Some call it the fourth trimester – an extension of the pregnancy that preceded it, for both your baby and yourself, as their mother – but however you label it, there’s a perfect storm of emotions.
It started with the waiting… Depending on whether your little bundle arrived on, before, or after their due date will determine exactly how impatient you may have been feeling. Regardless of this, chances are you were eagerly anticipating, for some months, the day when you would get to meet the little person you’d been growing.
A love like no other
The day finally arrives – and with it, your new tiny human. For some Mums, there are fireworks the minute their son or daughter appears in the world and, for others, love grows more gradually over those first few days, weeks and months.
There’s no ‘right’ reaction, but however it happens, you’re on the path to discovering a love more intense than you ever thought possible; you’re about to find out what it feels like for your heart to live outside your body.
There are a couple of reasons for this… Not only are we flooded with oxytocin – the love chemical – alongside all those other hormones that course around the body postnatally, but your newborn is also biologically driven to make you fall in love with it. In other words, you’re fairly well powerless to resist!
As humans, our brains develop from the bottom up – from the brain stem, up through the so-called ‘reptilian’ (or movement) brain, through the limbic system (or emotional brain) and to the frontal cortex, which we credit with most of our rational and intelligent thinking.
Naturally, newborns are in the early part of their brain development and, as such, their first priorities are with the imperatives of the brain stem – which, at its roots, is driving them to concern themselves with survival. Long before they will start to learn to move independently, or develop the capacity for language, rational thought or reasoning, a baby needs to know they are safe in this strange, new, ‘outside world’ environment.
Unlike an animal, who can get up and walk moments after birth because their survival relies on their ability to move out of the way of danger, a human baby’s early survival strategy – in a nutshell – consists of endearing itself to you, so that ultimately you will protect them.
Our role as protectors
Any mother will tell you they’ve felt this in action. It’s like magic and even if we didn’t think we were particularly good at taking care of ourselves up until this point, we’re acutely aware of our need to take care of this vulnerable wee person. There’s a fierce and profound protective pull that is quickly unleashed; we want only the best for our tiny bundle, can feel our hearts breaking at the thought that anything would ever hurt them, and long to protect them from all the world’s nasties – and that feeling doesn’t go away!
We quickly take on the role of their protector – even in the womb we’re creating the best conditions possible for them to thrive and passing on nutrients and immune protection. From birth, there are those first special moments of skin to skin contact to keep them warm, the care we take with bathing and bundling them, and the choices we make around the products and things that we expose their skin to.
Just like a newborn’s brain is far less developed than an adults, so too is the resilience of their skin. Thinner skin, coupled with the fact that a baby’s immune system takes three to six months to start effectively producing antibodies, means they’re particularly vulnerable to irritants and allergens in the environment.
As well as the slower pace to life that we adopt when we first bring our little bundles home, there’s a pull to create a safer, gentler, kinder and more natural world for our children to grow up in. This, along with lashings of love, are just some of the things that it means to be a newborn’s mum.