Your Own Life

Parenting – Your Own Life

Becoming a parent changes your life. Suddenly there seems to be no time for you, for the things you liked to do, for quiet moments with your partner or with friends. Sometimes you may feel that there isnt even any time for the basic things in life like eating and sleeping. But if you dont give yourself some time and consideration, your batteries will soon be used up and you simply wont have the energy to make a good job of being a parent.

Your Body After Childbirth

Having a baby changes your body. You may not like the changes, or you may enjoy feeling different, more like a mother. If you like the way you are, dont let other people tell you different.

If you feel uncomfortable with your body youll want to make some changes. Some things will never be quite the same again for example, stretch marks will fade, but wont ever go away completely.

Other changes need not be permanent. A saggy tummy can be tightened up with exercise, and weight gain will gradually drop off if you eat and exercise sensibly. But dont expect any of this to happen overnight. It took nine months to make a baby. Give yourself at least that long to get back into shape again and it may take longer.

In the meantime, give your body some little treats to cheer you up.

For example, if it makes you feel good to paint your toenails, then make time to do it. Maybe for you thats even more important than 20 minutes extra sleep.

Physical Problems

A lot of women have physical problems, either as a result of labour and birth, or because of the kind of work involved in caring for young children, or both. Problems like an infection that keeps coming back, back pain, a leaky bladder and painful intercourse are much more common than people think. These sorts of problems can get you down, and some get worse if theyre not seen to.

For some problems you can do a lot to help yourself. The muscles around your bladder, vagina and back passage (the perineum) may be weak and that could be part of the reason for the falling out feeling or leaky bladder that many women describe. Pelvic floor exercises can help.

A bad back can also be helped by exercise, and by learning to use your back carefully.

Pelvic floor exercises

The muscles of the pelvic floor form a hammock underneath the pelvis to support the bladder, womb and bowel. You use these muscles when you pass water, empty your bowels and when you make love. Often theyre stretched during pregnancy, labour and birth. If you can improve their strength and function youre less likely to have a leaky bladder, and more likely to enjoy intercourse.

You can do this exercise either sitting or standing, when youre washing up, queuing in the supermarket, watching television anywhere. You ought to do it for the rest of your life. Its an exercise thats just as important for older women as younger.

Squeeze and draw in your back passage at the same time. Close up and draw in your vagina (front passage) upwards.

Hold on for about five seconds, then let go.

Do this exercise in sets of five, ten times a day. It helps to imagine youre stopping a bowel movement, holding in a tampon, stopping yourself passing water. In fact, the best way to find the muscles is to try stopping and starting (or slowing down) the flow of urine while youre on the toilet.

Curl ups

This exercise firms up your stomach and closes the gap in the abdominal muscles that opens up during pregnancy.

Lie on the floor (rather than your bed) with your knees bent up high so your feet are flat on the floor.

Pull your tummy in and gradually lift your head and shoulders, reaching for your knees with your hands. Then lower back down very slowly.

Begin this exercise gently and build up.

Postnatal check

Dont be so busy looking after your baby that you forget to attend for your postnatal examination at around six to eight weeks. This is an opportunity for you to talk to your doctor about any health problems following delivery such as perineal pain or pain following episiotomy, backache, piles, incontinence, etc. It is also an opportunity for you to talk about how you are feeling, for example if you are feeling low or depressed, and also to talk about family planning if you wish.

To ease back problems

While feeding, always sit with your back well supported and straight. Use a pillow or cushion behind your waist.

Kneel or squat to do low-level jobs like bathing your baby or picking things up off the floor. Avoid bending your back.

Make your knees work instead. Change nappies on a waist-level surface or while kneeling on the floor.

To lift weights like a carrycot or an older child, bend your knees, keep your back straight and hold the weight close to your body. Make your thigh muscles work as you lift.

Try to keep a straight back when you push a pram or buggy, or carry your baby in a sling.

Keeping Healthy

Eating

Being a parent is an exhausting business and it is easy to find that you have no time or energy to cook or eat properly. Try to make eating well a priority; it will make you feel better and neednt take lots of time. Try to follow the guidelines given about eating a healthy diet. If you are breastfeeding make sure you eat and drink plenty and dont go on a diet.

If youre not breastfeeding and feel you need to lose weight, talk to your doctor about it first. Cut down on fat and sugar and dont go on a crash diet. Small regular meals will keep up your energy levels without adding to your weight.

Quit smoking

Many people smoke because they believe that smoking calms their nerves, but it doesnt. It just calms the craving for nicotine that cigarettes create. So here are some useful steps to stop smoking.

Know why you want to stop. It is handy to keep a checklist of your reasons to stop smoking.

Change your habits. Smoking is strongly linked to some situations the first cigarette of the day, the cigarette with tea or coffee, when the phone rings. Try to break the link by changing your habits. For example drink orange juice instead of coffee for a while.

Be ready to stop. Choose a day and stop completely on that day. The day before get rid of cigarettes, ashtrays and lighters.

Get support. Tell family and friends you have decided to stop and ask them for their support. For example, ask them not to offer you a cigarette.

Anticipate problems. Which situations will be difficult? Dont just wait for them to happen. Plan how to deal with them.

Take one day at a time. At the beginning of each day, congratulate yourself on having made it so far, but make your goal to get through today without smoking. Never mind tomorrow.

If you need to put something in your mouth, try sugar-free chewing gum or something healthy and non-fattening. If you need to do something with your hands, find something to fiddle with a pencil, coin anything but a cigarette.

Good reasons to stop smoking

  • Your childrens health will improve.
  • Your health will improve.
  • You’ll have money to spend on other things.

Sleep

Most of the time parents just live with tiredness. But when the tiredness begins to make you feel low, bad-tempered, unable to cope and certainly unable to enjoy things, youve got to find ways of getting more sleep or at least more rest. Just one day, one night, one week, could help.

Get to bed early, really early, say for a week. If you cant sleep when you get to bed, do something relaxing for half an hour beforehand, whether its exercise, or soaking in a bath, or watching television.

Deep relaxation can refresh you after only five or ten minutes. So its worth learning a relaxation technique. You may find books, tapes or videos about this at your library.

Sleep when your baby sleeps. Rest when (if) your child has a daytime rest, or when he or she is at the nursery. Arrange for a relative or friend to take your child for a while, not so that you can get the jobs done, but so you can sleep. Take turns with other parents to give yourself time to rest. Set an alarm if youre worried about sleeping too long.

If you can, share getting up in the night with your partner. Take alternate nights or weeks. If youre on your own, a friend or relative may be prepared to have your children overnight occasionally.

Do something about any stress. Tiredness often comes from stress. If you can do something about the stress, you may be able to cope better, even without more sleep.

Coping with stress

Small children ask a lot of you, and theres a limit to what you can ask of them. But perhaps the greatest stress comes from coping with the rest of life at the same time as coping with a baby or small child. You can spend a whole day trying to get one job done, but never managing to fit it in. Just as you start on it, your baby wakes up, or a nappy needs changing, or your child wants attention. Sometimes you can feel as though life is completely out of control. And if youre not the sort of person who can take things as they come and not mind about what is or isnt done, you can get to feel very tense and frustrated.

Stress also comes from worry and unhappiness: maybe to do with the place you live, money, relationships or just a lot of small, but important things. You may not be able to change the way your children are or the life you lead. But you may be able to do something about the stress. Its a matter of finding solutions that are right for you.

You may find that you can relax just by doing something that you enjoy for half an hour in the evening when you can put other things out of your mind for a while. A bath, maybe, or time to look at a magazine or the television. Do whatever will wind you down. Borrow a book or tape from the library about relaxation. Make yourself do it.

See other people it does take the pressure off. Try a mother and baby or parent and toddler group. Ask your health visitor or other parents about local groups. Or, if youre not keen on organised groups, get together with people you meet at the clinic, playgroup or nursery school.

Relationships can go wrong when youre tense and tired and never seem to see each other, so make time to be with your partner, even if only to fall asleep together in front of the television.

Talking about the stress youre feeling can help to get rid of it, at least for a while. If you and your partner can understand how each other is feeling, then take time to talk about how best to support each other. Sometimes its better to talk with people outside the family.

Make the very most of all the help you can find. And give up a bit. You cant do everything. Try to believe it really doesnt matter.

There are no prizes for being a supermum or superdad. Compromise if youre a perfectionist.

Feeling depressed

Most of us feel low occasionally and lack of sleep, stress, and maybe the strain of balancing paid work and parenting, and money problems, all contribute to making the early stages of parenthood a difficult, as well as a rewarding, time. Sometimes feeling low takes over completely and becomes depression.

Depression is more than feeling unhappy. Its feeling hopeless about yourself and all thats happening to you. The hopelessness can make you angry. But often you feel too tired even for anger. It can seem as though theres no answer and no end to the way youre feeling. You may feel all, or some, of these things:

  • tired, but cant sleep;
  • no appetite or are overeating;
  • no interest in yourself;
  • no interest in your baby;
  • the smallest chores are almost impossible to manage;
  • you never stop crying.

This kind of depression is like an illness. Nothing seems worth doing, so doing anything as demanding as caring for a baby or child becomes a real struggle. Both for yourself and for the family, its important to get help.

See your GP or health visitor, or both. Take someone with you if this would help. Make it clear that youre not talking about just feeling low but something more worrying than that.

You may find that youre too low even to make the first step. If this is the case its important to talk to someone your partner, a friend or your mother, and ask them to talk to your GP or health visitor on your behalf and arrange an appointment for you.

Alcohol may appear to help you relax and unwind. In fact its a depressant, affecting moods, judgement, self-control, and co-ordination. If youre tired and run down, it affects these even more. So watch how much and when you drink. Never mix alcohol with anti-depressants or tranquillisers.

Talking it through

It does help to talk, but it may be very hard to do so.

You may want to say things that youre afraid of admitting to the people you love.

You may feel guilty about your feelings.

You may believe that youll be judged as a bad mother for admitting to your feelings.

For all these reasons its often best to talk to someone who isnt close to you, someone with whom you can be honest without being afraid of shocking them.

You may find that its enough to talk to your GP or health visitor, or they may be able to refer you to someone else. If you can talk about how you feel youll almost certainly find that the things you fear are not as bad as you thought they were.

Medical treatment

If youre feeling totally lost in depression, your doctor may prescribe anti-depressant drugs. They may be enough to give you the lift you need to start coping again, and then to find a way out of your depression, though they can take time to work. Anti-depressants are not habit-forming. You should not be concerned about them if they are prescribed for you by your GP. Tranquillisers may also be offered. They are different. They dont help depression and can be habit-forming, so theyre best avoided.

Lone Parents

Bringing a baby into your life changes your relationships with other people whether youre part of a couple or alone with your child.

Some lone mothers feel that their own mothers are taking over; others resent the fact that their mothers wont help them more.

However painful it may be, its best to try to be very clear about the kind of help you do want, rather than going along with whats offered and then feeling resentful. Remember your mother is also having to get used to a completely new relationship with you and she wont know what to do for the best unless you tell her!

You may find that your old friends stop coming by or that they seem to expect you just to drop everything and go out for the evening. Try not to get angry with them. They dont understand the changes you are going through. Keep in touch and keep some space for them in your life. Friends can be more valuable than money when the going gets tough.

You may be amazed and delighted at how much help youll get from relations and friends if you ask! But the best support will probably come from other lone mothers.

Suggest a swap arrangement with another parent so that you take it in turns to look after both the children, by day to begin with, and later overnight. The children will benefit too from having a close friend, especially if theyve no brothers and sisters.

Suggest a regular evening babysit by a trusted relation or friend. You may well find that theyre delighted at the opportunity of making friends with your child.

Grandparents are often glad to have a baby overnight, even if they dont much care for babysitting.

Making new friends

If you dont already know people locally, try contacting other mothers through local groups.

Ask your health visitor whats going on locally.

Gingerbread, a self-help organisation run by and for one-parent families has local groups around the country. Through these groups you can meet parents in similar situations to your own. And you can often help each other out as well as support each other generally. Their web address is www.gingerbread.org.uk

Absent fathers

If you’d hoped to bring up your child as a couple you may be feeling very angry and hurt. One of the hardest things for a lone mother is to keep her hurt, angry feelings to herself and let her child make a different relationship with his or her father.

Unless your childs father is violent to you or the child, or you feel hes likely to abuse the child in some way, its almost certainly better for your childs own development if he or she is able to see his or her father regularly, even if you remarry.

You may find that your child behaves badly at first when he or she gets home. Small children arent able to understand and explain how theyre feeling and this is the only way they have of letting you know that theyre confused. Unless youre convinced that something bad is happening on access visits, the best thing is to be reassuring and calm. In the end your child will learn to look forward to visits and also to coming home.

Money and housing

Money may be a major headache. Look at your rights and benefits to check youre claiming all youre entitled to.

The National Council for One Parent Families offers free advice packs to lone parents and will provide independent advice about maintenance problems to women on benefits.

If you need help with claiming maintenance contact the Child Support Agency enquiry line. If youre on benefits your case will be handled automatically. If youre not on benefits, and want the agency to assess and collect maintenance on your behalf, there is a fee.

Your feelings

Youll almost certainly want (and need) to talk about your own feelings. Try to find another adult to talk to. Your children dont need to hear the details of your feelings about their father and will feel confused and unhappy about loving someone who you clearly do not love.