Here are 5 Basic Survival Skills for the first year and beyond.
Everyone has different parenting styles and beliefs. Every child is different but I wanted to share the 5 major challenges we faced, and how we survived, and how I know you will survive too. Nothing can prepare us for motherhood/parenthood, but you will find the strength within you to carry on, each and every day. Know this – babies are smarter than we think they are, but we can “outsmart” them if we start early. If they don’t know there is a better option, they won’t ask for it, if they know they can get a better option, they will push their boundaries to get the better option! If you follow through these 5 skills, you should start to regain some energy and enjoy motherhood/parenthood more.
Breastfeeding is HARD. From engorged boobs with milk stuck and unopened nipple holes to exit, sore cracked nipples from prolonged latching, to insufficient milk supply, it was something that I had no control over and working hard didn’t translate to results. Pain aside, the constant lack of sleep and living life in 2-3 hour cycles made each day feel extremely long. My husband saw me suffering and told me to give up. I told him not to ask me to give up, but to support me in my breastfeeding goal of 6 months. He reluctantly agreed and quietly supported me. In fact, he did some research and bought me a set of LaVie Warming Pads. Not enough people are sharing the difficulties they have from breastfeeding, but I urge any new mother out there aspiring to breastfeed to be kind to yourself and set realistic expectations.
I managed to breastfeed for 7 months with the help of the Silverette Nursing Cups which worked it’s magic to soothe and heal my sore nipples from latching baby, and LaVie, my trusty companion for all my pump sessions to improve milk flow and make each pump session more bearable. You are doing this 7-8x a day, you decide if it is worth owning these gadgets. If this is your first child – you can reuse these gadgets for future babies. They don’t expire!
- Sleep training
Some of my friends told me “I love to cuddle baby”, “I can’t bear to hear baby cry”. But I’m telling you, although sleep training is tough, IT IS THE BEST THING you can do for yourself and your child. A well rested baby is a happy baby, and every baby needs a happy well rested mum. Babies love predictable routines. It makes them comfortable and safe knowing what is coming next.
We had no help initially and simply couldn’t endure the daily long routines of putting baby to sleep with lots of cuddling, patting and latching. It just wasn’t sustainable for us. We needed baby to be sleep trained.
When our baby girl was 5 months old, we did the cry-it-out method. The first few nights were the worst. I couldn’t endure her loud pitiful cries and left the house. Luckily, my husband was determined enough to push through with it and she was asleep by the time I came home. I attribute our successful sleep training to a few factors:
- She was a rather large baby and weighed > 5kg by the time she was 5 months, so she didn’t need a night feed from ~3 months onwards.
- We don’t stay with parents so we could have the freedom to execute the cry-it-out method.
- We did not give her a pacifier so she relied on sucking her thumb to self-soothe. So no fumbling around or crying in the middle of the night if she can’t find her aid to get back to sleep.
For reference, this is our bedtime routine, plus/minus 15 minutes:
- By 8pm – Shower or wipe down and change into pyjamas
- 8pm - Go into her bedroom, switch on white noise music, and read a bedtime book. We read the same book every night so that she associates this as time to sleep.
- 815pm – Feed her milk, cuddle, sing some songs and say goodnight. Lights out, set a 30mins timer for the white noise music as she prefers perfect silence through the night, and leave the room. Pro-tip: We leave her sitting up, instead of forcing her to lie down (cues crying~). She gets to decide when she is ready to lie down and rest.
- It’s important to make sure that the room is pitch dark. When there is nothing left to do and baby knows that you are not going to “save” him/her when he/she cries, he/she will sleep!
- Baby Led Weaning
By now, you must be thinking why we are always taking the “hard” way out? There are many benefits of doing baby led weaning but one key motivation was to save time in the long run. We did not want to spend hours feeding her each day through toddlerhood and decided to go with baby led weaning instead of traditional weaning.
What is baby led weaning? To me, baby led weaning is letting your child learn how to feed themselves right from the start, to develop a healthy relationship with a variety of foods and enjoy eating! That being said, baby led weaning is not for everyone, and they all eventually get there (self-eating), it’s just a matter of when. You need buy-in from your family members, invest the time and effort to prepare meals, and possibly more time to clean up as compared to traditional weaning.
It does get easier after a while and having the right tools can help make your weaning journey more manageable. We used Ezpz feeding sets, and also developed a setup to minimise mess during mealtimes.
I will be sharing a more detailed post subsequently on baby led weaning as requested! In the meantime, check out this post on why, when, how to prepare for weaning and what to do if baby chokes. It is not that scary!
- Independent Play
Work-from-home is great but how do you work if your baby clings on to you and wants your attention 24/7? It’s important to create a safe “yes” space for baby to explore and play by themselves freely. This helps them to become more confident and feel capable to complete other tasks on their own. We do toy and book rotation every week so that she does not get bored and is not over-stimulated by having too many toys at any one time. I would show baby how to play with each toy and tell baby, “play on your own” and leave her on the playmat, but stay close by in case she needs help. If she gets bored of her toys, she is empowered to crawl around the house and find something else to entertain herself.
- What about Us?
It’s all about the baby, what happens to us?
Having a new baby is a test of a couple's relationship. As new parents, we are shocked into the steep learning curve of dealing with baby's demands and marriage takes a backseat. When it was just "you and me", all was good, but the addition of a baby can be so overwhelming that couples struggle to safeguard their relationship. Marriage requires consistent deliberate effort to communicate and understand what your partner feels and face parenthood together. I remember that one night where we broke down – we were both beyond tired. I asked for a hug and he said no. I was really hurt and cried for a long time. I was worried that he didn’t love me anymore. We managed to sort things out, and made conscious effort to have couple time where possible. To do these, you really need a baby who sleeps at a predictable time!
Sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, depression, anxiety and other stresses e.g. financial commitments are real problems. Be sure to protect your relationship even while you are busy taking care of everything else. What About Us by Karen Kleiman is a great resource with evidence-based solutions if you need help!