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 Ingrid Clark
As I write this, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. We’re adhering to the Government’s plea to stay at home and adjusting to the "new normal" as we try to curb the spread of the virus. As a result, I have my 3 children doing their schooling from home. They’re all in high school now, not babies anymore, and they’re able to somewhat satisfy their needs for social contact via technology. It’s a bit different, however, for all the parents with babies and toddlers.
For Jen & I, the current situation has meant a complete re-think on how we can still nurture our clients, whilst maintaining a safe 1.5 metre distance. In order to be safe and compliant, we actually can’t run our classes ‘live’ at the moment, and that is tough because we just love offering practical, hands-on support.
But, we are all in the same boat, so we just have to start doing the best we can under the circumstances.
Like many businesses (and schools), we are now using the Zoom platform to run ‘virtual’ groups. Granted, it’s nowhere near what we normally offer, but it’s a point of contact and a sense of community, and that is vital. The other benefit is that we get to see each other, and the beautiful babies that we’d normally be cuddling.
We could have just taken a hiatus and decided to only offer one-on-one phone consults, rather than the full range of services we provide. But we know all too well how new mothers can feel isolated even when there isn’t a pandemic, and we simply cannot abide the thought of new mums sitting at home with their babies and toddlers, feeling like they’re all alone.
Sometimes we just have to try and change our mindset in order to make the best of a situation. To illustrate, rather than thinking “Oh my gosh, I’m STUCK at home with only my baby for company! I’m gonna go crazy for SURE!!”; you could use different language to try and change the way you feel and go about life: “Oh wow, my usual activities aren’t on at the moment. That means slower mornings (I can stay in my PJ’s longer!) and less pressure. Plus, I know my baby is protected from the virus if we’re just hanging out at home.”
I know I’ve oversimplified what is a very complex situation, but the point I’m trying to make is that if we start using different language, we can see things as opportunities rather than limitations.
Toddlers & Preschoolers
“The baby is easy … it’s the toddler I’m struggling with.” Yep, I get it. You may well be having to keep your toddler or preschooler home every day too. It can make the days seem very long. It’s exhausting. But again, how can you change it so that this enforced time together is quality time together? Rather than lamenting the loss of your toddler-free time, ask yourself how you can make this time special and memorable. For example: “Wow - I don’t have to rush out the door to daycare or mothers’ group or playgroup. That will actually eliminate a lot of stress! Maybe I’ll feel inspired to do some great activities with my child that I normally feel too rushed to bother with.”
I’m not saying it’s easy; it’s not. But it might just be enjoyable. I’ve been thinking a lot about the sorts of things that might help parents get through the days, and I’ve put together a bit of a list. Here are 10 ideas of how to make the most of social distancing with kids (in no particular order):
1) Go for a walk. Exercise and fresh air are so important! Schedule this into your daily routine. It will do wonders for your mental wellbeing and stimulate your child’s senses.
2) Be inventive. Maybe you can try a new type of exercise or a new way for your child to burn off excess energy! Toddlers seem to love doing yoga, so take advantage of spending all day in your active wear knowing that nobody will ring your doorbell! Or build an obstacle course, either inside or outside. My kids loved these when they were little. A dance party is also a popular one, and when you’re socially isolating you don’t need to worry about how silly you look! Go nuts and pull out all your moves; the kids will think it’s HILARIOUS.
3) Imaginative play. This is super important, both emotionally and intellectually. It’s how kids learn. BUT, let’s be honest, it's usually a bit of a drag to get down on your child’s level and actually play! I would usually find that I felt stressed. My mind was going through all the ‘jobs’ I had to get done. But guess what? Your activities are cancelled, no one is watching, and your child will think you are THE BEST! So let loose, dredge up your best acting skills and enjoy watching the expression on your little one’s face as you really engage in their imaginative games.
4) Make a phone call. It’s the next best thing to meeting for coffee. Speaking to someone at the same life-stage as you can be very comforting. A word of warning though: being real and honest is super important, but try not to get caught in the trap of ‘one-upping’ your friends in the “poor me” stakes. Instead, be real about the struggles, but try and encourage each other with strategies and ideas to get through this.
5) FaceTime. Ok, hear me out. For those who’ve done our Baby Care Classes, you’ll remember that Jen & I don’t normally recommend screen-time for young children. But, have you heard the saying “desperate times call for desperate measures”? Yep. If your little one is missing their family and friends too, a quick FaceTime session might just be the ticket.
6) TV. Don’t freak out ... I haven’t forgotten that TV isn’t recommended for babies under 2 years old. But for toddlers & preschoolers it can be enjoyable and helpful to have a scheduled time in the day for watching a show or two. I recommend saving this for late afternoon. It’s a little sanity-saver you can look forward to! Usually it gives you a chance to get dinner on the table and perhaps fold the washing and do some other chores. Or it may be that you’re able to feed a younger baby and settle them in bed, knowing that your older child is safe and relaxed.
7) Cooking. I know it can be messy and time-consuming, but I’m yet to meet a child who doesn’t want to help with cooking. It’s surprising how much a young child can actually do. Perhaps the best thing though is that they’ll often try new foods if they’ve played a part in preparing it.
8) Do something creative. It’s scientifically proven that doing something creative can enhance our mood, so give yourself and your children a serotonin boost and get crafty. Sure, toilet rolls might be in short supply, but there are other options out there! Empty cereal boxes, yoghurt containers, egg cartons … use your imagination to turn these into some marvelous creations. A bit of masking tape and paint can provide plenty of stimulation and entertainment. Think outside the square, too. A painting session might produce many ‘masterpieces’; why not turn them into greeting cards for family or friends? It might even result in a lovely walk down to the post box, and you’ll be sure to brighten someone’s day when they receive the mail!
9) Extra story time. Often we only have time to snuggle up for stories at the end of our busy days. But when you’re at home, don’t be afraid to have more than a few story sessions in a day. Why not have a ‘book picnic’ or build a ‘story cubby’? These can be huge hits with toddlers and preschoolers and it’s a lovely way to pass the time.
10) Nature time. It doesn’t matter if you’re living on an acreage, a suburban block or an apartment ... engaging with nature on any level is good for you. It could mean going on a nature walk and collecting things along the way, or it could be bird watching from your window or balcony. One of my favourite activities is to plant something and watch it grow. Little ones love getting involved … and getting dirty! Embrace the time you have, and enjoy the benefits of growing something. It’s a beautiful distraction from all the doom and gloom and somehow restores a sense of balance: life goes on, and this too shall pass.
We would love to hear other people’s ideas on how to cope during this time. Share this with a friend who might benefit, and share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments section, or on Facebook or Instagram.
Hopefully we’ll be back running groups and feeding you cake again really soon. Take care!
by Jen Milligan
This blog post was inspired by an incredible mum who rang The Nurtury to get help with her precious 14 week-old son. She added a simple question at the end of the call: "any advice for a mum who can’t sleep, even though my baby is sound asleep?!”
It is a problem that up to 20% of mums face in the postpartum period and it can be really tough. The hormones running through a woman's body after she has a baby can wreak havoc with her internal body clock and, despite her incredible fatigue, obtaining the sleep she so desperately wants and needs can feel impossible to achieve.
Top tips for improving your sleep:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
PANDA: 1300 726 306 (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia)
By Ingrid Clark
There was a time in my life when I viewed Mother’s Day as just another over-commercialised event on the calendar. Not that I ever felt my Mum wasn’t worth celebrating; on the contrary – my Mum is the rock star of all mums, and all 5 of her children agree. What I mean is, I felt it shouldn’t be necessary for us to have to be told to celebrate our mums and to let them know they’re appreciated. I’d like to think that Mum felt this on some of the remaining 364 days of the year.
However, now that I’m a mother myself, I realise amid the full-time job of parenting that it is nice to have a day where mothers are told how much they’re appreciated; when they perhaps get a bit of pampering (even if it means toast crumbs in the bed – eeew!), and where society as a whole jumps on board. It’s really sweet to see the kids do their own shopping at the school Mother’s Day stall, especially when they can’t wait beyond the school bell on the Friday afternoon to present you with their gift! Sure, it might not be what you’d have chosen for yourself … but for me, this is a time when it’s definitely ‘the thought that counts’!
I could go on and on about how celebrating Mother’s Day is actually a healthy lesson for our children to learn to acknowledge what others do for them, to verbalise their gratitude and love for another person, etc., but I actually want to digress a little.
Years ago, I read a quote: ‘Being a mother is to have your heart walk around outside your body’. It was before I had children myself, but it resonated with me nonetheless. I thought it was possibly the best way to describe the intensity of the love a mother feels towards her child. A few years later I had my first baby and that quote popped back into my head. As it did, my heart felt like it would explode out of my chest. It was indeed the closest words could come to describing what I felt.
Yet, that doesn’t always mean that being a mother is full of such ‘lovey-dovey’ feelings and words. Those little people who steal our hearts don’t just walk around with them; they also have the capacity to stomp on them at times, and boy does THAT hurt! But you know what? That can only happen because of how much we love them. If we didn’t care, it wouldn’t hurt. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? We’ve grown these little babies inside us, birthed them, fed them, changed them, rocked them, comforted them, taught them … the list goes on. And that’s natural; it’s what mothers are supposed to do. We love them sacrificially. We constantly put our children before ourselves, even whilst trying to teach them independence as they grow and mature.
Except sometimes, a mother isn’t able to be a mother to her baby, and someone else takes on that role. It may be someone who’s had her own biological children and adopts another. It may be a single mum who has foster children. And it can be anything in between. This is next-level sacrificial love. To unconditionally love your baby comes naturally to most – they are your own “flesh and blood”, hopefully a product of love, and when we give birth there’s a wondrous cascade of hormones that helps us to bond, love and protect our babies. To choose to unconditionally love a child that you haven’t birthed is simply amazing.
These reflections got me thinking. There are all sorts of motherly figures in our lives. It may not be someone who actually fed, clothed and raised us; it could be someone in more of a mentor role. And it may only be for a particular season of your life. I think when we think of the word “mother”, we most often think of a woman with a newborn babe in arms. When Mother’s Day rolls around each year, mothers are spoiled and celebrated. And although there is that aspect of overdone commercialism that makes me cringe, I actually love the whole idea of intentionally celebrating mums for all that they do.
Yet there are mums out there who get overlooked, because they don’t have ‘children’, as such. This day can be a lonely one for many; for those battling infertility, for those who are single & childless, for those whose children have passed away. I guess I just want to acknowledge mothers everywhere, including those who don’t ‘fit’ the traditional mother description. If there’s someone in your life who is like a mother to you, make sure you celebrate them. Maybe with something from the school Mother’s Day stall … or maybe not!
by Ingrid Clark
It’s an all too common scenario on the Central Coast. New parents are inundated with family and friends visiting for the first 2-3 weeks after the birth. Their ‘great sleeper’ of a newborn is passed around, and people even bring food! Then Dad goes back to work. The steady stream of visitors dwindles to a trickle, and then dries up. Mum is on her own… and that sleepy little newborn wakes up.
The Coast is a brilliant place to live, but once you’ve been here for a while, you’ll notice there are a lot of people who have no extended family close by. This familial isolation is usually easy enough to deal with, but after the birth of a baby, the isolation can feel like a giant chasm. Trying to adjust to life with a newborn in an environment where you have little or no support can be like living on a knife-edge, teetering between coping and not coping. Getting the right support is crucial at this time, and providing the right support is our passion.
Many mums have never really had a lot to do with babies, so suddenly being left alone with theirs isn’t as ‘natural’ as some would have hoped. The constant roundabout of questions & second-guessing the choices already made can be maddening. How do I know if I have enough milk? Is it ok to rock my baby to sleep? How do I stop using nipple shields? Is this the right formula for my baby? Is it wind? Is it colic? Is this Mum thing really for me?!?!
When we first set up The Nurtury, our aim was to ‘fill the gap’ for new parents by going to their home and offering whatever support they needed, and leaving them feeling empowered, confident in their ability to nurture their new little one. Just being that extra set of hands, that listening ear, that voice of wisdom, fount of knowledge...this is what we feel called to do. This is still our primary mode of care, however, something unforeseen by us has since evolved.
The beautiful Deb, from NurtureMe Massage in Berkeley Vale, has collaborated with us so that we can offer her baby massage graduates the opportunity to continue meeting together by attending our Early Parenting Classes. Deb has always had a passion for supporting new parents, and after bonding with her clients and their babies over 5 weeks in the ‘First Touch’ Infant Massage program, she always lamented the fact that they wanted to keep coming and meeting together in her lovely massage room, but she had nothing further to offer them.
Now, they (and any new parents from the Central Coast community) have the opportunity to continue for another 5 weeks, further developing their burgeoning friendships whilst discussing a different topic each week. It’s a safe space to ask questions, share concerns or brainstorm strategies for dealing with some of the challenges a newborn can bring to the fore, and it can make an enormous difference.
A recent client, a third-time mum, summed it up beautifully. “Let’s be real, I didn’t need to come here; I chose to come. What you’re doing is really special. You’ve created community, and that’s rare.” And isn’t that what we all need? Community? Support? A tribe? We think the answer to that is a universal ‘yes’, and perhaps never more so than after the birth of a baby. Being able to offer a service that can facilitate you finding your tribe, as well as the option of in-home support is really important to us because, after all, it takes a village…
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.