Okay expecting parents. It’s time we talked about newborns. Not idealised newborns. Not terrifying newborns. Real, living, breathing babies.
The last trimester of pregnancy is a rush of excitement, nesting and, for some, a touch of the fear of the unknown. We talk to Lynne-Mckensey Hall, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and owner of Better Beginnings, to demystify some common misconceptions about newborns (seriously, whoever coined the term “sleeping like a baby” needs a word) and how to best prepare yourself for when your new bundle arrives.
Breastfeeding: Seek advice
Yes, breastfeeding is completely natural, but like anything it takes practice and a good foundation to work from. Essentially, while the parenting classes that hospitals provide are brilliant resources, Lynne believes there are a few pivotal aspects that are missing: namely prepping mums about those first five days with your newborn and helping arm the partners with some tips on how to help, too.
Lynne recommends seeking advice from an IBCLC or the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) so you understand the needs of your child and are equipped from the get-go with the right attitude and knowledge.
“Definitely have a session with an IBCLC about breastfeeding. Particularly if you’re really keen to do it, sometimes more information can be gained by speaking directly with an IBCLC … Not everyone can come to an IBCLC but certainly a session with ABA would be helpful in terms of more specific information about breastfeeding. I do think that’s what’s missing,” she says.
And remember: breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt
“The biggest myth is that people say breastfeeding hurts. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt but if it does we need to find out why,” Lynne says.
“There are usually three reasons why it does: first, predominantly because baby hasn’t been positioned properly and the second is usually because of poor attachment – the second reason might be that we need to look for anatomical anomalies in the baby’s mouth. The third is that we might need to look more closely at mum -- are there issues with mum?” Lynne continues.
Newborn routines and the reality
There are a plethora of books and advice out there urging new parents to get their babies onto a routine as quickly as possible. Lynne says this will happen organically, you just need to work with your baby’s cues – these tiny people know what they’re doing.
“A well and effectively fed baby will self-regulate and fall into a pattern if parents would just relax and let the pattern evolve. A pattern is much more flexible than a routine,” she explains.
And yes: there are babies out there who will succumb to a routine and be set up as an ideal, but Lynne is quick to point out that these babies are the exception not the rule.
“There’s a population of less than 1% of babies who will look as if they’ve read these books, but for the rest of us mere mortals, these babies just need to have someone be compassionate and responsive to their cues. If you follow the baby’s cues, just as you follow the subtle cues of your partner and other people in your circle, it would all fall into place just as easily,” she advises.
“I would challenge adults to ask themselves what routine they have themselves on. Are you looking at the clock every time you eat and drink?” she says. “Breastmilk is a high GI, perfectly balanced food and is often processed and digested within 45 minutes … and when you think of a baby who has a tiny tummy, it [a routine] seems pointless.”
Advice on newborns: apply a filter
Like we said above – there is a wealth of books and advice out there on how to manage your gorgeous new bub and make them fit within your lifestyle, but all that glitters is not gold. Lynne advises that any decision to do with your newborn and baby should be evidence-based, not to mention align with your own maternal instincts.
“Hormones change when women become pregnant and the hormone that changes when they have the baby is designed to help protect and feed their baby. What we then need to do is support that mother’s instinctive response with evidence-based practice rather than the nonsense out there written by these unqualified authors,” Lynne advises. “They are babysitters at worst. Seriously, it is a problem.”
Keep an open mind, but do make sure you do your due diligence when seeking out and reading advice. Just like us, babies do not come with a one-size-fits-all solution.
So how does a typical newborn behave?
Your tiny person has no ulterior motive, no hidden agenda, they are very simple little humans. They pretty much just want to eat, sleep and feel safe. Yup, the mystery is unravelled into those three very basic needs.
“Two things you’ll never do wrong with a baby – you can never over-breastfeed a baby, we just ineffectively feed them because of misinformation and perhaps not having a comfortable enough feed,” Lynne says. “And you can never over-cuddle a baby. All you do is make them feel more secure and when they are more secure they will become independent at age-appropriate stages.”
She likens the first three to four months to the honeymoon period of a grown-up relationship – you just want to be close to that person.
“They want to be close, they need to be close and trying to remove them into areas where they’re not feeling secure isn’t teaching them anything … Just like adults, the more secure they feel in a relationship the more they feel they can be independent within that relationship,” she says.
As paediatrician Dr Benjamin Spock once famously said, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”