GENTLE, POSITIVE WEANING
While the word "weaning" often conjures up images of wailing babies and swollen, painful breasts, gentle, baby-led weaning is often so gradual and natural a process that mother may not even remember the exact day or even week that her little one weaned from the breast. Gradual weaning is gentler on both mother and baby. I use the term "positive weaning" to describe this style of weaning. Instead of abruptly removing a child from the breast, positive weaning is a mindset that respects the child's developmental readiness and views weaning as a process. Being "fully weaned" is a milestone and achievement, like mastering how to use the toilet, learning to ride a bike, or learning to read. Positive weaning also respects the mother's needs and bodily integrity, since the process of weaning may often be the child's first exposure to the idea that each person's body belongs to that person, and their first experience of respecting that others can, and will, say "no" to him or her on occasion. These important lessons have many benefits for the child long into the future.
No matter how they are fed, newborns benefit from infant massage as they transition from womb to world. For a young child, touch is as vital to life as milk. Infants who regularly receive infant massage cry less, develop faster, and have fewer discomforts. Infant massage is a wonderful way to encourage your baby's health and well-being while bonding with your child.
JOYFULLY WELCOMING A NEW SIBLING
For many children, their special time as the "baby of the family" will come to an end when a new sibling arrives. The uncertainty of how their child will handle this transition is often a source of considerable worry for parents during pregnancy. Often in books or shows on this topic, the older sibling is portrayed as jealous and the parents or grandparents as only interested in the new baby, and in my opinion, these negative depictions plant seeds of worry and pessimism in the older sibling that may contribute to a long-term "sibling rivalry."
My own experiences as a mother of seven have taught me that this transition is easier on the new big brother or sister when the older child is involved in the pregnancy; for example, attending prenatal care or ultrasound appointments; looking at ultrasound photos together; or helping to pick out clothing or prepare the home for the new baby. It is beneficial if there have been age-appropriate discussions of the birth process and birth plans; as well as frequent discussions of what they can expect of a newborn, and how Mom, Dad, and Big Sister or Brother will care for the baby...all with a positive, excited attitude.
During the typical challenges of pregnancy, and especially if complications arise during the pregnancy or birth, it is best to talk with your child in an age-appropriate way about what is happening to mommy or baby and how they can help, even if in very simple ways, like, "Please bring Mommy a glass of water." When the child does these precious acts of service, praise the child, letting him or her know what a great big brother or sister he / she already is. Empathy, gentleness, education, and encouragement will go a long way toward helping the young child to embrace this new role that, God willing, will last a lifetime.
While postpartum mood disorders like postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety have become well known, awareness of prenatal mood disorders is not as well known. It can be hard to tell if you are "just" pregnant or if you may be depressed. This graphic can help you tease out the differences. If you suspect you might be depressed, make sure to reach out to your health care provider or a mental health professional and share what you are feeling. It is very important to get proper treatment of mood disorders, whether they come up before or after your baby's birth. There are treatments that are safe for you and baby! You are beautiful; you matter; and your mental health matters!
The coronavirus pandemic has changed life as most of us once experienced it. Many areas of the world are in lockdown, and even in areas where things have opened up, as the number of COVID-19 cases spikes again, we will likely face more social distancing measures or quarantines to try to slow the spread (if we aren't already).
For some new mothers, this slower, more home-based pace of life has been a good thing. These moms report that being quarantined with their babies has helped them breastfeed, since - just to mention one thing - being separated from a nursing baby tends to make maintaining a milk supply more challenging and if nothing else, lockdown gives us lots and lots of time with our immediate family members. But in other and important ways, social isolation is not great for new mothers. Many important services that mothers need, including lactation help, have been more difficult or impossible to access during lockdown. Aside from access to healthcare, all mothers need other mothers, friends, sisters, cousins, grandmothers, aunts...we need our sisters and our sage femmes to let us know we're not alone; we're loved; we're doing a good-enough job; our kids are normal (usually); and, if they're not, to have faith that eventually, this too shall pass. Lockdowns put a lock on these face-to-face and side-by-side moments...natural social interactions which normally serve to lower our stress levels and restore us - "enhope" us. And all this goes quadruple for new mothers.
Dealing with lochia, sore nipples, night feeds, blow outs, the constant guessing games that a newborn brings (a/k/a no instruction manual), keeping a brand new non-verbal human thriving and growing, and caring for everything "down there" is just a lot. In some idealized past, we imagine our ancestral mothers got to lie around while their loving, supportive kin waited on them hand and foot. Sure, maybe that happened sometime, somewhere, but envying our long-departed great-great-grandmother's "lying in" is not really going to help you get through this painful feed, on this lonely day, at this ungodly hour.
So let's break this down. New mothers have physical needs. Food, water, monster sized maternity pads (in the beginning), menstrual pads later on, baths or showers, and (eventually) clean clothes. If you love her, ask about these things. If she needs something, help or ask someone else to help. Leave things on her porch, in her mailbox, send it unaccompanied up the elevator, or throw it through her window if you have to! (Or you could just give to the baby's dad, but that's not as fun.)
If she's good with her physical needs, I guarantee she has emotional needs. Call and ask about her birth. Listen. Bite your tongue if you find yourself starting any sentence with the words "at least." Listen. Celebrate the good stuff with her. Mourn with her anything she found sad. Share her anger if anything made her mad. Don't tell her what she should have done differently. Listen. Are you listening? Keep listening. No matter what, make sure to let her know how amazing she is. No one in the history of the world had her birth. It was her adventure and she is a heroine for having done it!
Call another time and ask how things are going with the baby. Celebrate the joys. Mourn the things that aren't going so well with her. Did I mention don't tell her she should have done anything differently? She is probably already beating herself up about something. If her baby is growing and developing, she's doing a great job. Tell her.
If her baby is struggling, offer to help. If she's got other kids, depending on your local situation, you might be able to have someone in mom's social bubble bring the baby's older siblings somewhere outside for a socially distanced / masked playdate so she can visit (whether in-person or virtual) with the doctor, or the chiropractor, or the lactation consultant, or whoever it is she thinks can help. Moms grow in confidence and feel capable when the people around them support their decisions about their baby's care. Be that person (even if you secretly disagree). Being a great friend / sister / mother / mother-in-law, etc., means supporting the new mom's efforts to become a mother, a big part of which is taking responsibility for her baby. And chances are very good that if the baby continues to struggle, even after that visit with [insert name here] she will try something else, and something else, and something else, and maybe, when she's tried everything else, she may even ask you for your advice! Now is your moment.
A few days or a week later, call her again. And then again. And yet again. And pretty soon she will blossom and her tiny baby will become a chunky monkey, roll over and crawl and take his first steps, and life will settle and she will never forget that you were there, on the sidelines, cheering her on the whole time. Maybe you never carried a meal to her bedside on a solid-gold tray, but you were there. And maybe she'll tell her great-great-granddaughters about you and how you were there for her when great-grandpa was born, during the time of the world coronavirus pandemic.
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