We attend antenatal classes, practice hypnobirthing, and create birth plans. We pack hospital bags, create lists of things we need, decorate nurseries, choose a buggy and buy all the equipment we think we will be using.
But for so many first time mums, nothing quite hits us like the reality of having a brand new human to bring home from hospital. The dawning realisation that this gorgeous, precious little bundle is 100% reliant on us…. 100% of the time. Thats pretty big.
I’ve worked with a lot of new mums over the years, as a breastfeeding peer supporter and more recently in my new role as Babycalm consultant. Its a really special time filled with a whirlwind of visitors, gifts, hormones and overwhelm.
During these early weeks it takes time to find your feet as a family. You will no doubt be faced with all sorts of conflicting advice, questions about sleep, information about EVERYTHING and a list of books that you absolutely should be reading. But who should you listen to?
Your baby hasn't read the books. They've not been to the antenatal classes. They have no expectation of life on the outside. Your baby has been programmed with the minimal amount of survival training. She knows you are important. She knows that without you, her safety is compromised. She's fitted with a very basic safety alarm. So its no wonder that when you disappear for even a second, where your baby can’t see, hear, smell or touch you, that alarm goes off. And my word, it’s effective!
The transition from womb to being earthside can be an enormous change for a new baby. The life they have known until now is warm and wet. There is no breeze, no sudden change of temperature. The lighting is set at an ambient red glow. There is the constant sound of heartbeat, peppered with familiar digestive noises and voices that they've become accustomed to hearing in a muffled tone. There is no sensation of hunger or thirst- that brilliant juicy placenta of yours has been providing constant nutrition on tap. There is no feeling of needing to poo or wee. Life in the womb is your baby’s very own nudist retreat. They are free and easy just floating around in their weightless sack of fluid. Life is very pleasant indeed.
To then suddenly emerge into this new world comes as a huge shock. That warm protective water has disappeared. These sensations of hot and cold and air blowing around are new. This really bright light is overwhelming. Theres no muffle to the noises anymore, and it’s so LOUD out here. Theres a few familiar voices and sounds but when there’s no water buffering them, it can be a bit frightening. Theres a gnawing sensation in their tummy that wasn't there before. There is no concept of hunger yet and baby has no idea where food comes from or how to make this feeling go away. Theres something weird being strapped around their bottom, pressing into their tender tummy. Filling up with something that they have no control over and it feels seriously odd to be sat in this warm sticky mess. This glorious naked body is now contained within clothes. Even the softest cotton can feel really alien against skin that has never known anything but nudity previously. Labels, buttons, waistbands, hats- none of these in the womb. That wonderful freedom to swim around, wiggle fingers and kick feet has disappeared. Everything feels so heavy now that gravity has got involved. That watery cushion has gone and now they are feeling the weight of their body pressing down into a mattress or carseat or basket. That lovely tight cocoon that held her close and contained has gone. The world is now infinite. A stretched out arm that would have once made contact with a bouncy wall now is flung wide into space. Or makes uncomfortable contact with something hard and unforgiving. Their senses go into overdrive- suddenly these new sensations of smell, sound, taste, touch and sight are everywhere.
Now is it any wonder that your baby sets off the alarm- and cries at the top of their lungs- often.
These early weeks are often known as the fourth trimester, as your baby slowly starts to become accustomed to life outside the womb. It can be an easy transition for some babies and harder on others. The good news is theres plenty you can do to make this easier on them (and on you!!), but understanding and connecting with these changes, being present and responsive, will make these early months far more pleasant for everyone involved.
One day, you will look back on the fourth trimester and realise it’s flown by in the blink of an eye, but whilst you're there in the trenches, it feels never ending. Make sure you're fully supported by friends, family and cake. There’s always got to be cake.
To find out more about the Babycalm workshops and courses I have running this autumn click here or to look for classes in other areas visit calmfamily.org