How to Ask for Help When You Need It
I’ve been a maternity nurse for twenty five years and during that time have worked with hundreds of amazing babies and parents, but the current situation worries me greatly. Parents today are more pressured and confused than ever and the biggest problems stem from the pressure to be ‘the perfect parent’ and, conversely, the fear of ‘being a bad parent’.
This insidious perfection pressure began with the air brushing media, and is now fueled on a daily basis by certain outspoken parenting method advocates on social media. When vulnerable new parents are continually exposed to their sort of preaching, the results can be extremely harmful to both parents and baby… and in some cases, fatal.
Let’s be clear here – I’m not referring to the normal, nice people who offer advice and support to those interested in their chosen parenting method… I am referring to the extremists; the activists who believe that they know what is best for you and your baby, and who will do everything in their power to change the way you think and convert you to their cause.
In my twenty-five years as a maternity nurse, I have seen first-hand, the damage extreme lecturing can cause. How these scare tactics, bullying, overt and implied criticism, guilt inducing language and mind games can cause stress, anxiety, fear, confusion and guilt in mothers. I have also seen the very real results of these emotions including babies being accidentally starved because parents were afraid of formula supplements, babies being dropped because the mother was so exhausted from ruthless breastfeeding schedules that she fell asleep feeding, parents sticking so rigidly to recommended routines that they become dangerously isolated, and mothers and fathers becoming so sleep deprived that their physical and mental health suffered as a result.
Part of the problem is that these extreme views perpetuate the idea that ‘good parenting’ somehow involves a high degree of martyrdom.
By this I mean that the mother is supposed to suffer and put up with cracked and bleeding nipples, that parents are supposed to deny themselves sleep, that their physical and mental needs are unimportant, that they should sacrifice everything to achieve whatever particular parenting goal the extremists believe in.
The one single truth that I can impart here which may help new parents is this:
Suffering will NOT make you a better parent in any way. You do NOT need to put yourself, your baby and your family through hell to be good parents!
Please, if you are suffering in any way, stop what you are doing and seek help.
The extremists will tell you: ‘don’t listen to sleep consultants, they will tell you to leave your baby to cry for hours on end and you’ll emotionally damage your child forever’.
Real quote from a parent: ‘My husband was so sleep deprived after our first was born that he started hallucinating in the middle of the night. Wandering around the apartment and then looking for the baby that he thought he was holding and being very confused. Fortunately, the baby was safely in the crib when this was happening. It was really scary to see him like that though. We sleep trained soon after and two years later we are still so thankful that we did because we have a great independent sleeper’.
Don’t underestimate the danger of sleep deprivation! There is no shame in seeking help, a good sleep consultant won’t make you choose between your sleep and the baby’s mental well being!
They will tell you: ‘ feeding consultants are anti breast and will just tell you to give up breastfeeding and use formula, and formula is bad for your baby.
Well, Mandy, from the US believed this and avoided formula until her baby was accidentally starved. He gained just half an ounce above birth weight at one month old, because she had been convinced by lactation consultants and midwives that supplementing with formula was wrong and exclusive breastfeeding was the only way to be a good mother.
A baby needs to eat – full stop. If breastfeeding isn’t working then there is no shame is seeking an alternative.
They will tell you: ‘good parents battle through depression to breastfeed exclusively. You don’t need help, you just need to try harder’.
Well, Florence Leung, a mother from Vancouver, did try harder, and harder until it was too much and in October 2016 she walked out of her house leaving her husband and baby behind, and took her own life. Her husband spoke out about how the relentless pressure to breastfeed contributed greatly to her PND that eventually cost her precious life.
Never ever suffer alone, there is no shame in not managing by yourself – asking for help does NOT make you a ‘bad mother’.
The truth is that there are both good and bad consultants/experts out there, as in any walk of life, but the good ones can help you turn your life around and are worth their weight in gold.
Separating the good from the bad may seem daunting but there are ways to make things a bit easier.
For those dealing with sleep problems please don’t be put off by claims about the dangers of trauma from crying. There are many expert sleep trainers who practise gentle controlled crying (no baby is ever left alone to cry it out for huge periods of time, that is a myth) as well as no cry sleep methods. A good sleep consultant should work with you and your needs and won’t inflict stringent methods on vulnerable mothers.
If you are looking for sleep consultants look for ones with many years experience. Unfortunately, here in the UK there are no regulations for non-medical consultants, so anyone can do a one-day course, get a certificate and set themselves up as a Sleep Consultant, all they need is a convincing website and a faked (or exaggerated) CV.
My advice would be
1: Check websites carefully, look for at least 5 years experience with the relevant age group, as well as some sort of career development training from one of the reputable course providers such as Be Ready To Parent, Southampton Sleep Training, NEST and MNT .
2: Make sure there are reviews or references that relate to your problem, and that you find reassuring.
3: Speak to the consultant and ask lots of questions, but be sure to ask them to describe their ethos and methods before you tell them your own preferred approach. This way they don’t get the chance to say what they think you want to hear to secure the booking, then revert to their own way of working once you have hired them.
4: Ask for detailed references from previous clients relating to problems similar to your own, and if they give contact details make sure you call at least one to verify the reference.
For feeding help most people immediately think of lactation consultants but beware… some of these can be very single-minded about the superiority of breast milk and the purism of exclusive breastfeeding, even to the extent of demonising bottles, pumping, pacifiers and nipple shields, all of which can be very useful tools to help successful long term breastfeeding.
Even if you yourself are focused on exclusive breastfeeding, I would still recommend finding a feeding consultant who is happy to advise on all aspects and methods of feeding because you will benefit from a more thorough, open-minded approach.
For combination and formula feeding there are not as many consultants to choose from but they are out there if you look. It doesn’t even need to be expensive – some maternity nurses like myself offer help by phone or Skype, with ongoing email and phone support, which makes help very accessible and can be a comfort for a mother far away who is feeling lost and lonely.
An excellent source of help is an online organisation called The Fed Is Best Foundation which offers help and support for all types of feeding, articles helping you to understand the reality behind many of the ‘latest research’ claims, schedules for increasing and protecting breast milk supplies, tips about bottle, combination and tube feeding, plus vital information relating to danger signs and consequences of underfeeding.
ARE YOU STRUGGLING TO COPE ?
Contrary to popular belief, not all women were born confident and equipped to deal with motherhood. Many many mothers fight a silent battle of insecurity and fear when it comes to their decision making. If you are worried about depression or anxiety you must ask for help from your doctor, midwife or health visitor… friends and family are not enough… you need and deserve proper help.
UNTRUTH: Many women worry that if they ask for help, someone will take your baby away.
This is NOT TRUE! Health professionals care about you as well as your child. I promise you that keeping mother and baby together is of paramount importance to everyone concerned in your treatment.
An excellent starting point, if you are unsure about symptoms of depression, treatments, or where to get help, is the Post Partum Stress Centre. They are wonderful and will help you get the advice and support you need.
Fathers also suffer from post-natal depression so they too should never be afraid to ask for help.
Remember, your life is just as precious as your baby’s, and your happiness just as important so please, if you are suffering, physically or mentally, reach out and ask for help, and keep asking until you get it. And please ignore anyone who says that suffering is part of parenthood, it needn’t be. You can be happy and self-fulfilled and still raise happy children – just get help from the right people.
(Note from The Editor: Many thanks to Sarah Norris for her contribution to The Glass House. Sarah has been a maternity nurse for twenty-five years and has helped hundreds of babies and families, from Hollywood celebrities to homeless single mothers. Her new book The Baby Detective (Published by Orion) is available from 18th May 2017. For more information about her, you can visit her Facebook page here or her website www.babydetective.co.uk or pre order her book here.)