It’s funny that this blog started off with a theme of “cooking and traveling” three years ago. Today, me and most of the world is pretty far from traveling however many try themselves more in cooking. I’m now a full time mom of a 6 months old girl. I’ve learned so much in the past half a year about myself and my body, about babies and my daughter and about all the mothers in the world. Motherhood makes you empathetic with every woman, whether she is a mother or not. It's like a sixth sense opened to the essence of your feminity.
It's my life motto to always try to have fun. This is also true for being a mom. So I try to follow several principles and techniques which help me to reduce stress and cope with exhaustion. Honestly, I think it’s relevant for anybody, not only mothers. I’d like to stress that I’m discussing here my personal views and opinions. There are an infinite amount of ways to raise your child. You need to decide what is right for you and your baby.
1) Try to Take it Easy and Enjoy Yourself
I know it sounds literally impossible to take it easy when a tiny human who was growing inside you comes out and you carry full responsibility for her wellbeing. You are overwhelmed, exhausted, clueless, anxious and pumped with hormones. It’s really hard to imagine how to calm down, however I can't stress enough of how important it is to teach yourself to relax. Your baby is a sponge of your emotions; she literally believes that she is still a part of you. She feels everything you feel and you will have a much harder time to calm her down if you are yourself not calm. Besides that motherhood is much more enjoyable when you are not freaking out. Your head is clearer and you simply know what to do when there is no noise of anxiety ruling your head and heart.
There are lots of ways to learn to relax; meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, mantras of ‘everything will be ok’, praying - whatever works for you. Get into it while you are still pregnant because it’s harder to start when the baby is already born. It will also help you tremendously during childbirth. All the answers are within you. You just need to calm the fear in order to hear what’s right for your tiny human. This way I’ve managed to make the best decisions for my baby so far.
Of course sometimes it doesn't work out and I also burst out in tears because of frustration and exhaustion. This is the most natural thing in motherhood but I learned that it’s the best for me, my child and my family when I’m trying to enjoy every moment of it because they are so precious and they go away so fast.
2. The new Schedule of Motherhood
I found one of the most challenging changes about motherhood is the new routine you need to figure out and constantly update and maintain. Since I'm a natural optimizer it was very hard for me not to know the new order of things. Everything seems so difficult and exhausting but really it’s because you haven’t figured it out yet. It’s in our nature to strive for a routine. Especially since the order of things keeps changing because the baby is growing up and needs different activities. I promise you once you’ve figured out your routine everything gets much easier.
You should treat the routine as a baseline which you can of course shift and play with. It doesn't need to be attended in a forceful way. On the one hand it's good when the infant knows what comes next during the day but on the other hand you need to keep him flexible and open to new things and adventures. It was important for us to make sure that we integrate the baby into our lifes and not the other way around. We shift the bed time if we’re out and having fun with friends. I don't think that it's always better to put the babies' needs over our individual ones or the needs of our relationship. Having a thriving relationship during hard periods full of exhaustion and stress is extremely important. Nothing will happen to their bed time routine if they go to sleep later when the parents want to have some fun once in a while.
3. Be Gentle and Good to Yourself
Due to corona most of the traveling wasn’t possible in the past six months and therefore, my husband and I found ourselves alone in Dahab without any family and (most) friends to help us out in the first weeks and months. Whether you are alone or get help you need to find the time to recharge in order to not to neglect your needs and wishes. If you are exhausted, drained and didn’t have any fun in forever you simply cannot be an awesome caregiver.
You will be frustrated and impatient and everyone in the family will suffer. Don’t feel guilty about needing some wellness time. Also cut yourself some slack if you have done a mistake. You will be making mistakes and it doesn't help anybody to beat yourself up about it. Learn your lesson and try to avoid them in the future but most importantly treat yourself with love and kindness. Then you can treat your surroundings with much more empathy and patience. I never aimed to be the best mom in the world. "Good enough" is already great for me.
4. Involve your Partner as Much as Possible
I’ve read and heard a lot from (girl)friends that men are not involved much in the first months or even year(s) of a child’s life stating the argument “there is not so much they can do”. For me and my husband it was very important to involve him from the very start. He played with our daughter almost from day one. He sang to her when she was crying or into sleep, did lots of physical exercises and stayed with her if I needed time to recharge. Often I noticed that after he spent some hours with her he longed for her much more in the coming days.
Bonding is essential in the relationship with your baby. I don’t think it’s different for mothers. When she was born I wasn’t immediately drawn to her like I am now. It’s a process which builds itself up through all the time you spend together. Same goes for fathers. If they don’t spend much time with the little ones then it’s harder to bond and get to know each other. I believe it’s also very empowering for a man to be able to handle their childs’ difficult moments with ease simply because they know what to do.
Many people work from home now therefore, it opens possibilities many families didn’t have before. By the way, the initiative doesn’t always come from him. I often ask him to wake up in the morning so I can sleep longer, or stay with her so I can go and do something for myself. I learned it's better not to wait until you get the help offered; but when I ask he gladly does everything I ask him to.
5. The Miracle of Breastfeeding
I am absolutely mind blown by the whole miracle of breastfeeding. The less you worry about it (same as in childbirth) the better it works. As I found out your body is a perfect machine producing nutritious food for your baby. The composition of your milk changes according to the different developmental stages your baby goes through. The key here is supply and demand. Your body will in most cases produce as much as your baby drinks. Your baby controls therefore its own intake. This is a concept which was hard to understand for me in the beginning. Because it means that if you feel you don’t have enough milk (which almost every mom will feel like a 1000 times during the time she breastfeeds) it’s usually connected to the fact that the baby doesn't drink that much. The baby needs to drain the breast completely in order for your body to receive the signal to produce more.
What often happens is that mothers fear that the baby didn't eat enough and start substituting with formula. Then the breasts are not getting drained and you get yourself into a dangerous circle of your body thinking that the baby is weaning off breast milk and producing even less. In my case the supply and demand are in a very fine tuned balance therefore easy to disrupt. For this reason I decided not to mess around with it.
My mom told me a crazy story about her breastfeeding experience: When I was little back in the Soviet union the doctors used to say that you need to drain your breasts after every feed in order to keep your milk production up. This is right of some sort but what happened was that she overdid it. She drained 3 liters of milk every day and had to pour it out because there was nothing she could have done with it. She tried to donate it but there was no infrastructure for that in place yet. If you have so much milk it also means that your boobs are constantly leaking and imagine how much work it is to drain 3 liters every day by hand. Her body thought she had triplets probably. There are lots of funny things doctors all over the world tell mothers.
Of course your nutrition, water intake and supplements play a role in the production of breastmilk. If I have good nutrition several times a day many days in a row, as well as fenugreek supplements I notice a visible increase. Truth to be told; you can’t really know how much your baby drinks. If the diapers are wet and she is not crying for food - then everything is ok. Here again is a place where it’s very easy to drive yourself crazy for no reason and mess things up with formula. Trust in your body and baby that she will let you know if something is not ok. At the end of the day your baby is a human and there are days she will eat a lot and there are days when the appetite is not going to be very big - like in all humans.
6. Encourage Independence from the very Beginning
I’m trying not to tolerate behavior today which I don’t want to be dealing with in the future. If I want my child to be independent further down the line, I need to start today. She's never too small. If I don’t want to feed her until she is three years old, she needs to start learning how to eat by herself today. We introduced baby led weaning when she started solids. This means she holds all her food by herself and we skipped the mashed foods and went straight to finger food. I'm steaming hard veggies and fruit for her; such as apples and carrots. Then I'm laying them in front of her and she takes them and puts them into her mouth. Often its messy but she eats by herself. This is great for her motorics and coordination, as well as for her sense of accomplishmet.
I started to potty train her also and we had some amazing success with it. She can't say that she needs to use the potty but she already understands the concept and I'm sure it'll be easier to train her in the future. Same goes for sleeping and playing. Of course it doesn't always work and often after one step forward it feels we're going three steps back. However, I keep trying because I believe ultimately everyone will benefit from her being more independent. First and foremost she herself.
I'm trying to not drive myself too crazy because I really wanna have many more children and I believe that the amount of kids you have stands in direct correlation of how hard your previous parenting expiriences have been. However, she's not even 6 months old. Maybe soon I will discover that I'm full of shit. :P