by Jen Milligan
I must admit, exercise was not high on my list of priorities with a newborn. As the months passed, however, I was feeling a bit frumpy, and felt like I wanted some energy and self-confidence back.
Walking, with the ever-increasing weight of a pram or baby carrier, is a brilliant form of exercise. The sunshine, the fresh air and the increase in heart rate will do wonders for your mental health as well as your physical health. Furthermore, the fresh air and change of scenery for your little one can help put them to sleep after a tough night and help to press reset on a grumpy day, all whilst building their immune system and giving them a fantastic dose of Vitamin D to help their sleep quality.
But what if you want to do more than a walk? The key with exercise after having your baby, is to take it slowly and gradually increase the intensity.
For intensive abdominal work, it’s always a good idea to chat to a postnatal physiotherapist before you get back into workouts. Belly bands are fantastic for support after the birth and they are a great help with abdominal separation. Be careful not to do your standard crunches too soon after giving birth. The tight abs you are hoping for may actually be made worse by this. Again, joining a postnatal Pilates or yoga class is your safest option.
After a caesarean section, remember to wait for 6 weeks before any form of exercise that requires heavy lifting.
For cardio exercise, try and time your exercise for just after a feed, for the comfort of your breasts and for the minimal transfer of lactic acid from you to your milk. If you weren’t a runner before you had your baby but you’re keen to give it a go, it will certainly get you fit faster that other forms of exercise. Having said that, it’s best to wait until your baby is about 3 months old before you start running. Until then, just walk to gradually increase your fitness and allow your body time to heal.
Anaerobic, or high intensity exercise will increase the amount of lactic acid running through your body, hence the suggestion to exercise straight after a feed so the lactic acid can move through before the next feed. Within an hour of finishing exercise, lactic acid has returned to its normal levels. For a cardio workout such as running or a gym class, you need to consider your production of lactic acid and its transfer to your milk supply. It is in no way dangerous to your baby, but it may upset some baby’s tummies.
So, am I exercising before or after a feed? If you are doing mild to moderate exercise, it doesn’t really matter, but you might feel inclined to feed first so that your breasts are comfortable. If you are doing intense exercise, feed first so that your breasts are comfortable. After you've fed, do your exercise and then wait an hour after exercise to allow the lactic acid to leave the body. Then, feed again.
Any form of moderate exercise is a wonderful inclusion in your day and will not have any significant effect on the production of lactic acid in your body. It will help improve your overall health and boost your energy levels, without hindering your production or quality of breast milk.
So head outdoors for a lovely walk with some friends and don’t forget to hydrate!
by Jen Milligan
"Ahhhhhhhh!!!" is how I feel as soon as I Google 'sleep training and cortisol'. I’m pretty sure I found a research article to support every opinion. “The stress hormone, cortisol, is elevated when babies cry to go to sleep”; "Sleep training is essential for the health of you and your baby”; “Studies are inaccurate in their research”; “There is no benefit in sleep training”; “Do sleep training, it doesn’t cause any long term damage” ... and on it goes!
What are you to do as new parents?
One of the main answers to this question is “what does your gut say to do?”.
If you want to be up with your baby many times overnight, feed many times overnight and not allow your little one to cry, that’s OK! To ask you to help your child sleep through the night would be futile, as your heart wouldn't be in it. You may find it much harder to stick to a plan, and the plan then becomes counter-productive. You need to be keen and ready as parents.
I will say at this point, it is not ideal to try and help a baby sleep through the night before 4 months of age. There are certainly strategies you can put in place that may help your little one do it naturally, but to teach them how glorious a full night’s sleep is, isn’t suitable before 4 months of age.
So, who do you trust?
Here at The Nurtury, Ingrid and I have a significant drive to help mums and dads grow happy and healthy families, both physically and emotionally. The thought of a baby, alone in their cot, crying for hours on end, makes us very sad.
Both Ingrid and I worked very hard, with the 7 children we have between us, to help our kids have a solid night’s sleep. However, we never wanted them to feel unloved, abandoned, or exhausted with distress.
A HUGE help to us both, and the families we partner with, is the knowledge that cortisol levels (the "stress hormone") in babies who have a parent with them when they are going to sleep are significantly lower than in babies who are left to “cry it out” on their own.
There is a significant difference between us being present in the room and seen by our little ones, versus not being in the room. It isn't necessarily about whether we are touching them; the fact that we are there means the world to them.
We never want babies to feel unloved or abandoned, so by introducing a faithful soft toy that is always in the cot is a wonderful way for our bubs to feel as though they are never alone. You don’t need to spend too long with any child to see the joy they have in genuinely believing that their toys are real and living companions!
As a mum of 4 children (one of them being a foster child), I wanted to find a way for my children to sleep, knowing they were loved and safe but also knowing how amazing a full night’s sleep is. One of the methods that we teach our families requires mum or dad to stay in the room the whole time. This worked so beautifully for my little foster child as he certainly could not be left to cry and feel any more trauma or abandonment.
Another method that we recommend is to only leave the room for a maximum of 2 minutes at a time. We will always tailor our advice to your desires and personality.
Using these methods, my kiddies, currently aged between 7 & 16, are mentally well and healthy and still love their mum and dad! They are social and happy. (A concern of some studies suggested that 'cry it out' methods develop children who are less social and more depressed.)
A huge consideration….
Having guided so many families to a full night's sleep, the overwhelming outcome is joy and thankfulness. Joy at the renewed energy to enjoy their baby during the day, joy at the feeling of waking up refreshed, joy at being able to have time with their partner in the evenings. We must not underestimate the power and importance of sleep. After all, sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.
When you look at it, what you are weighing up is your potential willingness and preparedness to let your baby safely cry a little whilst you are in the room following a loving plan, with the aim of teaching and supporting your baby to achieve a full night’s sleep ... which builds your baby’s immune system, helps them to grow and heal, enables happy relationships within the family and can make a HUGE and SIGNIFICANT difference to your mental health. It’s an interesting thought to consider, one that many studies don’t seem to address.
All day, of course, should be filled with smiles, singing, play, good sleeps, good feeds, fun and silliness! By doing this, you are building your baby up emotionally, meeting their every need, building relationship and giving them safety and security. All these things are critical for child development and are very hard to do when we are sleep deprived.
Our job as parents isn’t to create a perfect, stress-free life for them. They will bump their head, they will get sick, they will feel sad. Our job is to be there to support them through the sadness. Firstly, by staying with them whilst they gain the confidence to fall asleep with their soft toy, then by cuddling them when they trip and fall, nursing them when they’re sick, waving them off on their first day of school, and so on. Our job is endless; it is incredibly important and a huge privilege.
Ingrid and I are here for you if you are keen to chat. We are passionate about guiding you and your families towards achieving the gift of a good night's sleep!
By Jen Milligan
Breastfeeding can be really hard. It can be emotionally and physically draining and it can be very tempting to feel like 'throwing in the towel'. Here are a few tips from a seasoned midwife to help you with your breastfeeding journey.
How a baby feeds for the first few weeks is very different to how they need to feed for the following 6 months ...
The first two weeks for a baby and mum are all about establishing a milk supply and “getting the hang” of breastfeeding. Mum often needs to feed from both breasts to establish her supply. However, once her milk is established, it is very important that baby can get a “full feed” from one breast before moving to the second breast. By providing a long feed on one breast, your baby gets a wonderful mix of the rich and fatty milk along with the more watery/sugary foremilk.
A full feed from one side, before offering “dessert” from the other breast, means baby is receiving ample calories to allow longer periods of sleep between feeds. In addition, feeding in this way often relieves many upset tummy issues that may be caused by not allowing one breast to be drained before moving to the second breast.
Babies cry for more than just hunger ...
Crying may be caused by a need to sleep, a pain or a worry. Often, when you’re out and about, the crying bothers you more than anyone else and it’s easy to get flustered - fast!
All babies cry as it’s their way of communicating a need. However, they are not always needing more milk. If your toddler told you that they were tired and you responded by placing another meal in front of them, it probably wouldn’t end well. This is similar to how a baby might feel when they are crying because they’re tired and a teat or nipple is popped into their mouth. Whilst the sucking is temporarily soothing, the ingestion of more milk is often not.
We encourage mums to be intuitive. You know your baby best, and with a little bit of time and effort, you can learn to read your baby really well and respond appropriately.
Sucking doesn't always indicate hunger ...
The sucking reflex is very strong for a newborn and mums are often not aware that the suck can purely be for comfort. It may help them drift off to sleep, or comfort them while they get that bothersome burp up. If your baby is needing to suck to deal with a sore tummy, a feed may even make it worse.
We encourage parents to assess whether their little one is wanting to suck because they’re needing milk, or if they’re just needing to satisfy that strong urge to suck. Often, mum knows that her baby isn’t hungry, but having the confidence to go against comments from those around them can be very difficult in the early days.
Help is at hand ...
Ingrid and I, at The Nurtury, are passionate about helping mums settle into their new breastfeeding role. We know that it takes a village to raise a child, and we love seeing positive changes in families as they learn how to nurture and grow their new little baby.
Are you feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of breastfeeding? We offer phone consults at a scheduled time that suits you, to offer you advice and support as you navigate the tricky issues that feeding can present.
We also run Baby Care Classes over 5 weeks, covering feeding, sleep & settling, birth debrief & postnatal depression, starting solids and the importance of play. These classes are held in Berkeley Vale in a beautiful and intimate setting tailored to your needs, complete with homemade cake and a warm cuppa.
We would love you to be part of our village!
Does my baby really need medication for reflux?
Jen is a midwife with almost 20 years experience in a Sydney birthing unit. She now lives & works on the Central Coast, supporting new mothers as they transition into motherhood.
Ingrid is a birth & postpartum doula, living and working on the beautiful NSW Central Coast.