Why birth plans are a waste of time for first-time mums

Is that a nice controversial blog post title? Well, it got your attention, right? Right. Okay, so birth plans might not be entirely a waste of time. But I think first-time mums in particular should be warned that they very well might be.

You see, when I was pregnant with my first child, nobody told me that a birth plan wasn’t really a plan. It’s more like a sort of wish list. To me the word plan connotes something that I have control over. If I plan to go to work tomorrow, then there is a 99% chance that I’m going to go. There are some conceivable events that could stop me from going, but in all likelihood, it will be purely up to me as to whether I follow through on my plan.

But when it comes to birthing babies, we have very little control as to how things are going to pan out. That is the truth that nobody told little old me. My birth plan was written on my heart. It had the following points:

  • I wanted to deliver at a midwife-led centre instead of in hospital
  • I wanted a water birth with only gas & air for pain relief
  • No induction
  • No epidural
  • No continuous monitoring
  • I was going to have a beautiful, calm, natural birth

I was so certain that these were the things that were needed to help me cope with the delivery. I also thought they were the best and safest options for me and my baby. However, at 10 days overdue I was showing meconium-stained waters with no other signs of going into labour. So this is the birth I got:

  • Birth in hospital instead of the midwife-led centre
  • I didn’t even go anywhere near a water birthing pool
  • I was induced
  • I had an epidural
  • I laid on my back the whole time, being continuously monitored
  • I screamed and cried and swore and was absolutely terrified and NOT CALM the entire time
  • I had an emergency c-section

It was the polar opposite of what I had wanted.

And I was absolutely heartbroken about it. I had spent so much time thinking about how it was all going to go down, and researching what the best things to do were. When I didn’t get to do any of those things, I saw myself as a failure. For me, failing to have the “natural” (read vaginal) birth I’d planned was like failing at something I thought I was born to do. I’d been gallivanting around telling my friends that my body was built to give birth. And it was. Just not the way I had intended.

I just wish that someone – anyone – had taken the pregnant me aside and told me just how unpredictable giving birth can be. And that at the end of the day, all that matters is that you deliver a healthy baby. So if you’re pregnant now or recently gave birth and are feeling disappointed by the experience, here are a few things that I think need to be said:

  • Remember that there is a possibility that all plans, wishes and expectations will go completely out the window on the big day. Accept that and don’t dwell too much on a future you can’t predict.
  • A lot of advice I was given from various sources made me think that I would need to “advocate” for myself during the birth. I would need to keep those doctors and midwives in line by making sure they knew my birthing desires at all times. But when it came down to it, I was too scared and in too much pain to argue about anything. I just did exactly what they told me to. And that was probably the right thing to do, but the earlier advice made me feel as though I’d failed myself by not pushing my agenda.
  • There is no nobility in facing unbearable pain. If you want the drugs, take the drugs! There is nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about if you use every single pain relief method available to you.
  • It doesn’t matter how the baby comes out. You will give birth in the best way you can, be it vaginally, via a caesarean or with other assistance.

So in my humble opinion, the best birth plan is a plan to go with the flow. How can you plan something that is different every time it happens, even for the same person? But if you think it helpful to write down your wishes with regard to your birth – of course go ahead. Just be prepared that when you’re actually in labour, you may want to crumple it up and throw it at someone – probably your partner.

And if, like me, you are unhappy about how your birth went, then talk to someone about it. Many hospitals offer a postnatal debriefing or counselling service where they go through your delivery notes and explain why things happened the way they did. I took advantage of this service myself and it made me feel so much better about my birth. I stopped blaming myself for it not going the way I wanted.

Before I had the counselling, I was afraid to ever give birth again in case it was equally awful. But the counselling showed me that every birth is different. When I did eventually have a second baby, everything went exactly to plan. Because I didn’t have one!

Tammymum
Petite Pudding

20 parenting moments I don’t want to forget

20 parenting moments I don't want to forget

I’ve been talking a lot about some the harder parts of parenting, so I’m trying to add a few happy posts to balance it all out. To quasi-quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, I would like to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness.

Obi Wan Kenobi

Sure, I still have to wipe a lot of bottoms and noses and clean up the odd bit of sick. Yes, it’s true that they both wake up multiple times every night and I am always tired. But there are some wonderful things happening right now, and some things that happened not too long ago that I want to hold in my heart forever.

I wish I could bottle these things and save them for later when they’re long gone. There are hundreds of photos and videos, but some moments can’t be captured by a camera.

So here is my list of 20 early years parenting moments that I don’t want to forget:

  1. When one of them sits on my lap and I bury my face in his hair. The smell of the baby shampoo and the soft texture of the babyish hair (never mind the possibility of the odd nit).
  2. The half-a-minute each day when my boys show their brotherly love for each other – a shy little cuddle, sharing a bit of food, or playing nicely without it ending in a screamfest.
  3. The way my toddler dances with pure joy to any music at all. Even the ring of a mobile phone.
  4. All four of us snuggling in bed together in the early hours of the morning.
  5. The way my eldest never stops talking and loves to explain how things work (putting his own fanciful take on it, of course).
  6. Hugging both of them on the sofa and watching kid’s movies on lazy Sunday afternoons.
  7. The snorty mcsnuffles sound my youngest makes while contentedly sucking his dummy.
  8. The day each of them first gripped my finger with their tiny hands when they were newborns.
  9. The feeling of having them fall asleep in my arms.
  10. My toddler’s hilarious forays into talking (yelling ‘caaat’ at the cat and saying ‘beep’ while touching your nose), which he refuses to perform while the camera is recording.
  11. Watching CBeebies. My eldest is starting to move on to CBBC and I’m really going to miss Mister Maker and Iggle Piggle.
  12. The way my boys cuddle their soft toys. We grow up to think boys aren’t as sentimental as girls but that is not how it begins.
  13. Getting to choose what clothes they wear every day.
  14. Reading them stories. My eldest is starting to read the stories to me now, which is also nice, but I was loving the sound of my own voice. 😉
  15. Holding their little hands. Having them not be ashamed to hold my hand anytime in public.
  16. Having them jump into my arms when I pick them up from childcare/school.
  17. Answering endless “why” questions.
  18. The way they play so happily together when they’re in the bath. I often dread bathtime, but someday they’ll be too big for bathtime together with mummy presiding.
  19. The way my eldest says “I love you mummy”. And I say “I love you too”. Then he says, “That’s great.”
  20. Singing them to sleep.

What are your favourite moments with your children? If you could bottle one thing from their early years, what would it be?

Obi-Wan photo by Wacko Photographer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Diary of an imperfect mum
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Tammymum

New mums and mental health

A guest post by Sally Hogg

I remember when my son was born, people kept asking ‘are you enjoying being a mum?’ The answer in the very early days, was probably ‘no’. It got better, but it wasn’t fun at first. Yes, he was absolutely amazing and wonderful. But I hurt. I kept crying for no reason. I was so very, very tired. I worried whether I was doing things right, and – to be honest – I missed my old life. This was a momentous time, but it wasn’t enjoyable at first.

But I never said ‘no’ to that question. It was loaded with expectation. Asked by grannies, aunts and older mums who look back at motherhood through rose-tinted glasses.

Are you enjoying being a mum? New mums & mental health

There are many reasons why it’s hard to admit that you’re not having a great time as a new mum. It seems as if everyone else is doing fine and having a magical time. It seems like everyone expects you to be on top of the world, and it feels like failing – and perhaps a betrayal of your baby – to say that you are struggling.

Yet most, if not all, mums will struggle at some time. And for a significant proportion, this struggle may not simply be the normal rollercoaster of new parenthood, but something more serious. Between 10 and 20% of new mums (and around 5-10% of new dads) experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or the first year after their baby is born. To put this in perspective, it means that in any typical antenatal class or baby group, there is likely to be at least one person in the room who has a mental health problem.

Whilst postnatal depression is well-known, mental health problems for new parents are not just postnatal. In fact, experts now suggest that depression is more common in pregnancy than postnatally. Problems go wider than depression too. They can include, for example, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, psychosis, and eating disorders. Some of these problems will occur for the first time when someone becomes a parent, others may be the recurrence of an existing problem – perhaps one that has been well-managed for many years. Some people with pre-existing conditions are particularly at risk: any woman who has ever experienced bipolar disorder, for example, has a 50% chance of mental illness in the weeks after birth, although this can be very effectively managed with specialist help in pregnancy. The severity of mental health problems varies too. Thankfully, most will be relatively mild, but this is not always the case: suicide is actually one of the leading causes of maternal death in the UK.

Mental health problems can be very effectively prevented or treated with the right help, which is why it is so important to speak out early if we think something is wrong in ourselves, our friends or partners. If you feel you or someone you know has a mental health problem, trust your instincts and talk about it. It may be that they are just having a few bad days, but they will still benefit from a supportive conversation and, if they are ill, the sooner they can receive help, the better.

There are a range of options available to prevent, reduce or treat mental health problems. These include support groups, counselling or other forms of psychological therapy, or medication. The best option will depend on the nature and severity of a mum’s illness and her own personality and preferences. Midwives, health visitors and GPs should ask all expectant and new mums regularly about their mental health, and should be able to signpost mums to different sources of support.

There are also things that we can do ourselves to improve our mental health. These may be enough to overcome mild mental health problems, but won’t be sufficient in themselves for women who are more seriously ill. Activities associated with reducing depression and anxiety include socialising, exercising, getting more sleep, and active relaxation (things like mindful mediation or having a massage). These can feel very hard to do when you have low mood and a new baby, which is why it’s good to talk to family and friends so that they can help you to take care of yourself.

Sadly, there are gaps in services in the UK, and some professionals don’t have the skills and knowledge they need to detect mental health problems and give women the support they need. You may need to be persistent and assertive in order to get help.

Things are improving though: the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (a coalition of over 80 charities and professional bodies) is doing a lot to raise awareness and improve services, and earlier this year, the Government announced over £350 million to fund new services.

Parenting is a rollercoaster, and it’s not one that we’ll always enjoy. For most new mums, the highs of this rollercoaster should far outnumber the lows, but a significant minority will be less fortunate. If you feel the balance isn’t right, don’t suffer in silence. You aren’t alone and things can get better.

Sally Hogg is chair of the Oxted & Caterham NCT branch. She also runs the Mums and Babies in Mind project for the Maternal Mental Health Alliance.  They offer some useful self-help guides about recognising and facing maternal mental health issues.

I would like to publish as many stories about maternal mental health as I can to spread awareness. If you would like to write a guest post with your own story or perspective, please email me: themumreviews (at) gmail.com.

Petite Pudding
Tammymum
Diary of an imperfect mum

What you really need (& don’t need) for your new baby

Oh the consumerist excitement that comes with a first pregnancy! One of the only consolations for the lack of alcohol and sushi during my first pregnancy was the prospect of shopping, shopping, shopping. And as I’m a project manager during my day job, I was obsessed with making sure that I had everything I needed all perfectly ready for the day the baby arrived.

My poor second baby was lucky that I bought him a new cot mattress.

Only because I’d already bought everything under the sun for my first, and we still had all those things. Some of them hadn’t even been used yet.

The internet will reveal countless lists of what you “need” to get for your baby. I duly studied these, collated them into a final list, and created a spreadsheet, including an estimate of my total projected spend. Seriously.

So I would like to save someone out there from going totally overboard like me. Therefore, here is my (hopefully) no-nonsense list of what I think you need before the baby comes, what you should wait to get until after the baby comes, and what you can leave in the store.*

baby clothes.jpg

What to buy before your baby comes

  • A cot for the baby to sleep in (obvs) and a brand new cot mattress.
  • A moses basket is also useful because the baby can then sleep in the living room or wherever you are around the house. But I would try to get a hand-me-down or charity shop one because you only use them for about 3 months and they can cost upwards of £60.
  • Bedding for the cot and moses basket: 3 fitted sheets for each.
  • 3 small cellular blankets to use for swaddling and out & about.
  • Those baby sleeping bag thingys. Gro-bag is the main brand but Asda does some brilliant (much cheaper) ones. They really are the best things for babies to sleep in right up until they move into a bed.
  • 8 all-in-one sleepsuits. Baby can stay in these day and night. White is a popular choice but I prefer colourful ones that hide the poo stains. These often come with built-in scratch mitts too – the stand-alone ones will be lost immediately.
  • 1 little newborn hat for right after baby’s born. I never used hats again until baby was much older.
  • My opinion is that you only need vests if it’s summer and very hot – and then baby can wear that on it’s own.
  • A couple cute jumpers/cardigans.
  • A cute little pramsuit or other warm going-outside suit. I like the ones with ears on the hood.
  • Nappies, nappy sacks & wet wipes along with a good changing mat.
  • A pushchair. For some they are practical; for some they are fashion. Up to you – but make sure:
    • you can fold & unfold it one-handed
    • you can put the brake on & off without struggling
    • it has a raincover and cosy-toe
    • it will fit through narrow doors and down the aisle of a bus
  • A carseat.
  • A playmat with flashing lights & music. I left mine laying on these for long periods of time.
  • A vibrating bouncy chair. This is a godsend when you need to get stuff done.
  • A baby bath or bath support & some baby bath soap.
  • Cotton wool pads (not balls). When they are really small you can use these for cleaning tiny poos and also wiping gunge off eyes and noses. You will quickly move on to wet wipes though.
  • Muslin squares, like 20 of them. You will go through loads of these.
  • A changing bag that makes you feel happy. Treat this like a handbag purchase because you will take it everywhere.
  • Even if you’re planning to breastfeed, get a steriliser, about 2 small bottles, a bottle brush and some made-up formula milk in those sterile bottles. The pre-made baby milk is perfect for midnight feeding panic moments.
  • If you’re planning to formula feed, I would go ahead a get a full pack of formula powder as well.
  • Metric arseloads of maternity pads.
  • 1 box of breastpads.
  • Lanolin nipple cream.
  • Hand lotion (your hands will be messed up by all the post-nappy-change hand washing)
  • Chocolate.
  • A couple of nursing bras in a size larger than your maternity bras, but don’t spend too much because your breasts will change and you will need to perhaps get different sizes after the baby comes.

Wait until after the baby comes to get…

  • Lots of bottles. You may find that your baby doesn’t like the teat on the bottles you bought, and so you’ll have to experiment. You’ll be annoyed if you buy a whole collection of one type of bottle and they don’t work.
  • A breastpump. You might be introduced to the magical world of breastpumps while you’re in hospital. This may well change your perspective on what sort of pump you would like. You may also decide you don’t need one. Don’t get a manual one!
  • A sling or baby carrier. Check for a sling library in your local area and try these out with your baby before buying. There’s a lot of marketing around these but everyone is different as to whether they can actually get the damn thing on.
  • Baby toys. People will probably buy these for you. If not, you can always order some online.
  • Dribble bibs. Not all babies dribble until they’re seriously teething, which might be months later. You can use muslins to catch milk drools. Wait until you need the bibs.
  • A nursing cover. You may find you want one, and you may not. Wait until you feel the need as they are pricey.
  • Same goes for nursing pillows. I just used a throw pillow or normal pillow.
  • Extra bottle-feeding equipment such as bottle warmers & carriers. You may find these aren’t necessary for the way you manage bottle feeding.
  • Nappy cream. My babies never got any nappy rash until they were much older and then my health visitor recommended different sorts of creams than I would have bought in my pregnant state.
  • A baby monitor. You’re not really meant to have the baby sleep in a separate room until he/she is 6 months old, so you might as well wait. The technology changes fast and it will be better to get a newer model.

Things you don’t even need

  • Non-bio washing detergent. Unless unusually sensitive skin runs in your family, I could never see any issue with using bio. It gets out the poo a lot better.
  • Baby socks. Baby socks are the world’s most pointless things. They fall off immediately. If you must have some for cuteness purposes, invest in some sock-ons. Those things work pretty well. Booties are also purely for cute and you will probably receive at least one pair as a gift.
  • Special towels for the baby. Hooded towels are cute, but if you use a normal bath towel you can make it kind of hood-like without spending extra money.
  • Cot bumpers. They are pretty but they’re dangerous for baby. So you’ll just have to take them off before using the cot which you won’t want to do when you haven’t slept for more than 2 hours at a time in the last week.
  • Top and tail bowl. Sometimes these come in cute packages with the baby bath, and you can get one if you want, but you can just use any old bowl!
  • Nursing tops. I found that these exposed more boob than just lifting up a standard (more attractive) top. If you like wearing dresses though, nursing dresses are worth the investment.
  • An Angelcare mat. These are mats that monitor your baby’s movements and set off an alarm if they don’t move for a period of time. These will send your nerves into overdrive as you will get lots of false alarms. My sons had them in hospital and they went off several times a night for no reason whatsoever.

What were your must-have baby items? What things did you buy and never use?

*Disclaimer: This is all just my opinion based on experience. I’m not an expert on shopping … but I’ve had a lot of practice.

 

 

Birthing babies is a messy business – my postnatal anxiety

I’ve mentioned before in my breastfeeding post about the traumatic birth I had with my first son. Without going into too much detail here, I was induced, I had an emergency c-section and he was in special care with pneumonia for 10 days after he was born.

This all threw me for a massive loop. I had planned a natural water birth with only gas and air in a midwife-led birthing centre. I’d been doing pregnancy yoga and was convinced my body was a childbearing temple and I could have the birth I wanted if only I thought positively about it.

What a load of bull!

I had a drip and was strapped to a foetal monitor which kept bleeping in alarming ways that made me think my baby was dying. I had an epidural after being pricked in the spine countless times, and finally was rushed to theatre (after 20 hours of labour). I was so scared and addled during the surgery that I sang all the songs from The Sound of Music to my anaesthetist. Apparently, that was a first for him – but he was quite young.

And I hadn’t even considered, nor had anyone mentioned to me, the possibility of my son going to special care and being in one of those plastic oxygen boxes. I thought that only happened if your baby was premature. Turns out, special care happens to loads of mums for all sorts of reasons. But nobody warns you ahead of time.

Birth trauma and its effects

By the time I finally brought my son home from hospital, I was seriously messed up. I was convinced he was going to spontaneously die. We couldn’t fit his cot in our bedroom, so I slept in the nursery with him (away from my husband). I lost so much sleep, staying awake listening to make sure he was still breathing.

I remember that every night I would go to sleep repeating to myself, “Please God let him be okay. Please God let him outlive me. Please let him grow to be an old man.” My anxiety about his survival was all consuming.

And other times, when he had colic and wouldn’t stop crying, I wanted to throw him out of the bloody window. And as soon as that thought crossed my mind, I would be overtaken with guilt.

When I think of myself back in those days, I see a woman walking around in a sleep-deprived haze of constant anxiety around my baby’s well-being. Who couldn’t go on a buggy walk without me stopping to check on him every couple of minutes. I hated his rear-facing car seat because I couldn’t see him – we had to buy a mirror.

When well-meaning people would try to hold him or feed him a bottle, I was liable to hover and even yell at them, criticising their techniques – even though these were people who had children of their own and knew what they were doing.

I wore the same clothes day and night – a nursing top and baggy elasticated-waistband trousers. They were inevitably covered in baby sick and the crumbs from my attempts to eat toast without putting the baby down.

I was lonely but I couldn’t maintain a conversation. The days and nights ran into one another. Each day it seemed like I’d be stuck forever in my dark living room, curtains drawn, trying to soothe my screaming baby. Each night was spent begging forgiveness to the universe for being such an ungrateful and unworthy mother.

When I look back at the woman I was in those early days of first-time motherhood, I almost don’t recognise her.

Getting better

I never sought any help for my condition. I didn’t realise it was a problem. I thought it must be normal. In retrospect, I know it wasn’t normal.

As time passed, the trauma of my birth and my son’s illness faded.  Eventually, my son started crawling. Seeing him be independent and robust relieved some of my anxiety. By the time he was 1, I was feeling more like myself.

I was lucky that I got better in my own time. But it would have been much better if I’d realised what a state I was in and that there was help out there for me.

That is why this is the first post in what I’m hoping will become a series on maternal mental health. My next post will deal with the PND I had after my second son. And then I’m hoping to commission guest posts on the topic. Not just on diagnosed PND or anxiety, but about any mental health challenges you might have faced as a new mum. These could be shared on my blog anonymously if you like, or you can put your name to it.

If you would like to contribute a post on maternal mental health, please email me at themumreviews (at) gmail.com.

If you are feeling down, anxious, lonely or depressed after having a baby, you are not alone.

You can find support and information on http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/. Please also consider speaking to your GP or health visitor, and seeking support from family and friends.

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Tammymum
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I was so scared of a VBAC but I had one anyway

In the UK, the current NHS policy is to encourage women to attempt a Vaginal Birth after Caesarean (VBAC). I’m aware that in the USA and in many other countries, they have the opposite policy, in which they believe it safer for women to always have a caesarean if their prior birth was a caesarean. So while I recognise it’s quite progressive that the UK encourages VBAC and that there’s quite a lot of evidence to show that they are relatively safe, when it came my turn to have my second baby and VBAC was suggested, I was terrified. I spent a lot of time trying to find information for women who were scared of attempting VBAC, but all I could find were campaigning sites that were all in favour of it. This was in 2014 and I think there is more out there now, but I thought I would share my experience anyway in case it helps someone.

My first labour was induced at 10 days overdue after meconium-stained waters (baby got distressed and had a poo in the amniotic fluid). After 20 hours of labour, I had an emergency caesarean. This was followed by my baby being in special care for pneumonia caused by complications of the birth – probably from breathing in the poo-water.

In my second pregnancy, the one thing I wanted to avoid more than anything else was for my baby to be sick again. I blamed being overdue combined with the emergency caesarean for my baby’s illness. So I figured that an elective caesarean, in which I could be calm and know exactly when everything was going to happen, was the best option for me.

However, the NHS tried really hard to convince me to have the VBAC. I received special consultations from a “Birth Choices” midwife. I visited her armed with the NICE guidelines about VBAC which delineated the risks of the procedure. These guidelines have since been updated to be more positive about VBAC. She listened to my concerns and agreed to book me in with a consultant to discuss it further.

The consultant told me she was quite confident that I would have a successful VBAC, but she understood my absolute refusal to go overdue or to have an induction. I also didn’t want to be lying on my back strapped to a foetal monitor, which is generally recommended for VBACs. But the consultant told me it’s possible to take breaks from the monitor to walk around, and sometimes even to have a remote monitor that allows you to move.

To mitigate my fears about going overdue/being induced, she booked me in for a scheduled caesarean at 41 weeks, with the plan for me to have a few sweeps before my due date came along in the hopes of getting things moving.

Now, in my first pregnancy, baby basically never dropped into my pelvis, so they couldn’t even do a sweep. This time, I had two sweeps, and I went into labour just one day past my due date.

Now, no sort of birth is a walk in the park. But this time baby came in about 4 hours altogether and delivered without any complications. He still ended up in special care due to feeding problems, but that’s another story.

So really I just wanted to write down my experience in the hopes it might reassure anyone else who might also find VBAC, and with it the possibility of another emergency caesarean, scarier than an elective caesarean. My healthcare providers gave me so much advice and support and it turned it around for me.

My main advice is, whatever your feelings about the sort of birth you’d like to plan for your second and subsequent pregnancies: stick to your guns. If you have a strong preference, it is their job to convince you otherwise (if necessary), and make you feel safe. Don’t let them bully you into something you don’t want. But if they can change your mind legitimately, like they did for me, now that’s another story.

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