10 Things I Didn't Expect As A New Mom
Motherhood is full of surprises; good, bad, alarming, and exciting surprises that start right from the time that you realise you're pregnant and never really stop. Three years into being a mom, (who is still learning on the job), here are a few events and discoveries that were definite game changers for me :
The heartbeat of the baby - The first heartbeat is usually detected around 6-8 weeks. For me, nothing else had ever felt that real. It's just a tiny part of a routine check for most doctors but it opened up a whole world of emotions for me. I had an actual person inside me...! *Cue excited giggling, total panic, hints of self doubt and unfettered grinning, all at the same time*. Nothing had changed, and yet everything was just a little different. I still didn't "feel like a mom", and if you're going through that right now, I want to tell you that that's okay. It's not a bond that is forged instantly, nor is it one that accompanies a particular event. It adds up, little by little, and is one that starts here, but is built over time. This process can extend well into your first few years as a mother. Don't freak out about it. This is normal.
Nutrition - While eating right sounds pretty basic, I always pegged this as a factor linked to quantity (assuming of course, that quality would automatically follow suit). It turns out there's more to it than eating 3-5 meals a day and avoiding unnecessary cravings. While I was prescribed prenatal vitamins and micronutrient supplements, I always figured these were for the baby. That's not exactly true. A mother's body seems to know exactly what babies need well before her mind ever does, and is only too willing to send it their way. Everyone knows that the foetus relies entirely on the mother for all its nutrition, but what I didn't know was that the energy, protein, and micronutrients it needs to grow healthily and effectively are depleted directly from the mother's so-called "pool of resources". THAT'S WHY it's so important to take supplements from the very beginning. Neglecting to increase one's intake of calcium and vitamin D puts mothers at significant risk for early onset osteoporosis *Joint parenting. Check. Joint pain. Uncheck* . Iron and vitamin C are equally critical to prevent anemia. Vitamins B6, B7, B9 (folic acid), and B12 when depleted cause excessive hair loss, (well beyond "normal post partum shedding"). If you're going to skip supplements, double checking your intake of micronutrients through a nutrient-dense diet and ensuring that these are being consumed in adequate quantities to cater to both you, and your baby, is an absolute must.
Kicking - We used to joke about ultrasounds being like our private shadow-puppet shows. Every visit to the doctor revealed some new progress milestone in our baby's development, and we were always just short of exchanging the kind of high fives that only the toppers at school share, every time she told us that things were "going as per plan". Just when you're a little over halfway through, and you think you've got some of this figured out, the five-month mark literally kicks in. The first time my baby kicked, he took me completely by surprise. Regular kicks are a good sign of a healthy, well-nourished baby. It's one of the most beautiful feelings, and had me counting our blessings every time he kicked, all the way till we brought our son into the world.
Back exercises - As the baby bump starts to show, your back bears the entire weight of the baby, and needs to be exercised regularly both during pregnancy, and after delivery to ensure that it is strong enough to handle this and recover from it. Continue doing moderate exercises for your back for as long as you can, otherwise the muscles tend to become weak, which in turn hinder post-partum recovery.
Heartburn - I went into my third trimester hoping to celebrate the joys of a growing uterus (and baby), only to be unceremoniously introduced to heartburn as an entirely unwanted consequence of this growth. The good news was that I quickly discovered that sleeping on my left side reduced both the intensity and occurrences of heartburn. While I only worked the science out later, the fact is that since the stomach is on the left, if you sleep on your left side, you're naturally preventing digestive juices from rising up to the level of the oesophagus and flowing into the opening that connects to the throat, (which is actually what causes heartburn in the first place).
Type of delivery - The debate over whether a vaginal birth is preferable to a C-section (cesarean) delivery is one that is as old as time. I've been through these, and have heard each side try to out-shout the other.
Here's my two cents on the subject. The choice is entirely YOURS. The only discussion you really need to have involves your doctor and should be limited to your health condition and the options that might work best for you. Far too many mothers that I know have not been ready for natural births, have been induced early, have needlessly endured several hours of labour and have then been rushed to the OT. This process is completely unnecessary and is largely avoidable. If you're on the fence, like I was, it helps to have a frank chat with your doctor about your birthing plan and choose an option that is safe and works for you accordingly.
Constipation - An uncomfortably real consequence of supplementary iron - Yup. That's right. Iron was truly one of those things I got stuck with. Unfortunately it did not seem to matter whether the supplements were ferrous or ferric; both caused constipation.
While iron is indispensable as a building block for haemoglobin (the compound that carries oxygen to your cells), increasing your intake of water and fibre is a fairly effective way of combating reluctant bowels whilst ensuring that you continue to get the iron you need.
Anal fissures - If there was a gap in the many things that people told me about pregnancy and giving birth, fissures were definitely it! A common fallout of the stretching and tearing involved in vaginal births (coupled with prolonged constipation), these are best resolved by increasing the amount of fiber in your diet and drinking plenty of water to ease and prevent further discomfort.
Breastfeeding - I was mentally prepared for most of the hard stuff when it came to lactation and breastfeeding, but had no idea that 45 minutes of pumping every few hours could actually have an upside! Quite like a long low-intensity-steady-state workout, breastfeeding actually involves an impressive calorie burn. If you're breastfeeding regularly, you can expend up to 300 calories per day through this alone! I felt like my prayers for a workout that I could do while I was sitting down were finally being answered.
Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! - at the risk of sounding repetitive, HYDRATE! Aside from everything I've mentioned above, drinking more water increased my supply of breast milk too (yay!). Since water forms the base of breast milk, staying adequately hydrated goes a long way.
It's a never-ending voyage of discovery no matter how many reference books and first hand accounts I read, but if there's one thing I've learned as a mom, it's to expect the unexpected!