Parenting young children is challenging during the best of times; parenting during a global pandemic is literally unprecedented. From surviving lockdowns to figuring out if you should persevere with breastfeeding, postnatal and early parenting specialist, Karina Lane answers your top questions on how to take care of yourself while you’re taking care of everyone else.
Question 1: How do I get some time for myself while I’m parenting full-time?
Sheree asks: “I’ve been a stay-at-home-mum for the past four years, with three kids aged eight months, three years, and four years. Life is hectic. I’m running around on my own all day long, which I’m happy to do because I love being at home with my kids. But hubby works long hours and I’m often on my own from the time the kids wake up until they go to bed again. And I’m struggling to hold onto anything that’s just for me. I have the kids all the time, and I’m starting to feel a bit desperate. I adore my family to pieces, but need to get some time back for me. How do you not lose yourself in amongst the mum duties?”
Karina says: It’s been pretty intense for you for quite a while – three or four years now. So you’re going to feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, who am I anymore?’ I totally understand that. Being with your kids from the morning all the way to bedtime, that’s the longest day.
I think the thing to do when you realise you’re getting to this place, is to start putting up some boundaries and thinking about what you need. Have a chat with your partner. You’re supporting your partner by being the primary caregiver while he works and that’s really great teamwork. But he needs to hear more from you about what you need. And maybe it’s time to start figuring out where you can carve out the time.
It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of room; your kids are little, and they do need you, and you sound like a beautiful mum. But you have to keep up your wellbeing and figure out how to fill up your wellbeing tank.
I would suggest talking to your partner, or even a friend or family member. Right now, because of lockdown, it sounds like your partner is going to be the one that might step up for you – even if it means taking care of the kids somewhere else in the house while you’re in a different room. Because we can’t go out much; we’re very limited now. But that might be something that really helps, even if it’s just on the weekend. I would definitely start chatting with him, letting him know how you feel. We do have to be very forthcoming with our needs.
Question 2: How do I manage with a new baby and no company or support?
Sarah asks: “I’m a first-time mum with a three-week-old baby. Because of the social distancing and the lockdown that’s going on, I really have been at home with bub all the time. My partner has been on leave with me and is due to go back to work next week. Originally my mother was going to come and help out, but now she needs to stay away to keep everyone safe. I’m really worried that I’m going to struggle here on my own without any way of getting support or company in the day. What advice do you have?”
Karina says: Like most of us, it might be time to really utilise the virtual world. Sometimes connecting with someone online can be the support you need to carry on, because when you’re just with a baby, even though you have the company of a human, it’s not the same as actually connecting, or talking.
I would say, help your mum or your mother-in-law to set up FaceTime or Messenger, or whatever it is, so you can do some video calls. It could be just for the three of you or you can bring other people in the call. I’ve had do this with my mum, and that could be something that would be really useful for you.
And same goes with parents’ groups. I’m not sure what’s happening with yours, but there’s so many groups online. I would definitely say to put yourself out there, get out there and meet people. It doesn’t matter if the connection is in the room with you, as long as it’s someone who is there, listening to you. I think that will really help.
Question 3: Do you have any tips for avoiding postnatal depression?
Aspen asks: “I’m due with baby number two in eight weeks. With my first baby I suffered a bit of postnatal depression in the first couple of months and now I’m really trying to build myself a bit of a toolkit to try to prevent this from happening again. I know how to recognise the signs now, but I’m wondering if you have any tips on how to stop it in the first place?”
Karina says: Having PND on the radar, and being aware of it, is such a great protective factor – this is really going to help you. You may know what might have contributed to it before and know the triggers to look out for – sometimes it can be early breastfeeding struggles, struggles transitioning to parenthood, financial stress, isolation – all those sorts of things.
If you can make sure those things are under control, that may help. And whatever you felt led to it last time – if you have support for that in place, that can also help. You might not be able to avoid it happening, but you have a backup plan.
It’s worth checking out the phone support that is out there – if the PND was triggered by breastfeeding issues, for example, check out lactation consultants and have that in place. Think of it like you said before: your toolkit. Pull out your toolkit again, chat to your partner, and make sure he’s on board and that he knows what to look out for. Talk about what you need.
Question 4: Recovering from my c-section is affecting my ability to bond with my baby. What should I do?
Katie asks: “I had a planned c-section 12 weeks ago and feel like I’m still recovering. I knew the physical recovery would take time, but I wasn’t been prepared for how this would impact my ability to bond with my baby son. It’s still hard for me to hold him comfortably for any length of time, so I have to put him down a lot. I have a three-year-old and a five-year-old who are both at home with me full time now, so I’m struggling physically, and bub is not getting the attention he needs and deserves. I feel really bad about this and I’m worried that we might not bond properly.”
Karina says: 12 weeks seems like a long time to struggle so much with recovering from a c-section. I’m not sure if you’ve had a c-section before; you may know what recovery time is normal for you. But it might be worth getting that checked out because ideally, you should be able to hold your baby now without it causing too much discomfort. I know that’s so difficult now, especially when you’ve got the kids at home, but have a chat with your partner about getting yourself looked at, to make sure that healing is going as it should be.
Try not to get too worried about bonding with your baby; there’s so many ways to do it. And stressing about it is going to make it worse for you – you’re probably suffering more than your baby. Give yourself a little bit less of a hard time about it, and see if there’s some other ways you can bond. For example, you can lie down and do skin-to-skin, or lie down and have some cuddles.
Find easier ways to do it without being ‘super mum’, which many of us try to be. Do it the easiest way possible, and don’t give yourself a hard time about it.
Question 5: We’re self-isolating with two small children. How do I stay sane?
Belinda asks: “We are self-isolating here. But with a two-year-old and a four-year-old running around all day, I think I’m losing my mind. We live in an apartment with no outdoor space. I try and take them for a walk at least once a day, but between the squabbling and the tears, by the time we get to bath, book and bed at the end of the day, I actually feel like I’m going to cry myself. Every day is endless and none of us know how long this is going to go on for. I start each day with a plan but it all falls apart before lunchtime. The afternoons are particularly bad because my youngest should nap but she’s refusing to, because her big sister gets to do a quiet activity while she’s in bed. How can I get through these days and stay sane?”
Karina says: It’s tough, I really feel for you. The first thing for me when I’m feeling similar to you, is I remind myself that everyone’s feeling this way at the moment. Every parent behind closed doors, whether there’s a backyard or not, any parent with school-age or small children, we’re feeling a bit insane. So don’t beat yourself up about that and remember that we’re all in the same boat with you.
I really like the idea of trying again with your plan with your little ones. Maybe not a time-based strict plan – but just what the morning chunk will be, followed by a chunk where you have lunch, followed by an afternoon chunk – and making these things as easy as possible.
Have that structure in place, followed by a nice, solid bedtime ritual so you can get them in bed at the time that you desire. And for the one that’s battling sleep, you may find that going for a drive and putting on some Wiggles or something like that, may let him sleep in the car. Maybe both will sleep!
Just do things that are super-easy. I totally feel you. I’m there with you. You have to look forward to when they go to bed as well. I find that really helps. Whether it’s chocolate ice cream, wine, herbal tea for you – you’ve got to have a reward.
No one has parented with COVID-19 before, so we’re kind of doing it blind – stressing out, worrying, trying to do the best for our kids. We all just need to give ourselves a pat on the back and a treat.
Question 6: I’m not loving breastfeeding. What should I do?
Penny asks: “I’m really not loving breastfeeding. I’ve tried to make it work. But I feel exhausted and milky, and grabbed at all the time. But I feel so conflicted about giving it up. Everyone is trying to convince me to keep going but I have given it five months and I still hate it. I feel like this is starting to become a mental health issue. What should I do?”
Karina says: You stuck it out for five months, which is brilliant. Because it doesn’t sound like it’s been fun at all for you. So, well done – really, really good work.
You need to weigh it up; this is about you and your baby. But it sounds like for you it’s starting to affect your mental wellbeing. I think you know what you want to do already. And you don’t have to explain it to anyone. You’ve stuck it out. Sounds like you would have received some support to get all the information you need to make it work better for you, but if it’s still not working for you, then it’s your decision.
Five months in, your baby’s got a lot of good stuff, and there’s a lot more nutrition to come; you’ve got solids coming. You’ve got lots of other adventures to have with your little one. You want to be happy. You don’t want to be suffering and struggling. I support you to make a decision and feel okay with it.
Watch Karina Lane answer your questions about mother care:
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