When one of my best friends was pregnant, she asked me for my top five things that a pregnant woman should know. Five?! How is it possible to condense the entirety of the greatest metamorphosis of my life into five simple bullet points? It’s not. The way that a woman changes the moment that her baby is born is inexplicable, and in many ways it is impossible to prepare for. But I tried.
1. Imagine your first breastfeed.
Have you imagined your first breastfeed? Imagine it! It will be beautiful. And it will be the beginning of an incredible, life-changing journey for you and your baby. We spend so much time focusing on birth, and then it is over. Then you need to somehow figure out how to keep this little baby thriving outside of your body, and that can be surprisingly tricky. And of course it is tricky! Chances are, the first person you’ve ever properly watched breastfeed is yourself, when generations ago we would have been immersed in this knowledge. It takes time and practice, and will almost always require more emotional and practical support than you had ever imagined. Join a breastfeeding support group when pregnant (in-person is best! But online groups like “Breastfeeding Mamas in Switzerland” are also fantastic), or even book a prenatal consultation with a lactation consultant — find your go-to-person to ask for advice when everything else is contradictory. They can help you prepare for the “booby traps” that can come in the first few days, and help keep your journey a smooth one. Empower yourself with knowledge and support for that often windy and twisted road.
2. Find a hut in the mountains and go hide in it.
Well… what I mean is that you will be bombarded with information as soon as you have your baby. There will be websites, apps, books, relatives, friends and articles (guilty), and they will all – intentionally or not – portray an idea of ‘normal’. Your friend’s baby feeds from only one side in ten minutes; yours takes 45 minutes and you need to swap sides five times; does that mean you have a supply problem? No. Her baby sleeps in the pram for 90 minutes every morning; your baby sleeps for 24 minutes, maximum, only on you, and with no predictable schedule. Are you stunting his development by not being “good” at this nap business? No. Your baby wakes four times a night to feed — also totally fine! If you lived in that isolated mountain hut, you’d just follow your baby’s cues, sleep next to him, carry him and feed him all day if it meant he wouldn’t cry, and never feel that you are doing it wrong. Trust yourself and trust your little baby, new Mama.
3. Be aware of the Fourth Trimester.
Your baby has just come from an environment where she can sleep whenever she likes; where she is carried and kept warm and cosy while continually listening to your heartbeat; where food comes in a slow, continuous stream. She didn’t get the memo about days and nights, about needing to “fill up” and then have a break between feeds, about needing to lie down a whole metre away from you to sleep. The concept of the “fourth trimester” is that babies want the first three months of their lives to imitate their time in the womb. We can help them to feel safe and secure by doing our best to accommodate this in those early weeks – feeding on demand, getting as much skin-to-skin contact as much as possible, carrying them in a sling and not expecting them to accommodate our schedules in any way during those first weeks!
4. Inform yourself about sore nipples.
Of the thousands of women I have spoken with and helped with breastfeeding issues, I have known very few who claim that they didn’t have sore nipples at all. I believe that sore nipples in the early weeks are part of the breastfeeding process, but there is a limit! If your nipples are raw and bleeding, with open sores and blisters, that’s not okay. If you are dreading every feed because of the toe-curling, swear-inducing agony that it will bring, that’s not okay. If you have chipped a tooth because of the pain, that is not okay. It is time to see a certified lactation consultant. Having nipples that are sensitive and a little painful only for the first couple of minutes of a feed is normal and will settle down soon. If everyone is telling you that the latch looks great and everything is great, but you are in agony, it’s time to do some more hunting until you find someone who will listen and will help you fix the problem. There are many things that could be causing it, some of which can cause long-term breastfeeding and milk-supply issues, but these can be prevented if you get help early enough.
5. Be sure to practise self care.
When I say “self care,” what I really mean is, “Get everyone to care for you.” It means asking for help, accepting offers of help, and being specific about what you need: Naps, showers, a toilet break, a hot coffee, chocolate cake. It’s a great idea to ask visitors to bring food and to freeze food while you can – casseroles, pasta sauce, lasagne and curries are great to freeze, but also aim for snacks like nut balls, nutritious muffins and slices.
Even more important than freezing food, though, is the fact that you need to be full to the brim with self-forgiveness and with the knowledge that all mothers find themselves floundering at times. Remember that, no matter what, there is nobody who has ever walked on this planet who is a better mother to this little baby of yours, and that even at those times where we can’t fix things, we can hold them and love them and simply be there – and that is the essence of motherhood.
By Johanna Sargeant
Originally from Australia, Johanna and her husband unexpectedly made Zurich their home in 2010, when it was simply too beautiful to leave. Fuelled by her own tumultuous experiences of motherhood with her two young boys, this former English teacher, scientist, writer and musician retrained as a breastfeeding consultant. She runs fortnightly breastfeeding support meetings, teaches prenatal breastfeeding classes and remains very busy providing one-on-one support for mothers throughout Switzerland – while mothering her two little boys and continuing to follow her love of writing and music. Follow her Milk and Motherhood blog and Facebook page.
Illustration by Susana Gutierrez
Susana is a Project Manager and Freelance illustrator. She lives in
Zurich and is mother of two girls. She can be reached at: