I tend to be extremely risk averse. I like having information, knowledge - at my fingertips. How else do you make informed decisions? At the same time information can be overwhelming and can give rise to ‘extreme parenting’. That is, following all the baby advice out there to the point that it compromises on your own emotional, mental and physical health. I believe we need to reach a balance and find a point where we are comfortable with the advice we subscribe to and know what the really important things are so that we can be good parents without turning ourselves into a wreck to give our children the best of the best. It’s important to recognise what is ‘enough’ for us.
If I could choose the Top Five things I think every couple expecting a child or trying to conceive should know, it would be this:
1. Preconception decision making
In a time when we have contraception readily available to most people in most countries, it seems that there are still a lot of accidental pregnancies. If yours is not an accidental pregnancy and you are actively trying to conceive. Here are a few things to think about:
Having a baby is a decision that will last a lifetime, is this one you are ready to make right now?
Are you financially stable, and able to provide for a child for the next 18 - 25 years of its life?
Once you have a baby, how will your circumstances change? Is one parent going to take some time off while the other works, or are you going to both take time off or will baby go to daycare after 6 weeks? Preparing a budget for the next 5 years of your life based on current income and future expected income projections is a great start.
What family or friend support do you have around you for when you have a child? Will you have help to do the grocery shopping while someone watches your baby, or have a break for a bit? Can you afford a babysitter if you don’t have support around you?
Do either of you have flexible working options through either of your jobs to be able to work part time or work from home after you have the baby?
Are you both aligned on the way you want to parent, the values you want your child to have, and the lifestyle you’d want to lead as parents?
2. Nutrition during pregnancy and pre-conception
Eating a healthy diet and leading an active lifestyle are pretty much the basics of nutrition during pregnancy and pre-conception. But there are a few things to avoid like smoking, drinking, soft cheeses, raw egg, cod liver oil, shellfish. And a few things you should make sure you get into your diet like folate, green leafy vegs, iron, magnesium, calcium.
In a society where people are either one extreme or the other, it can seem easy to dismiss nutrition advice as being over the top and stick to a general diet of ‘everything in moderation’. But before you do, I would urge you to do your own research and see why people recommend avoiding certain foods and eating others. While there may be lucky exceptions to the rule where nothing has happened to a baby due to a mother’s consumption of these forbidden foods, the studies have proven otherwise when looking at a broader sample.
For example, why are mothers told to avoid shellfish during pregnancy? Is it just to an evil ploy to wreck the shellfish industry or an old wives tale? No. Studies have shown that consuming shellfish during pregnancy have lead to a lower birth weight.
Here are the studies if you’d like to read for yourself:
3. Preparing for childbirth
We prepare for most changes in life like moving house by doing our due diligence and looking up the house, the area, the market value, doing building inspections and pest inspections etc. Yet with childbirth most people remain oblivious to the differences in terms of preparing for pregnancy, continuing to invest in your body and mind, and preparing for the act of giving birth. You may focus so much on eating the right food, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and going to pre-natal appointments that you forget the birth ahead. The good news is our bodies instinctively know how to give birth - women have given birth for millenia. Unfortunately the stories passed from mother to daughter, from the wise women in the village to young girls have all died out as we moved from the country to the city and from a community to small nuclear families. Women may lack the confidence to give birth because they haven’t heard the stories of positive birth from the women in their families, stories of empowerment and spiritual birth. It’s important that these stories are shared and if you don’t have the people around you to share their stories, you can go to sites like ‘Tell me a good birth story’. It’s easy to watch TV shows like One born every minute and feel overwhelmed by this heavily medicalised hollywood drama style of birth but these are the exception rather than the rule.
It’s important to prepare both your mind and body for birth, create your nest and safe space and think about the place where you want to bring your baby into the world and the people you want around you. Who do you trust to keep the positive calming environment around you, and be there to support you? You might consider hiring a doula to advocate on your behalf if you are giving birth in a hospital environment with lots of routines and procedures. You might also prepare a birth plan with preferences of what you’d like during childbirth, e.g. delayed cord clamping, natural breaking of waters, birth partner to announce the gender etc. These are all things to consider well before you give birth and it’s helpful to discuss these with your birth partner and write it down.
Childbirth is famously touted as being the most painful experience most women will go through. And yet there are stories of painless births, in native tribes, in the farm midwife community run by Ina May Gaskin, in stories of birth in England and Europe in the 1800s. How is it that some women have a painless birth and others don’t? It could be that we all experience pain differently and pain is largely impacted by our mindset. Going to hypnobirthing classes or listening to hypnobirthing audio tapes, practicing breathing techniques, visualisations, using candles, music, birth playlists, and positive affirmations may all help you to have the kind of birth you want for yourself. Other books I’ve read have also recommended perineal massages in the weeks leading up to childbirth.
4. Preparing for parenting a new baby
In the moments after the birth of your child, you will hopefully have the time and space to enjoy getting to know your new baby and have skin to skin contact. You can choose whether or not to have the baby washed straight away or let the vernix be absorbed into its skin. Once you are ready to go home with your baby, if you’ve chosen not to have a home birth, it can seem a little overwhelming. Its best to use the weeks leading up to the birth of your baby to prepare for this homecoming so you can focus completely on your new little family. Ask family and friends to bring your favourite meals and leave them for you, or you can do a big cook up a few times leading up to the birth and freeze meals that are easy to reheat like casseroles.
Instead of people bringing you presents, ask them if they could help by leaving food, helping with chores, or even watching the baby for a couple of hours while you sleep or have a bath. It can be hard with sleep deprivation and the cocktail of hormones you will experience after birth and its important for you as parents of a newborn to still get the rest you need and contact with other adults and the opportunity to have an adult conversation.
If you’re able to buy everything you need for your baby well before the birth like nappies and bedding, arrange for a postpartum doula to help in the days after, and get in contact with a breastfeeding counsellor should you need it, then you’ll have a lot less to do once your baby has arrived. A babymoon is a great time to just be together with your baby and stay in bed together and eat chocolate and watch netflix.
It is also helpful to discuss with your birth partner a few important things before the birth like will you try to breastfeed and if so for how long. It’s important to get the support you need so that you can start off your breastfeeding journey with success and make informed decisions on what is best for your baby. Also where will your baby sleep? Do you plan to co-sleep or have bed-share or have your baby sleep in a different room? It’s important to get the information you need to ensure you do each of these safely. How long will your partner have off work to spend with you and the baby and if it’s not long maybe you can get any other family or friend support, or professional support to help you in that time. If you already have older children, it might be difficult for them to adjust to having a new sibling so it’s important to make sure you have the time to give them the attention they need or other family members who can make them feel special.
5. You are enough
There will be times you question your own capabilities to look after this tiny helpless human who is completely dependent on you. But just know that you are enough. Your baby is wired to love you and aside from sleep, warmth and nourishment, what they need most is love and affection for their growth and development. Just trust in your own abilities and know that to your baby, you are the most amazing person ever.
Cover Image by Janeb13 from Pixabay
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