Question and Answer with the author Dr Koa Whittingham
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There already exist numerous excellent books that give women clear information on the physical realities of conception, pregnancy and birth as well as practical advice on caring for a newborn baby.
Becoming Mum is the first book written to support women, all women, through the psychological passage to motherhood.
The idea for Becoming Mum first came to me when I began trying to conceive myself.
I was reading lots of pregnancy and baby books and I began to wonder why a book to support women through the psychological aspects of the transition to motherhood did not already exist.
That idea grew along with my pregnancy, as I experienced many of the challenges of becoming a mother for myself and supported my two closest friends in becoming mothers for the first time too.
I became increasingly convinced that women deserve psychological support while becoming a mum, support that is nonjudgmental and empowering, and I became increasingly determined to offer that support to women.
I found myself sketching out an initial outline for Becoming Mum while heavily pregnant, over my due date and impatiently awaiting the beginning of labour.
During my maternity leave I used my daughter’s nap times to put together a first draft.
In fact, most of the content of Becoming Mum was literally written on a laptop propped up on my knees while my darling daughter slept across my chest.
That’s another thing that makes Becoming Mum unique. It is uniquely genuine.
When you are a new mother yourself, when you are literally leaning over your new baby to type, gently kissing her head as you think through your next sentence, it forces you to drop the veil of being ‘an expert’ and, instead, write from your own heart.
Becoming Mum is firmly grounded in the latest research in both clinical and developmental psychology.
Becoming Mum is grounded start to finish within a new Cognitive Behavioural Therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT pronounced as the word ‘act’).
In addition, I also draw upon research on mindfulness, on developing compassion, on leading an active and rewarding life, and attachment theory.
I am a research fellow at the University of Queensland and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and parenting are two of my key research interests.
The key to becoming a confident mother is learning how to parent based on your unique parenting values and learning how to be flexible, adjusting your parenting to find what works with your unique baby.
Becoming Mum will build your confidence by helping you to discover – and live by – your unique parenting values.
With a flexible, step by step approach that can be adapted to your circumstances, Becoming Mum will empower you to become the mum that you want to be.
Some women feel a lot of pressure to bond strongly their baby at a particular time, such as at birth.
When feelings of love don’t emerge as planned women may feel disappointed and may fear for the strength of their developing relationship.
In fact, from baby’s perspective, a loving mother–child relationship is built from many repetitions of mother lovingly responding to baby’s needs.
Becoming Mum will assist you to do just that, in a way that fits with your personal values and is rewarding and enjoyable for you.
The strategies within Becoming Mum will also empower you to keep your heart open to your baby, noticing your unique baby as he is moment by moment, and giving yourself the space to fall in love with your baby over time.
If you ever want to hear a lot of contradictory advice, much of it delivered forcefully and a lot of it ultimately unhelpful, then become a mum!
The key to managing other people’s advice is to be very clear about what’s in your own heart.
You need to mother by your values, not by other people’s opinions.
Becoming Mum will empower you to discover – and live by – your unique parenting values. Becoming Mum will also support you in becoming flexible, noticing what works with your baby and adjusting your actions accordingly.
Not everyone will agree with you and it won’t always be easy, but deep down you’ll know that you are the mum that you want to be.
Becoming Mum draws upon strategies within Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Behavioural Activation, all of which have an evidence-base in the treatment and prevention of depression.
Becoming Mum may be a useful companion to any woman seeking to prevent or overcome both perinatal and postnatal depression.
If you suspect that you have depression, if you are feeling sad constantly or are unable to enjoy activities and events and that you previously enjoyed, then seek assistance from your doctor.
You may also want to consider seeking support from a psychologist.
My heart goes out to all women experiencing the loss of a child.
There is no ‘right’ way to feel after a loss and there is no ‘right’ way to grieve.
Becoming Mum will support you in grieving in the way that feels right for you.
You will always be Mum to your babies, and you should feel free to continue to mother your babies in ways that feel right for you.
Becoming Mum may be particularly useful if you are planning on continuing to journey towards motherhood.
The strategies within Becoming Mum may assist you to cope with any grief, fears or sadness that may arise in subsequent pregnancies, in a manner consistent with you becoming the mum that you want to be.
Becoming Mum may support you in moving on from a traumatic birth, not through willpower or by pushing your feelings about your birth aside, but by making room for your feelings about your birth, by treating yourself with just as much kindness as you would your best friend, and by keeping your focus on becoming the mum that you want to be.
The flexible, step by step approach of Becoming Mum empowers women to face major challenges, such as preterm birth, consistent with their unique parenting values.
Within Becoming Mum, you will find practical strategies for taking care of yourself, for keeping your romantic relationship and your support network strong and for bonding with your new baby.
Becoming Mum will support you, step by step, in becoming the mum that you want to be to your premmie baby.
Becoming Mum will support you to give birth in a manner consistent with your values.
Working your way through Becoming Mum, you will be encouraged to identify not just your ideal birth preferences, but also the values that underlie these preferences.
Our values are what really matters to us, what we really want, deep down, our lives to be about.
We cannot perfectly control how our birth experience will unfold.
When we understand the values that underlie our preferences, this enables us to be flexible and to adapt to the circumstances in which we find ourselves, while still remaining true to what’s in our own heart.
Becoming Mum also contains practical strategies for coping with physical pain and discomfort through mindfulness and connecting to your values and these strategies may be useful during labour.
Becoming Mum supports each woman to make their own choices about feeding, guided by their personal values.
If you do want to breastfeed then you will find that Becoming Mum supports your nursing relationship.
Becoming Mum will support you in discovering and living by the values that underlie your decision to breastfeed.
Is breastfeeding, for you, about promoting your baby’s physical health, or building a loving relationship, or being physically affectionate?
If you understand the values behind your decision to breastfeed then this can give you the strength to persist through any challenging times in your nursing relationship as well as the ability to be flexible and adapt when life doesn’t go according to plan.
Becoming Mum will support your nursing relationship by encouraging you to make your baby’s feeds rewarding and enjoyable for you.
If something is rewarding you are much more likely to continue to do it.
Becoming Mum is also about building your confidence to make mothering decisions, including decisions about feeding, based on your own values and what works for your baby, rather than based on the opinions of others.
This may be liberating for many breastfeeding mothers.
If you are planning to breastfeed, I also suggest that you obtain good information on breastfeeding by connecting with mother-led breastfeeding support organisations such as La Leche League International (http://www.llli.org) or the Australian Breastfeeding Association (https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au) or by seeing a Lactation Consultant.
Infant sleep advice is confusing! Should I be encouraging my baby to sleep through the night in a cot/crib or co-sleeping? Should I comfort my baby to sleep or encourage independent self-settling? Can Becoming Mum help?
You are right. The advice on infant sleep, in particular, is contradictory and confusing for new mothers. In fact, night waking is common throughout the whole first year of life; as many as one third of babies continue to wake during the night at their first birthday and the majority of these babies will learn to sleep through during the second year of life.
Becoming Mum will guide you through the confusing advice on your baby’s sleep, not by offering yet more advice, but by helping you to reconnect to your parenting values. Our values are what really matters to us, what we really want, deep down, our lives to be about. By putting your values at the centre of your parenting, you will be able to flexibly find the solutions that work best for you and for your baby.
You will also learn to focus on building a rewarding, meaningful life for yourself as a mother, even while you are sleep deprived, and this will support good sleep for you and your baby in the long-term.
Note that if your baby is a young breastfed baby and is continuously waking very frequently (i.e. hourly) for breastfeeds then the problem is likely to be a feeding problem rather than a sleeping problem. Connect with mother-led breastfeeding support organisations such as La Leche League International (http://www.llli.org) or the Australian Breastfeeding Association (https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au) or see a Lactation Consultant.
What can I do when my baby cries? How can we all survive the ‘witching hour’? Can Becoming Mum help?
Babies, especially for the first four months of life, can cry a lot. Many babies, during the first four months show a ‘witching hour’ of intense crying and fussiness in the evening. For the vast majority of babies this stage of intense crying settles, even for babies who cry very frequently. But this stage can be very stressful for mothers!
Becoming Mum will give you the strategies that you need to weather this difficult crying stage. For many mothers, hearing their baby cry is one of the most heart-wrenching sounds imaginable. As well as giving you practical suggestions for settling your baby, Becoming Mum will bolster your ability to cope. Becoming Mum will support your ability to weather the emotional storm that crying creates at the same time as being the loving, responsive mother that you want to be.
I am a health professional (midwife, nurse, psychologist, GP, doctor, paediatrician, obstetrician) supporting women in the perinatal and postnatal period and I want to provide better psychological support. Can Becoming Mum help me?
Yes, absolutely! Becoming Mum is written as a self-help book but it can easily be used by professionals who want practical ideas for providing psychological support for expecting and new mothers.
Becoming Mum is grounded in the latest science including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Attachment Theory. Becoming Mum is filled with simple and practical ways to bolster the psychological coping of mothers – strategies that can easily be incorporated into medical or midwifery appointments.
For professionals delivering psychological therapy, Becoming Mum can be used as a guide to adapting Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for expecting and new mothers. For example, Becoming Mum contains scripts for mindfulness, acceptance and self-kindness practices specifically adapted to the postnatal period.