The beginning of life with your newborn baby and the start of your breastfeeding relationship might not be what you were hoping for during your pregnancy.
How many women feel that a difficult birth spoils the joyful start they had imagined would mark their entrance to motherhood? If your body feels battered and sore and the side effects of intervention or medications make you feel swollen or drowsy, this may compound your sense of incompetence or inability to care for yourself, let alone your new baby. At a time when you need to enter your new role as 24/7 carer, you may feel shocked and exhausted.
It is very common in such circumstances not to feel a rush of love and an instant connection with your newborn baby, even though you have been anxiously looking forward to meeting him for nine months. Now he is here, you may feel a whole lot of unexpected emotions.
After thinking you can no longer cope with the enormous heavy load of pregnancy, you may feel really taken aback by an inexplicable sense of loss. A mother may also find it hard to believe that the baby handed to her is actually hers, the one that so recently was on the other side of her skin.
When the nurse put her in my arms after bringing her back from the SCBU, I had a nagging doubt that this was not my baby at all and that there had been some dreadful mistake.
They had dressed him in another baby’s vest. The clothes I had brought to the hospital with me, the tiny vest and hat that I had held against my growing belly, just the last week during a photo shoot, were still in my unpacked bag. I know that seems like a very insignificant detail and that I should have just felt relief that he was OK, but it upset me to think of someone else having dressed him for the very first time and not even in his own first clothes.
She was so tiny, I was afraid to hold her. I felt she might break.
I wanted to turn the clock back 24 hours and have the whole horrible experience erased. I felt cheated as an emergency cesarean had been what I’d wanted most to avoid. I needed to rewind and to act out my perfect birth plan the way it should have unfolded.
It felt as though I was acting a part because I did not feel any connection with this little creature. I just wanted to put him down each time the nurse handed him to me.
These feelings of alienation are not uncommon following a traumatic birth, and even sometimes after a straightforward one. It can take time to fall in love with your newborn baby. Keeping mother and baby together and in close proximity helps you both to grow into this next phase of life.
Mother and baby learn to relate to each other through touch and smell. A mother should be gently encouraged to hold her baby, with their bare skin touching each others, as much as possible. Keeping you both together in the early days is crucial to the development of this new relationship. If for any reason this is just too much for you, keep your baby in as close proximity as possible and take this process a day at a time.
Your baby has grown inside you hearing your heart beat and that is where he wants still to be, close to that reassuring sound. Keeping him in your arms, close to your breasts will help him discover where his milk comes from and will help stimulate your supply as he nuzzles and works out how to attach and suckle.
The more familiar you become with holding him, the more right this will begin to feel. Take time to stroke your baby and sniff him. Feel his feet. A newborn’s feet are truly a thing of beauty. They have never been walked on and feel so incredibly soft. Stroking the soles of his feet while your baby is at your breast can keep him awake or rouse him to feed more actively and at the same time help relax you with a realization that this perfect little being is your creation who will grow one day into a child who can run about on those feet. That seems odd to write down! Newborns smell delicious, too. You must have heard people say about babies that they are “good enough to eat”! And really these very visceral feelings are hugely important to the both of you.
Your nurturing feelings may not come straightaway but let your baby be your guide. Know that you are responsible for him but that this will actually empower you. This is a relationship that will unfold at its own pace. Be gentle with yourself. Try not to be frustrated or anxious if breastfeeding doesn’t work well immediately. Allow each other time to unfurl.