“Hi my name’s Heather, this is Andy, and the three things we know about our baby are…”
3 years ago, 8 couples huddled hopefully under strip lighting in a non-descript room in our local town. We’d rushed from work, negotiating roads and railways, hand protectively placed on our growing bumps. This class was important for us. We’d paid our money, and we were here to learn, to make friends and to share our hopes for our immanent arrivals.
We bounced on balls, breathed together and discussed “surges” rather than contractions. We didn’t talk about work, or our interests, or our political views. This wasn’t like a night in the pub with friends or colleagues. We were right in at the deep end. The nittiest of gritties. In some cases, I knew all about the precise nature of their undercarriage before I even knew their names.
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The class leader shared with us how birth would be. There were all these phases: pre-labour, early labour, transition. There was talk of placentas and oxytocin. There were diagrams, and hideously dated and graphic photos. There was even a specialist breastfeeding expert who assured us all it definitely wouldn’t hurt. It all seemed so straightforward.
But as we know, birth is the least straightforward experience a woman can undergo. And in the weeks and months following our diverse births, we all came to realise how deeply unprepared we were. There were huge gaping holes in our knowledge that just seemed totally unforgiveable.
So for the benefit of anyone about to attend an antenatal class or for anyone leading one, here are a list of the things we felt we missed the memo on:
1. What Happens During An Induction
The monitoring, the drugs, the waiting, more monitoring, more drugs, more waiting, the crochet hook, endless monitoring…
2. What Happens In A C-Section And After
As in, what exactly are they cutting through? What’s a Cat 1 section versus a Cat 2? And just how on earth do you care for a tiny new human after undergoing major abdominal surgery?
3. How To Help Stitches Heal
A bugbear of mine. 90% of us leave the postnatal ward with stitches. How do you keep them clean, is there any truth in the tea tree oil and milk bath trick? What can be done if things go wrong? Will they re-suture a section (no), will they re-version a tear (not unless it’s over 6 months later… SIX MONTHS LATER. I know…)
4. This Thing Called Newborn Rash
If newborn rash is as common as it seems, WHY for the love of sanity don’t they make new parents aware of it?! In my group, we all individually panicked and rushed our half-asleep newborns to the doctor, before realising that it was a “thing”. Save the NHS some money please!
5. WTAF Are Growth Spurts
If I had a pound for every time I heard about a woman that stopped breastfeeding after 2 or 3 weeks because they didn’t have enough milk, I’d be a flippin’ trillionaire. It’s my personal belief that you would double breastfeeding rates if people were just made aware that these growth spurts are predictable, normal and actually quite useful for your supply.
6. That Breastfeeding CAN Hurt
Yes, sometimes a better latch can help, and sometimes there’s tongue-tie present. But for a chunk of us, the first few weeks of your boobs doing something new was just unexplained agony. But by setting yourself little targets like, I’ll get to the end of this feed; to the end of today; to the end of the week… suddenly you’ll be 6 weeks in and flying. Except in the case of…
6a. How To Deal With Blocked Ducts & Engorgement
Again, because “Breast Is Best” and breastfeeding doesn’t hurt (lol), we never heard that the reality of your boobs working out how to do this feeding a baby business might lead to some issues. Heat, massage and constant feeding tend to do the trick, but if not then you might need to express a bit off. Which brings me to…
7. How To Hand Express
When you leave half your breast pump at home and you’re in a fancy hotel in the middle of Cornwall with a babysitter booked but no bottles ready, you really need to know how to get that milk out. Here’s your starter for 10: muslin under the boob, bottle angled around the nipple, then cup and squeeze, cup and squeeze, cup and squeeze. Swap sides, repeat. 150ml.* Boom!
8. How To Get A Breastfed Baby To Take A Bottle
Otherwise known as “How Many Bottles Can One Mum Buy”. Wrapping the bottle in something that smells of mum can help, as can paced feeding, but some babies are stubborn as anything. So you need some more ideas in your corner. (And seriously though, there are sling libraries, cloth nappy libraries, but no bottle libraries???)
9. ANYTHING About Preparing Formula
So we got the memo about “Breast Is Best” yeah? But life doesn’t turn out the way we’d like it to, and when things go awry (which they do, because… stats) then wouldn’t it be nice to actually know how to go about feeding your baby safely? About the importance of boiling water to kill bugs. About the importance of sterilising. And the various methods of sterilising. I mean, really just “there are these things called bottles” would be an improvement…
10. The 4 Month Sleep Regression
AKA My Baby Is Broken. SEND HELP! *Googles aimlessly at 2am* …. Oh wait this is a “thing”??? Another “thing” that we weren’t told about??!
What did you wish you’d known?
*many, many hours later…