SingaporeMotherhood | Baby & Toddler

January 2013

Surviving “Muddle (mother) -hood”

I once watched a movie in which Jacky Chan and another man found themselves unexpectedly caring for a baby. It was hilarious to see the resulting confusion and chaos as both men fumbled through feeding, changing and looking after the baby. I was reminded of my early days as a first-time mother and how I had muddled my way through. Perhaps the sharing of these experiences and advice which I had received from others will help ease new mums into their journey of motherhood and avoid a period of “muddle-hood”.

1. Discerning Baby’s Needs

Although other parents had told me that their baby cries differently for different needs, my newborn’s cries all sounded the same to me. Initially, it was a guessing game to know whether he was hungry, wet or tired. Following the advice of a book, I fed my son every three hours instead of on demand. As he settled into this routine, it became easier for me to understand his needs. A cry close to the next feed signified hunger while one after the feed meant that he needed a change of diapers. Fussing half an hour after each feed usually meant that he was tired and ready for a nap.

2. Dealing with colic

My baby was relatively easy to handle — until 7pm each day, when he would cry from one feed to the next and only sleep after he had worn himself out. Thinking that perhaps he was afraid of the dark, we experimented with several ways to soothe him for bedtime, to no avail. After a visit to the paediatrician, we realised that he could have been suffering from colic — characterised by very distressed crying at almost the same time each day. We were surprised as 100 per cent breastfed babies were supposed to be less prone to colic than bottle-fed ones.

I then suspected that the onions in my food were the culprit, as they can cause wind in the tummy, so I cut them out of my diet. Together with “Rid Wind” which the doctor prescribed, the incidences of colic were reduced. On days when even that didn’t help, I found that climbing the stairs did the trick. The movement and change of scenery seemed to distract him from his discomfort. A friend shared that she had to turn on the vacuum cleaner every night as the sound soothed her colicky baby.

3. Changing diapers

A relative shared that her son once sprayed her in the face during a diaper change. While I was fortunate enough to avoid that, I soon realised that babies have an uncanny knack of timing their release when they are unwrapped and kept a cloth nappy handy to soak up unexpected showers.

I also placed a travel-sized changing mat on top of a large one. To allow for quick drying, I cut open the smaller changing mat and removed the sponge inside. That way, I could wash and dry the small mat frequently, while the larger one only needed to be washed if it got soiled.

4. Loose Bowels

After my son had started solids, I fed him a meal of purple sweet potato on Grandma’s recommendation. It was supposedly nutritious and “good” for him. However, that day, the poor boy had diahorrea at least three times and two mattresses were soiled. I later learnt that sweet potato has a laxative effect and have avoided it since.


5. Settling Baby for the Night

Baby books make it sound so easy: give Baby a warm, relaxing bath, tell a bedtime story, let him hug his favourite teddy and he will sleep without a struggle. Parents are encouraged to say a gentle but firm “good night” and leave the room, lest Baby became dependent on having someone accompany him till he knocked out.

While my son had no problem being left alone to nap during the day, he would get anxious and fretful if I did that at night. He only wanted Mummy at bedtime, and would not consider Daddy for a substitute, much as my husband wanted to help. This meant that I could not have dinner or go to the bathroom without returning to a distressed baby.

Some books and mothers advised me to “train” my son to sleep independently by not
responding to his cries immediately or by ignoring him completely. One mum left her son to cry till he was hoarse because the books claimed that babies would be trained not to expect any attention after a week. They would supposedly learn to settle themselves and sleep through the night sooner. I once tried leaving my son to cry for a heart-wrenching 15 minutes while I gobbled down my dinner and decided that I could not do it again.

Another mother-of-three shared how miserable she felt trying to follow the advice from books for her first two children. She decided to follow her instincts instead for her third child and enjoyed the experience more. That was the best advice I received for my situation. I ended up patting my son and singing lullabies till he was sound asleep before I sneaked out of his room. I continued being his “sleep accessory” (as the books called it) for the next one-and-a-half years till he was old enough to bargain with. By then, he had allowed me to sing just three songs and leave the room, with the promise that I would return immediately any time he needed me.

Although it took me almost two years instead of a week to slowly wean my son of his need for Mummy at bedtime, there was less emotional strain on both mother and child. This is one area where I would not do differently even if I were given the choice again.

6. Dropping your guard — and Baby

While preparing to go out one day, I decided to carry my then 6-month old with one hand and sling on the pram with the other. I did not secure him with the sarong, thinking that it was only a short distance to the main door, and I could put him in the pram once I got out. I carried him in an upright position with his head resting on my shoulder and told him to lean on me. It was a big mistake to expect a baby to understand and follow instructions. Something caught his attention and he arched back just as I picked up the pram. Without a free hand to catch him, I watched in horror as he bounced on the floor within a split-second and hit his head. I rushed him to the hospital and was overwhelmed with a deep sense of guilt and unworthiness to be a mother when the nurse recorded “fell from mother’s arms” as the cause of accident.

For the next three days that we were supposed to observe him, I kept anxious vigil while he slept, fearful that he may never wake again. Thankfully, he suffered only a bad scare and nothing more. This incident taught me never to drop my guard or take short-cuts when it came to the safety of my child.

7. Making Informed Decisions

The amount of advice from books and people can be overwhelming and sometimes
conflicting. I’ve learnt that there is no special formula that works for all. While there may be general guidelines to make life easier for a new mother, every baby is a unique individual. Having read up and sought the opinions of others, it is up to you to decide what works best in your situation. Perhaps the old adage that “mother knows best” is true after all. All the best for your journey through motherhood!

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Surviving “Muddle (mother) -hood”