Monday, 3 June 2013

All the things you learn to do with one hand

There are two kinds of mothers: martyrs and champions. Martyr-mothers complain about how hard their life is, how they sacrifice everything for their baby, how they gave up a sense of fashion, self-respect, personal hygiene and the relationship with their partner all in the name of their little bald selfish devil. They keep saying this while having their second, third, and fourth kid. Champion-mothers talk about how precious their kids are, how time flies and how you need to enjoy every moment. They find creative solutions to balancing caring for their child with everything else they need to do. 

I probably sound a bit harsh here: there are situations where a child is sick or extremely difficult (colicky) or a mother is in a poor health or in a very bad relationship or under financial duress or gets absolutely no help caring for her child. In this case, all the complaints are perfectly justified. I really feel for those women and bow to them. When speaking about martyr-mothers, I wasn’t referring to them. I was talking about mothers seem to have exactly the same experience as champion-mothers, but just choose to portray themselves as victims, rather than conquerors.

Before my daughter was born I made a resolution that I would try to be like one of those champion-mothers. I don’t know if I will succeed, but I try. Not all credit goes to me: I am in a very fortunate situation. I have eight months of maternity leave from my university, a great husband who is physically unable to not care about our baby (it’s in his DNA) and who helps a great deal, a mother-in-law who is like her son, and my own mother who will come to visit for a couple of months to help. I do have to keep running my research lab even while I am on leave, but I can do this at my own pace and from the comfort of my home (thanks to Google hangout!). So at this point many of you are thinking: “Of course it’s easy to be a champion-mother with all this help!”. You could be right. Nevertheless, I’d like to write down a few solutions that I found useful in my effort to remain a champion.

A win-win sleeping arrangement

While Naomi is waking up to feed at night, my husband Anton and I decided that we will sleep separately. I room in with Naomi, so he can get a good night’s sleep, because unlike me he has to get up to work every morning. This arrangement has many other advantages. Because Anton gets enough sleep, he is always very cheerful, and that is super helpful for keeping everyone calm and hopeful. Because he is well rested, he is able to take Naomi for a few hours (during the week-end) or a few minutes on work days, so I can catch up on sleep, take a shower, eat or get out of my pajamas. He also feeds me my favourite brunch – his famous creation of a French omelette with goat brie and dill. I am able to get enough sleep as well. I go to bed at midnight, get out of bed at noon. In that time-stretch I accumulate enough short stretches of sleep to keep me rested. After the birth of Naomi I acquired this ability to fall asleep instantaneously and go into a profound sleep even if I have 20 minutes. Even if Naomi is fussing in the next room – as long as I know she is safe with Anton. Smart Body – thank you for that.

Moby wrap

Moby wrap is a long piece of fabric that you tie around your body creating a contraption in which you can insert your baby and carry her with you wherever you go. It’s the answer to the fashionable trend of baby-wearing. Moby wrap, as almost all other infant products, was too big for my tiny 2.5-kg-at-birth girl (most baby-wearing products are rated for kids weighing 8lbs (=3.6kg) and higher). So I had to be creative. I put on the wrap as recommended, inserted in it a rolled towel, creating a horizontal platform, and on it put Naomi, who can peacefully sleep or breast-feed while I walk around, eat, check email or blog. With this arrangement, Naomi often ends up with bread crumbs or salad dressing on her swaddling blanket, but we make do. The only thing I have not yet figured out how to do with Naomi in a wrap is to take a shower. I suppose I could if I didn’t mind getting it (and Naomi) wet.
It is still a mystery to me why Naomi can sleep for hours (forgetting even to eat) when she is  in the wrap next to my body, while she gets unhappy the minute I put her down into her crib (well, not always, but often).

Moby wrap lets you have at least one hand free (two, if you get good at it). So eventually I learned how to cook salad and make my own omelette while wearing Naomi on my chest.


I am an exercise fanatic. I need my exercise. I confess that I am addicted. I went to ballet classes up to a week before birth and biked up to a day before birth. The only reason why I did not bike on the day Naomi was born was because my water broke and I figured there is not enough protection for the baby in case I fell or bumped into the steering wheel.  So three weeks post-partum, when the stitches healed and I could sit on my bum again (well, sort-of), I started itching to go to a ballet class. In order to do this, I had to pump milk. This way I could ask my mother-in-law to watch Naomi while I go to class and leave milk in case our little vulture gets hungry.

Lactation experts warn you to not introduce the bottle until the breast-feeding is “well established”. I didn’t know quite what that meant, but I wanted to go dancing so much that at three weeks post-partum I decided that we are well established and began expressing milk.
Medela breast pump is a God-send. I use the Pump-in-style model and a hands-free bra, so I can hook myself up to the apparatus, attach the bottles to my nipples and go around my business while the milk is being expressed. I am so glad I can escape the fate of my mother, whom I remember expressing the milk by hand 24/7.

The little one loves the bottle. Drinking from the bottle requires less work than sucking the breast. But we avoided the “nipple confusion” so far. She gladly takes the breast as well.  Expressing milk is liberating. I now go to a ballet class twice a week. Last week-end (4 weeks pp) Anton and I went up to Grouse Grind (a hike) while the mother-in-law watched our little vulture.  I can also leave the house with Naomi in a stroller for the whole day, take a bunch of bottles with me, and she’ll happily sleep and entertain herself in a stroller as long as I periodically give her food.

If you do get a Medela pump, do get the hands-free pumping bra as well. It makes the world of difference.

Shower and make-up

Before Naomi was born I was terrified to hear the stories of martyr-mothers who say they gave up style and personal hygiene when their baby was born.  So I make it a point to shower and put on make-up every day. Even if I don’t succeed to do this until 2pm, and even though this takes 30 minutes out of my day, I still think it’s useful. Gives me a feeling that I got everything under control.

Exercise ball

My birth doula suggested that I buy an exercise ball to use during labour. Apparently it helps relax through contractions. I did not use it during labour (I preferred a bath tub), but the ball ended up being a very useful tool for soothing Naomi. Anton or I can calm her almost instantaneously if we bounce on the exercise ball with her in our arms. Sometimes this has to be accompanied with a loud “shhh” in her ear. I hope ball-bouncing burns calories and builds leg muscles. I do have to have Naomi in a Moby wrap while I bounce on the ball, otherwise my back gets sore.


I am a control freak. For some reason I often get this idea that I can do something better than others, even when this is completely untrue. Well, this attitude is completely not useful when you are caring for a newborn (and in many other life situations as well!). So when my mother-in-law or my husband take over Naomi, I don’t micromanage. I just go sleep or do what I need to do and let them use their intuition. Same with work. Delegated managing major publications to my students. Control – just give it up!

The 5 “S”s.

This is a soothing technique described by a renowned pediatrician Bradley Karp in his book “The Happiest Baby on the Block”.  The 5 “S”s stand for Swaddling, Swinging, Shh-ing and Sucking. It’s what you have to do to calm your baby. Works like a charm, but the devil is in the details. For Naomi, swinging only works on an exercise ball, and the “shhh” has to be very loud!

Trash bags and scotch tape 

Blacking out the room by taping huge black trash bags to windows made my baby sleep in the morning until 7-ish as opposed to when the sun rises, which could be as early as 4:30am.


  1. Great article, well organised and summarized. There are 4 S not 5. Swaddling, Swinging, Shh-ing and Sucking. I am not pointing out a mistake, I just curious to know about the 5th one.

  2. The 5th one is side-laying -- that is you have to lay your baby on his or her side ;)

    1. Great! Thank you :)
      Delegation part is good one, but for a mother this is hard to be a delegate mother, she will always go for micromanage. may be because she is a "Mother" regardless martyrs or champion. its good for you if you really do this, not everyone can do this.