier, too.
Remember: It's not all or nothing.
It's not about being a certain type of parent (these three basics are in fact the core of the "Attachment Parenting" aka "Natural Parenting" aka "Gentle Parenting" style). Neither is it that these three basics give you and other moms who practice them a monopoly on connection. It's that they help to stay more connected, increasing the benefits of a well-bonded relationship.
We all have big beautiful full lives to live. Hopefully, if you're new to or approaching mommyland, considering how nature set it up to be easier than the media has led us to believe will lead you to some blissfully connected relief. Enjoy the ride. It's bumpy, but it's pretty awesome.