When you read the title of this blog, many of you would have felt uncomfortable with the idea that anything is more important than a baby. From conception, or even when a woman is trying to get pregnant, she is dictated a list of what to eat, what not to eat, what to do, what not to do, how to behave, where to be, and how to exercise. While this is given out with the very best intentions, that is, to “educate” the mother, a consequence of this is that whenever the mother makes a “mistake” she feels like she has harmed her baby.
This feeling, of having the power to help or harm her child with her actions, is compounded once the baby is out, and that intense emotion that accompanies your own child crying. She feels personally responsible for every harm that child endures, even the ones out of her control. She is then told by her health team that the thinks she eats, feels, and does will impact the baby through her breastmilk. Whilst all this is true, it is an added burden to the well-meaning new mum.
At the 6-week check, the baby is thoroughly examined, as they should be, but mum’s are often a side-thought (yes, i do acknowledge that there are exceptions to this!). A mum’s nipples are checked (because that impacts her ability to feed the baby), and her mental health is checked (because she might harm the baby if she suffers post natal depression), but a mum is rarely checked for the sake of her own health; pelvic, physical, mental, emotional, or otherwise, it’s all about the baby.
At this point, she’s demand feeding, as new mums are advised in the public health system (in NSW, this may have changed in the last 4 years since i had a baby). She is never advised when to stop. At 5 years old, many mum’s are still demand feeding (food) and getting up in the night to take their child to the toilet or comfort them. They continue the demands of a newborn, because no-one teaches them when it’s okay to stop serving their child’s every whim. Most of us do it instinctively, when we feel emotionally ready, but there’s always that feeling that you may be harming your child when they’re distressed.
In our studio, we don’t care so much about the child, we care about their mum. In a woman’s journey in to motherhood, we may be the only people in her lives that value her, as she is, physically, mentally, emotionally. We may be the only people who ask how she is, because we genuinely care about her, just as she is, independently of her baby. We will often be the only people who make decisions for her care, independent of her child. The only people who put her first. For half an hour a week in her session.
This is important, because a mum’s mental and emotional health does affect the baby. The guilt and anxiety she feels for doing the “wrong” thing or making a mistake is represented by hormones that are transferred via breastmilk which can in turn stress the baby out… not just in the short term, it can also contribute to the infant’s temperament long term. Yes, breastfed is best if you’re healthy and passing on vital immune responses and the perfect “food” cocktail into your baby, but is it still healthy when you’re passing on anxiety, depression, or illness? Would the baby be better served if the mother looked out for themselves and it received this cocktail anxiety-free or consumed less-than-perfect formula instead? We do not see it as our role to advise the mother on feeding her baby, but we do see our role as asking questions that encourage the mum to look after herself. While we don’t know the answer to the above question, we can ask it of the mother, who in turn can think about it or ask her midwife. To us, her health is equally, or even more important, than her baby.
A mum’s mental health is not just about harming her child; it’s also about teaching them how to behave and “be” as adults. Allowing herself to be pushed around by her children or cultural “norms” will more often than not result in a grown child who allows that of herself or expects that of his partner. What do we want from our children when they grow up? They shall follow our example, we have to live that example!
Despite our best efforts, and what we try to “teach” our children, they will imitate our example. If a mum values herself, her mental, physical, and emotional health will follow. Not only will this mean that she cares better for her child, she also sets one heck of an example for them to follow when they’re grown.
The irony is, if we value the mother over her child, the child gets better “service”. They get a more relaxed mother, they get a better quality cocktail via breastfeeding, they get an example to follow where they learn that they are important too. Valuing the mother IS valuing the baby, and as personal trainers we are in a unique position to validate that position and change these women’s experiences of motherhood.