I’m 4 months pregnant and I’ve recently found out about Aware Parenting from my close friend, who is on your forum. I’m 35 and I’ve done loads of work on myself over the years – bodywork, counselling, and various types of yoga and mediation. I’ve read some of the articles on your website, and I am really excited about doing Aware Parenting with my baby. I want to be as aware as I can be, and I want to protect my baby from stress, and I want him or her to heal from stress so that s/he doesn’t need to do all the work I’ve done to get centred and calm and to accept myself and my feelings. What do you recommend I do next?
Thanks for your email. I love hearing about your interest in Aware Parenting, particularly now, when you are pregnant. I think that this is an ideal time to start practising Aware Parenting! All your bodywork, counselling, yoga and meditation will be helpful tools for you as you enter your new journey of parenthood. There is also so much that you can do to familiarise yourself with Aware Parenting before your baby’s birth.
With Aware Parenting, three main areas of focus with babies are:
1 – Connection, connection, connection;
2 – To protect your baby from stress and trauma, even in utero;
3 – To listen to your baby’s feelings and help her release the stress that all babies experience, however sensitive and aware we are as parents.
Here are a few ideas for how to do this:
Aim for a calm pregnancy, with lots of connection with your baby. Research indicates that babies whose mothers were anxious or depressed a lot during pregnancy cried more than those whose mothers who weren’t anxious and depressed.
There are a few books I recommend to increase connection, such as Prenatal Parenting, by Frederick Wirth, Nurturing the Unborn Child, by Thomas Verny and Pamela Weintraub, and Tomorrow’s Baby, by the same authors. If you love yoga and meditation, you’ll already have plenty of tools for calmness and relaxation!
I suggest doing whatever you are drawn to do to have a calm and empowering birthing experience. Birth trauma is very stressful for babies, and babies whose mothers have a more difficult birthing experience also cry more and wake up more at night. Personally, I love the Gentle Birth Method by Dr. Gowri Motha, and calm birth (http://www.calmbirth.com.au/parent.html)
A main stress for babies is unmet needs. One of a baby’s most primary needs is touch. Consider keeping your baby close to you or your partner at all times in the early weeks and months. Look into co-sleeping. Research shows that babies and children who co-sleep experience favourable long-term effects: http://www.nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/longterm.html I recommend buying The Aware Baby and Tears and Tantrums by Aletha Solter, and read and re-read the chapter on sleep. If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of co-sleeping, then explore this more – what are you uncomfortable about? What do you tell yourself about this? This is an opportunity for you to heal and grow and make true choices based on research and what feels most authentic for you.
Likewise, I’d suggest avoiding buying a stroller whilst you are pregnant, and instead research baby carriers. I’d recommend groups like Baby Carriers Downunder http://www.baby-carriers-downunder.com/ and The Babywearer http://www.thebabywearer.com/ They both have very active forums, and Baby Carriers Downunder has a loaning library, so that you can borrow carriers and find out which ones suit you. Bear in mind that carriers are a very personal choice, and that you will have your own unique preferences for what is most comfortable and easy for you. Parents often find they need to change carriers after their baby is about six months, although with certain carriers, like wraps, they can be used from birth to beyond toddlerhood. Carrying a baby means that you can give him the closeness he needs, whilst also meeting your needs for ease, and also will protect him from over-stimulation when you are out and about.
One of the biggest stresses for newborn babies is over-stimulation. Over-stimulation for a baby means everything that he doesn’t understand, which is a lot for a baby. The more you can protect a baby from this, the less stress will build up in his body, and the less releasing he will need to do. I’d recommend a baby moon, where you stay at home, preferably in the bedroom, for a period of time that feels apt for you. Avoid loud noises, bright lights, and aim for plenty of skin-to-skin contact and awareness in the way you touch your baby. Avoid letting lots of other people hold your baby. The more you give him a chance to make a gradual transition from the dimmed lights, muffled sounds, and complete body touch of being in the womb, to the outside world, the less stressful his early weeks will be. As he gets older, slowly increase stimulation, such as outings – and remember that, even going out in a car to a shop is a stressful experience for a new baby. Keeping him close to your body in a carrier will limit the stress, and yet he will still have stress to release when you get home. As much as possible, avoid loud and crowded places, holidays, and moving house for the first six months.
The next thing to consider is your relationship with crying. How are you with your feelings? What are your habitual ways that you avoid feelings? Consider starting practices like empathy partnerships, counselling, Nonviolent Communication (www.cnvc.org) or Field training (www.fieldcenter.org) to bring more awareness to your feelings, the relationship between your thoughts and your feelings, and your beliefs about feelings. Read and re-read the chapter on crying in The Aware Baby, and read Tears and Tantrums. Watch parents with babies and notice how you feel when you see a crying baby, and what your habitual response is. Ask your Aware Parenting friend if she is happy for you to be with her whilst she listens to her baby’s feelings – and see what comes up for you. Ask her questions about her experience with her baby’s feelings. The more you can get clear and work through old feelings and beliefs, the more present you will be able to be with your baby’s feelings, and the more you will be able to see what is going on from him, rather than see him through the filter of your own unexpressed feelings.
I’d also suggest you explore your relationship with food, and whether you eat when you are upset. Enquire into whether you eat when you are hungry and whether you stop eating when you are full up. Consider shifting any of these before your baby is born. One of the main confusions first-time parents practising Aware Parenting make is between their baby’s hunger, and their need to express their feelings. The clearer you are on the difference between when you feel upset, and when you feel hungry, the more easily you will be able to see the difference in your baby. I’d recommend reading and re-reading the chapters on crying and feeding in The Aware Baby – particularly getting clear about the ways to distinguish between hunger and a need to release.
Finally, make sure you learn how to meet your own needs. It is so tempting for parents, particularly mothers, to ignore their own needs. The more you keep connected with yourself and your needs, and set in place ways for you to get your needs met once your baby is born, the more you will have a full cup, and will have so much to offer your baby. For example, consider starting a regular empathy swap with your Aware Parenting friend, so that you know that someone is there to simply listen and be present with you as you share what parenting is like for you. Find a local Aware Parenting group and consider going to meetings before your baby is born.
You have a unique opportunity for you to be as fully prepared as you can be for Aware Parenting, for understanding your baby’s needs and cues, and to respond accurately and empathically. And remember that the rest of it is a learning-in-process thing – you will learn and grow whilst your baby does!
Enjoy this most wonderful journey!