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Four months ago, I began a journey of discovering how to live my working mummy life with more joy and less guilt. I was embarking on a new phase, full-time work/study, and wanted to make it a success. I wrote about starting my journey, and invited others to come along. What a wonderful rabbit hole I descended into! Like Alice in Wonderland, I started discovering all kinds of amazing things on my journey, and am a changed woman (and continue to change). I stumbled across a truth – to change the world, you must first change yourself, or nothing will really change. I started examining external circumstances and how I could change them, and ended up in quite a different place. I’ve been reflecting on all of this and here is what I’ve found along the way.

First I explored the domestic division of labour. I discovered that a more equal division of labour did not automatically make working mothers happier. I thought about time, and how I should value its importance just as I valued nutrition (cutting out “junk” time). I started to think about two types of change: the practical things I could change about the working week, and the inner work so that my happiness or contentment was not dependent on external circumstances. Sort of change what you can change, including yourself, so that you don’t end up always back in the same place, complaining about new things. I started to explore new ways of thinking about myself and my world. Like seeing work and family as an integrated whole rather than competing interests. Connecting with the meaning of “work as love made visible” and the bigger picture. Those of you very dear to me, and you know who you are!, read my posts and commented and came along on my journey.

Then I wrote a simple post on working mothers and stay-at-home mothers and it absolutely exploded all over the world. There was a collective weeping across the globe as mothers finally felt understood, on a very deep level. This episode will go down in my memory as one of the most amazing and significant events of my life. Hundreds of thousands of mothers wrote to me to say thank you. There were, of course, a small handful of very unhappy people, but I learned to accept the negative with the positive and move on. Many of you continue to discover my blog via the “letters” – welcome, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the journey with me! And of course, my very dear family and friends continued to read and connect with me, and I love you all so very much from the bottom of my heart :)

I’ve continued to discover some very profound, startlingly simple truths, the kind of ageless, timeless principles of wisdom that have always been around but which I, for some reason, am only beginning to tap into. I discovered how vital it is to be grateful for every single day and this is something I feel is one of the absolute crucial parts of being a successful, happy and engaged parent. I put gratitude into practice during the difficult weeks of early wakings, sicknesses, and general exhaustion. I practised an abundant mindset to free myself of feelings of inadequacy (this is something I still have to work at every single day). I learned that loving and forgiving myself was another key to being a happy working parent, as was creating a mindset of receiving as well as giving. What is amazing to me is that I stumbled across these by reflection, and later would hear prominent speakers – psychologists, scientists, Buddhist meditation teachers etc – talk about these exact same things as though they were my very own words. I knew then that these are enduring principles, not pop psychology trends – and they will stick with me as long as I keep practising them.

Lately I have been practising mindfulness. I consider mindfulness and gratefulness to be two of the most important keys to being a happy and peaceful parent. So many of us feel the passage of time with such sadness – imagine if we could just enjoy today instead of worrying, fretting and feeling grumpy! But I feel it is more than this as well – I write often about mummy guilt, and as part of this I have unsubscribed to some parenting newsletters that were just making me feel like an awful mummy for not constantly creating beautiful art projects with my children while baking them slices and biscuits and taking them to ballet and music classes. Mummy guilt is something I will continue to explore, as I know it is rife, and interferes with otherwise happy parent-child relationships.

I am continuing to look for ways to improve my experience of being a working mother, or even a mother, or just a better person. There are so many more truths out there that I am eager to discover. I hope this will create a mindful life, and one with indeed more joy and less guilt. I know that I am already so much happier (though sometimes I forget this). I no longer dread the “rush hour” and instead have embraced its madness. Mornings are boisterous and happy rather than tense. But there is so much farther to go. I hope you’ll stay with me – I have enjoyed having so many more companions on my journey. Thanks for reading :)

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/larabarbie/8727736237/
https://www.flickr.com/photos/larabarbie/8727736237/

There’s a lot of talk these days about gender bias in children. In particular, girls are encouraged to be assertive, not labelled as “bossy” if they do take a leadership stance, and expand their horizons beyond being ballerinas, princesses and anything generally pink and fluffy. Stories and books about inspirational girls and women abound. There are toys that are carefully designed to nurture girls’ spatial and constructive abilities in the hope that there will be more women engineers in the future.

I have been observing these efforts with much admiration and also a little bit of concern. I thought I would share my opinions, and that is all they are – opinions, as a mother of a daughter and a son.

Firstly, I recognise that the thrust of these movements is to empower girls and future women to reach for the stars and achieve beyond their wildest dreams – to not limit these dreams to those of a pretty princess waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince (*vomit*). To teach them that women are amazing, limitless creatures who can do pretty much anything. I have to say this next bit. I grew up in the 70s and 80s. The feminist movement was only just getting started. My family was, and is, very traditional. But I never felt I was limited in any way. My mother didn’t read me stories of inspiring women or steer me away from dolls. She sent me to ballet lessons (I hated them). I rode bikes, swam, played with Barbie dolls and Lego. I wore pink, and many other colours too. I showed academic promise very early, and my parents encouraged and nurtured my education. Eventually I became a doctor.

I never ever felt that there was anything I couldn’t do because I was female. Until I became a mother and had to consider issues like childcare and working hours. Suddenly I was limited, hamstrung. I felt a need to be with my children so I chose to work part-time. I stopped attending conferences. I stopped putting my hand up for opportunities that would mean extra time and work – I was too tired to take this on. My point is, are we building future women up only to leave them unsupported when they eventually have their own children? Even with the most equitable sharing of childcare duties, being a parent involves an ongoing commitment that need to be juggled along with career commitments. Women still shoulder the majority of the childcare. (well, by definition, someone has to). I recognise that a lot of people might say at this point “What about the dads?” I believe that the majority of fathers also face similar conflicts, and that it is challenging to have two parents who have demanding jobs or careers. What is the solution for families with two breadwinners who don’t have convenient extended family support? Nannies (which the majority of the working population cannot afford)? More flexible working hours? The ability to work from home? I don’t think these questions have been answered for our generation.

My second thought on this matter is that I don’t care if my daughter wants to dress as a princess for now. She’s four years old for heaven’s sake. She loves to wear a tutu, tiara and wave a magic wand around. She adores unicorns and fairies and ponies. She also plays with these amazing magnetic blocks called Tegu blocks. She draws. She spends a lot of time “mothering” her unicorn – because she is imitating me. (Rest assured I don’t go around in a tutu and tiara though!!) When I ask what she wants to do in the future, she says “Like you mummy – a doctor”. We talk about reasons to “work” – helping others, increasing value in others’ lives and getting paid at the same time. I think she will be an entrepreuneur. She once said she could charge cars $2 for helping them park in tight car park spots! A girl after my own heart :)

Here’s what I have to say for those who worry their daughters might turn into princesses, as in helpless silly females who value the superficial only and have no problem-solving skills. Don’t be a princess yourself. Be assertive. Gain control over your emotions. Display strength and courage and resilience. Don’t read women’s magazines. Don’t read about Gwyneth’s “conscious uncoupling”. Don’t idolise celebrities. Turn off the television – you’ll stop the endless flow of gender stereotypes from TV commercials. Don’t expect flowers from your partner. Don’t expect to be pampered just because you’re a woman. Buy yourself flowers if you like. Share your successes at home. Act like a lady – gracious, loving, respectful. Read. Keep learning and show your daughter the pleasure that comes from learning something new and mastering new skills. Don’t gossip. Problem solve. Don’t bitch. Love your body and treat it well – show your daughter how to make fitness an essential part of your every day. Have a healthy relationship with food. Stop emotional eating. Learn to meditate. Get involved in volunteer and charity work. Don’t simply read her stories on inspirational women – be one yourself.

Teach her resilience, self-efficacy, respect for herself and for others. Teach her that lifelong learning and lifelong loving is the key to true contentment. These lessons from you will be far more influential than a few Barbie storybooks (*vomit* again). It may not seem that way now but when it matters, she will remember you, not Barbie.

And let her wear a tutu if she wants to.

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Dear you,

I’ve seen the look on your face – a combination of terror, tenderness, and confusion. What just happened? How did this happen? How am I supposed to care for this helpless little being? How do I get through tonight? Then I’ve seen you glance over and think, how on earth do other parents do it? How do they look so calm and in control? What’s wrong with me?

For all the mamas (and dadas) who aren’t feeling this way in the first newborn period, I applaud you. You’ve amazing. Good for you. For all the rest, read on. I’ve been there. And I have something to tell you.

Here are the reasons why we don’t have that look of terror on our face any more. And it has nothing to do with the quality of our parenting.

1. We’re getting some sleep. Lots more sleep than you are.

Rottenecards_76258271_7hxht98mp7Oh I won’t lie to you, it goes on and on for a while. For some, a loooong while. But nothing can prepare you for those first few weeks. That very adorable baby wants to be adorable for several hours from 2am til 5am. It pukes and cries every half hour on the dot after midnight. You don’t even have the luxury of “waking up” in the morning – you’ve been awake all. Night. Long. Sometime in the not too distant future, you’ll be complaining about your baby waking you three times a night instead of every hour. Hang in there. Once you get your first block of 6 hours sleep, you’ll suddenly feel like a new woman (or man).

2. We’ve been through all the milestones that you’re fearing now.

Right now you’re terrified about all the new things to come. Teething – what the @@#$? Crawling, climbing, tantrums, solids, the smelly poos that come with solids… Us mums have a way of regaling you with our stories of “what’s to come”. Bewildered much? But once you’ve been through several of these brand new experiences and lived to tell the tale, you’ll gain a new kind of confidence.

3. It gets better. I promise.

That mum and dad having coffee in peace while their children read or colour at breakfast? That will be you, soon, very soon. (Ok, not very very soon, but time does fly, in retrospect!) One day, believe it or not, your little baby will learn to feed himself, walk, communicate, go to the toilet (on his own!!), and then (sob of joy) pick up a crayon and scribble. If you’re lucky, for ages and ages. And while every new age and stage brings it own joys and challenges, like homework, learning to ride bikes, navigating friendship dramas, once we have completed our family we will never ever have to go back to those weeks and months of breast-leaking, constant crying, feeding around the clock, waking around the clock, puking, mastitis, recovery from vaginal or Caesarean births, twelve runny explosive poos a day type existence. Never.

4. Our kids can show us that they love us.

image
By Robert Whitehead (Danielle & Lilliyan Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We know you’re probably completely in love right now. (And if you’re not, don’t panic, it can take a while). But for the first six or so weeks, apart from ceasing to cry when anyone picks it up, your baby seems, well, grumpy. There are no smiles, no coos, no giggles, no babbling yet. My first baby smiled very early, at 5 1/2 weeks, which was probably a survival tactic as she was colicky and screamed all night at that age. My second baby didn’t smile til 8 weeks and it was like living with a very cranky little old man! But the smiles will start soon, and, with the first toothless grin, all the weeks of sleepless and being covered in puke melt away. Then comes the steady march of adorable behaviour, from the first giggle, to first “Mama” (and steadily proceeding to separation anxiety, another fun milestone for you!) But life is truly truly better once they start to smile.

5. We know now that crying is normal.

Every time your brand new baby squawks, you worry that something is terribly wrong. Are they hungry? Are they ill? Are they in pain? Too cold? Too warm? You run around frantically trying to soothe the crying. It doesn’t help that very well-meaning family and friends wisely say to you, “Babies only cry for a reason.” We went through that too and can tell you whole-heartedly now, sometimes newborns cry because they are newborns. Heard of the “fourth trimester” theory that proposes that babies are born three months early because otherwise their big heads (housing their big brains!!) would not allow them to physically be expelled from the womb? In the first three months there is a lot of crying. Sometimes they’re hungry, sometimes they need a cuddle. Maybe they’re overstimulated. But some babies just cry because they’re very new babies.

 

So relax. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the ride. Don’t hold it in if you’re feeling stressed. (Research shows that a significant proportion of new parents experience daily anxiety). Talk to someone, get some reassurance, get some practical tips and help. All too soon, you’ll be patting another new parent on the hand and telling them “It will get better. Hang in there”. :)

Photo: http://www.pmslweb.com/the-blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/18-kids-they-grow-up-so-fast-they-move-out-so-slow.jpg
Photo: http://www.pmslweb.com/the-blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/18-kids-they-grow-up-so-fast-they-move-out-so-slow.jpg
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By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (30 Days of Gratitude- Day 15  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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Being a mum is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately it also seems to be associated with weight gain. This happens both during pregnancy and afterwards. Weight tends to accumulate with each new baby. Being overweight leads to chronic problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and is a risk factor for certain cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer. And while I feel that all women should be aiming for a healthy body image, for many of us our self esteem is linked to how close we feel to what our ideal lifestyle and weight should be. We may not need to fit into the prescribed “healthy weight range” for all women, but any weight loss will significantly improve health outcomes – and give you a huge self-esteem boost because you did it.

Having been a mum for a while and struggled with post-partum weight loss myself, I know some of the traps we easily fall into. These mostly have to do with the change in diet when you become a mother – large reviews of the evidence on postpartum weight loss point to diet and exercise being the key factors to weight loss – not exercise alone. If any of these apply to you, try changing them for a healthier weight, lifestyle and example to your kids.

But to start with, the research shows that the best way to prevent weight gain after pregnancy is to prevent weight gain during pregnancy. This is much easier to say than do – pregnancy has a way of weakening your resolve, pummelling you into a blubbering mess that only chocolate ice-cream can revive. But if you are pregnant now, or planning another pregnancy, keep this in mind, and try not to listen to everyone urging you to finish another muffin because “you’re eating for two now!” Really, you’re not (it’s more like eating for 1.2). But I know and can empathise with the reality of it.

Now let’s have a good honest look at some of the traps we fall into:

1. Breastfeeding does not equal magical weight loss.

By Petr Kratochvil [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Petr Kratochvil [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
We’re lulled into a false sense of confidence with this one. Reviews of the evidence have shown inconsistent results. In some studies, breastfeeding appears to result in some weight loss. In others, no weight loss (compared with non-breastfeeding women) occurs. Researchers have suggested that some breastfeeding women may consume more calories than are needed for breastfeeding. Additionally, the post-partum period is also associated with a decreased metabolic rate (contrary to popular belief). But us mums still fool ourselves, thinking “I deserve this second piece of chocolate cake! I’m turning fat into milk after all!” Well that was me, anyway, after my second baby.

It’s difficult to get an estimation of how many extra calories are needed while breastfeeding. The truth probably is that we need few extra calories – our bodies are supposed to be turning existing fat into milk. (You know, those extra kilos you gained during pregnancy… they’re there for a good reason!) Also, just because you were ravenously hungry when you were feeding 8 times a day at 6 weeks does not mean you need the same calories when you’re doing two feeds a day at 8 months.

So, if you’re using breastfeeding as an excuse and are frustrated that the kilos aren’t magically melting away…perhaps it’s time to put that myth (and those cookies) away.

2. Stop serving comfort food.

{Information |Description=Home made macaroni and cheese, with some dried herbs and grounded pepper. |Source=own work |Date=2007-04-19 |Author=Antilived |Permission= |other_versions= }}
{Information |Description=Home made macaroni and cheese, with some dried herbs and grounded pepper. |Source=own work |Date=2007-04-19 |Author=Antilived |Permission= |other_versions= }}

Having a toddler often means your weekly diet suddenly consists of mac and cheese, spaghetti bolognaise, shepherd’s pie, mashed potato, fried noodles and fried rice… in fact anything that will tempt your fussy eater. Have you fallen into a bit of a “comfort food” habit? Start branching out and serving healthier food that doesn’t involve calorie-laden cheese sauce. Many toddlers also enjoy grilled fish or chicken, steamed vegies, vegie soups and stirfries. Save the comfort food for a weekly meal and revamp your diet.

3. Stop baking.

By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (30 Days of Gratitude- Day 15  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (30 Days of Gratitude- Day 15 Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Somehow, when you’re a mum, baking becomes one of your pastimes. It’s fun to make cookies and muffins with your toddlers, and there are those cupcakes for playgroup meetings. At one stage we were churning out a batch of cupcakes once a week! If you’ve fallen into the habit of constant baking (and eating), try to source some lower calorie recipes (skip the icing on the cupcakes for example), put a brake on the baking for now, or bring healthier morning tea treats instead like fruit salad or veg crudites and hommous. (Seriously, hommous is totally yummy – especially drizzled with a fiery chilli sauce!)

4. Stop finishing your children’s leftovers.

You get the drift… Kids don’t finish their meals, so instead of scraping away the leftovers into the bin, you feel compelled to eat them. Don’t. Serve smaller meals to start with, so they don’t feel overwhelmed, and you don’t have to eat the scraps.

5. Make it count.

How could wearing legwarmers NOT make you want to exercise??
How could wearing legwarmers NOT make you want to exercise??

Exercise, that is. I walked for 45 minutes the other day. It was my cross-training day – a day to do something to maintain aerobic fitness but to avoid injury – something other than running, that is. It was a brisk walk but I burned 128 calories. If I had done 20 minutes of running, or high-intensity interval training, I would have burned closer to 200 calories or more, and in half the time. We’re all busy people. Let’s make our exercise time work. Bump up the intensity of what you’re doing and watch those kilos burn themselves! My weight loss certainly kick-started once I started doing HIIT!

6. You’re not too tired.

Feeling exhausted? Too tired to exercise? Is that keeping you from doing any form of regular exercise? It’s tough being a mum with all the responsibilities that we have to attend to. But the truth is, exercise can actually make you less tired. It’s been shown to be effective for treating fatigue. At the very least, it won’t make you any less tired than you are now. If you’re not doing any exercise now, start with something small – a brisk half hour walk a few times a week, and you’ll find that your energy levels will probably improve rather than deteriorate. Many mothers run busy households and manage to fit in a lot of exercise into their week without compromising their energy levels. Don’t let this hold you back! You can do it!

7. Sort out sleep issues.

http://www.huggies.com.au/baby-care/sleep/
http://www.huggies.com.au/baby-care/sleep/

Ahhh sleep, the holy grail of mamas! Who ever thought eight hours of uninterrupted sleep would be such a luxury! Researchers now know that there is a definite link between poor sleep and weight gain. This is thought to be due to physiological and hormonal changes related to sleep deprivation. Obviously sleep deprivation is to be expected in the early months of babyhood. But if you’re struggling with severe sleep deprivation with older babies or toddlers, seek some help. Solving sleep problems isn’t easy, and it depends on your personal philosophy, but if you’re not winning, find out what you could be doing to ensure a little bit more sleep. Speak to your child health nurse or GP, call a sleep school, or read some books. Decide on a method and stick to it. Consistency with night time routines has been found to be one of the key factors to ensuring a good nights sleep for all – more so than the method itself. Chopping and changing doesn’t do any child or parent any good in the long run. And if you’re anything like me and in the habit of staying up too late to get more “me” time after the kids go to sleep – try going to bed half an hour earlier and catch up on your sleep debt. I was amazed the difference this made to my energy levels.

8. Ditto for stress.

Feeling stressed raises the level of cortisol in the blood – a hormone that promotes weight gain and diabetes. If you’re constantly feeling overwhelmed, depressed or anxious about your life, talk to someone, ideally your GP/family physician, and seek help. Being a parent can be an incredibly stressful experience, so don’t be too proud to admit that you’re not coping as well as you think you should be.

9. Watch your cafe habit.

By Josiah Mackenzie from San Francisco, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Josiah Mackenzie from San Francisco, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Us mums hang out in a cafes a little bit. It’s our way of coping with caring for small children, dealing with sleepless nights, bonding with our fellow mamas, and generally making life a little bit more enjoyable. But cafes can be a trap for mamas trying to lose weight – a regular chai latte and muffin/cake habit can pile on the kilos unknowingly. You can reduce the kilo creep from cafe habits by going for pram walk with your friends instead, sharing treats, or skipping them altogether (and being judicious with your beverages – a large chai latte can add a whopping 335 calories to your daily intake. Stick to green tea instead, which has no calories and is thought to burn fat!)

10. Stop using food as a reward.

When we were going through toilet training, we rewarded Star with marshmallows if she successfully weed or poo-ed in the potty. You can guess what happened – I ended up sneaking a few here and there. Using food as a reward for children has a double whammy of repercussions – on them and on you!

 

You know all the talk about being a mummy means setting good habits for your children. If you’re having trouble with weight, would it help to re-examine this and walk the walk (literally and figuratively?) Aim for a slow and steady weight loss and a lifestyle change, not a diet. Journalling your calories for a few days can really help set you on the right track. Eat mindfully, eat for pleasure as well as health, and make exercise part of your routine. Here’s to a healthier, lighter and happier you :) You deserve it, mama!

http://young-wild-and-fit.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/motivational-weight-loss-health.html
http://young-wild-and-fit.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/motivational-weight-loss-health.html

 

 

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Mother's_Love

Mother's_LoveWere you anxious after your first baby was born? If you felt worried, tense or nervous on a regular basis, you weren’t alone. New research performed by Dr Karen Wynter from Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, one of the collaborating institutes on my acupuncture for menopause trial, confirms what parents already know – having a first baby brings with it insecurity, lack of confidence, and anxiety. Anxiety could be the new postnatal depression, it seems, and is more common than postnatal depression.

I remember the self-doubt that arose in the first few weeks of motherhood, and the self-judgement. I felt out of my depth, and also confused by multiple different schools of parenting. Should I stick to a routine? Should I follow my baby’s cues? Should I do controlled comforting or sleep with my baby? Is it bad that my baby always falls asleep in the sling or the pram? I felt guilty – a lot – and I didn’t know why or where it was coming from.

I spent many days hanging out in the parent’s room at our nearest department store. My baby would cry during nappy changes, but other babies didn’t, and their mums appeared so calm and in control – they looked into their babies’ eyes, cooed at them, and their babies smiled back contentedly. What was I doing that was wrong? Were the other mums judging me?

I remember going to sleep at night and hearing my heart thumping very fast – a telltale sign of anxiety. It raced away, and I slept poorly as I was always waiting for the baby to wake up. My baby also developed severe eczema, and as I struggled to control her skin breakouts I felt increasingly inadequate as a mother and even as a doctor.

As time went by I became more confident. She stopped crying so much, and sleep improved. My heart stopped racing. We also discovered that she had multiple food allergies, and the eczema cleared. I felt validated at this point and after this I learned to trust my instincts as a mother and not be swayed by other people’s opinions. With Number 2 I had a much better experience as I already had a network of supportive mums and knew the basics of caring for a baby. We also escaped the colic and eczema that came with our first baby.

If you are feeling anxious and it is affecting the way you get through the day or night, do speak to someone. An empathetic friend, your maternal and child health nurse or your GP. You can also phone PANDA (Post and Antenatal Depression Australia) who have a helpline (unfortunately only within business hours) or the Maternal and Child Health hotline. Don’t be afraid to “fess up” about how you’re truly feeling inside. You don’t have to pretend you’re supermum. I think this was my biggest lesson. Honestly, when you’ve only done the job for a few weeks, how can you be an experienced mum? We need to get away from the illusion that giving birth to a baby immediately equips you with some magical “mother” superhero persona and that you will “just know what to do”. We need to make new mums know that we know it’s a job that has a steep learning curve and that night after night of crying and lack of sleep can turn the most capable person into a blubbering mess.

Seek help from kind people and ignore the ones who make you feel inadequate or guilty. Unfortunately not all mothers are compassionate to their fellow creatures.

And remember, you’re not alone. One in three women in Dr Wynter’s study had significant anxiety. It’s not so much that babies don’t come with a manual – nowadays they come with too many manuals. In this era of pseudo-scientific mothering, with its reliance on advice from multiple baby “experts” and “gurus” with vastly differing styles of parenting, new mothers are bewildered and vulnerable. We feel we can no longer turn to tradition or what our mothers did, and we struggle to meet the ideals of modern “intensive mothering” which eschews a labour-intensive parenting style and inherently results in a good dose of mother guilt. The media bombards us with images of perfect happy mothers, beautiful babies and tender moments while we sit alone and dishevelled in our non-perfect houses, jiggling our cranky babies on our spew-covered laps or shoulders. If we dare to share our feelings online we receive cruel comments like “Stop complaining, children are a choice”.

I found this photo and lots of similar ones on the Huggies website. Another example of perpetuating myths about calm and sleeping babies. http://www.huggies.com.au/baby-care/sleep/
I found this photo and lots of similar ones on the Huggies website. Another example of perpetuating myths about calm and sleeping babies. http://www.huggies.com.au/baby-care/sleep/

Perhaps, with research like this highlighting parental anxiety, we will finally begin to have an honest conversation about postnatal anxiety, and help someone else in the process.

Photo credit: By Mark Colomb (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Pregnant_woman_(2)The Australian government has once again formally reminded GPs to vaccinate pregnant patients, or patients planning pregnancy, for the upcoming “flu season” (May-October). The vaccine is provided for free in Australia for women who will be pregnant during the flu season.

Is it safe to have the flu vaccine during pregnancy?

Unequivocally, yes. There are no reports of adverse outcomes for mum or baby after having the seasonal flu vaccine. There is a very low risk of anaphylaxis for those with an egg allergy.

Isn’t the flu just like a cold? Why should I get vaccinated?

During pregnancy, your entire physiology changes. This includes significant changes to the way your heart and lungs work, and a reduction in immunity. This puts you at greater risk of serious illness and death from contracting the flu.

Your baby will also receive passive immunisation from the vaccine and will be protected from contracting the flu from all those well-meaning relatives who want to cuddle the new baby when it’s born, particularly if you have the flu vaccine during your second or third trimeters.

It only takes five vaccinations to prevent one case of serious illness in mother or baby.

The “flu” is more than just a cold – the virus was responsible for more than 50 million deaths worldwide during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 (more than the number of people who were killed during World War I). While most healthy adults will recover from the flu, the risk of serious illness and death is higher in some susceptible groups – including pregnant women.

Flu vaccines generally become available around Easter in Australia. If you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy soon, ask your GP about having the vaccine.

Photo credit: By David Roseborough from Los Angeles, United States [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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http://chattahbox.com/science/2009/11/07/babies-cry-in-accents-heard-in-the-womb/
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http://chattahbox.com/science/2009/11/07/babies-cry-in-accents-heard-in-the-womb/
http://chattahbox.com/science/2009/11/07/babies-cry-in-accents-heard-in-the-womb/

Having a baby is a wonderful and frightening thing. You are sent home with a tiny person who seems to need so much care and attention. You’re completely in love, but it can seem overwhelming. And while we all know babies cry, some babies cry A LOT. About 30% of babies will have “excessive crying”, the type that can last for hours, and cannot be soothed. This is incredibly frustrating, heartbreaking, and bewildering for parents. Aren’t we all told that babies “only cry for a reason” and all they need is milk and cuddles? Then there is the sense that you must be doing something wrong, because other babies don’t cry the way yours does.

My daughter (I’ll call her Star) was one of those excessively crying infants. The crying (or screaming, rather) started at four weeks and ended at nine weeks, quite suddenly. It often lasted hours, and one day she cried for EIGHT HOURS. I am not kidding! In between she was flourishing and was adorable, of course.

She wasn’t a chucker, so “reflux” wasn’t diagnosed. However, this seems to be a very common diagnosis these days in unsettled babies. While some babies undoubtedly do suffer inflammation and pain from reflux, in the most case a “spitter-upper” is not crying because of reflux. Studies have demonstrated that episodes of crying are not related to episodes of reflux. There is little evidence to support the use of popular anti-acid medications like Losec, with studies showing that babies do not become less unsettled or cry less on these medicines. Yet reflux continues to be a convenient label for an unhappy baby.

I came across a wonderful new website called “The Purple Crying period“, which I highly recommend to all parents with crying babies. Written by paediatricians and child psychologist researchers, it provides a reassuring, balanced and evidence-based approach to the crying baby. The website presents the excessive crying period as a normal part of infancy, and discusses some of the common techniques to calm babies such as swaddling, white noise, movement, baby-wearing etc. The experts make the point, which has been confirmed in clinical studies, that there is no one magic technique that works all the time. Time helps, with the excessive crying abating by 3-4 months. In the vast majority of cases, babies are perfectly healthy and are free of disease. However, all babies should be examined by a doctor if they are crying excessively, especially if they are unwell, not gaining weight, or have symptoms like fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

www.purplecrying.info
www.purplecrying.info

Parents of babies who cry excessively are more prone to depression, stress and anxiety. It’s vital to understand that it’s “normal” or usual for babies to cry like this, and that it does not reflect parenting abilities. All too often parents are accused of being “too stressed” about their babies, indicating that relaxed parents don’t have crying babies. If your baby cried for hours on end at any time of day, of course you would be stressed! Stress is usually the result of, and not the cause of, the excessive crying – but in the same token, mums and dads need to pay attention to self care and seek help if they are struggling.

When parenting gets tough, take time to have a cup of tea with friends.  http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/the-tea-32829
When parenting gets tough, take time to have a cup of tea with friends.
http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/the-tea-32829

It does come to an end, of course, but I remember those days and nights as though they were yesterday. I believe it served a purpose – to make me stronger; to acquaint me with the myriad of techniques that can help soothe babies (white noise, jiggling the baby, positioning, I know it all!) and most importantly, create compassion and empathy for other parents. Hang in there to all of you doing it tough. It WILL end. :)

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Woman Standing on Scale
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Woman Standing on Scale

It is really encouraging that I now see lots of patients in the pre-conception stage. We have a long chat about trying to conceive, healthy lifestyles, and how they feel about becoming parents overall. I think it’s a great opportunity to build a relationship with a GP who will look after you throughout pregnancy and beyond – including helping you with postnatal problems and becoming your baby’s GP.

When I looked up a Cochrane review on routine pre-pregnancy health promotion, however, I was disappointed with the conclusions that “there is  little evidence on the effects of pre-pregnancy health promotion” on pregnancy outcomes. Was I doing all this pre-conception counseling in vain?

A more recent study of over 5000 women was more encouraging. The researchers identified the factors that led to a decreased risk of a complicated pregnancy. That is, what makes for a healthy pregnancy – one without complications like diabetes, poor fetal growth, prematurity etc. The factors that lead to an uncomplicated pregnancy are:

  • not being overweight (BMI < 25)
  • not taking recreational drugs
  • no alcohol while pregnant
  • normal blood pressure
  • pre-pregnancy fruit intake of at least 3 pieces daily.

Interestingly, maternal age was not associated with increased risks in pregnancy, despite the current thinking.

Perhaps the problem is not that health promotion is not useful, but it currently isn’t effective in normalizing these risk factors – such as weight and diet. In particular, advice on how to lose weight is vague and not evidence-based.

However, planning a pregnancy can be a powerful motivator for change. Not only will a healthier lifestyle improve chances of falling pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy, but parents can begin to set good examples for their children to follow.

Photo credit: http://www.dailyhiit.com/hiit-blog/hiit-diet/diet-tips/youre-dieting-wrong/

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