Back in 2004, when my first baby was born, I didnt know much about this parenting gig. I knew that I wanted to give her the best start in life, naturally – but I wasnt sure how to go about it. Admitting that I didnt know what to do was harder than I might have expected. After a decade of career success and independence, having a baby was the beginning of a new learning journey for which I felt unprepared. Thank goodness for Google, leading me to the Natural Parenting website.
One thing I had wanted was to use cloth nappies rather than disposables. According to the Australian Nappy Network, cloth nappies can save two tonnes of landfill compared to using disposables. But I didnt think I was up for folding terry squares, so I went looking for the “fitted nappies” that were mentioned in one of the baby books Id read. When I couldnt find any in the local shops, I used disposables instead. But eight months after my first baby was born, I was pregnant again – and I realised that disposables were financially expensive as well as environmentally damaging. Asking for reviews on the Natural Parenting forums led me to try a couple of different styles, both of which worked very well on my daughter. Since then, I have used cloth nappies full time on my three children, having fun trying lots of different brands, saving tonnes of landfill and thousands of dollars – and helping my children develop toilet awareness earlier through being able to connect the “wet” feeling with what their body was doing.
Breastfeeding was something I felt very strongly about before my first baby arrived, even though I had never seen a baby breastfed. We got off to a great start – by day five I was able to breastfeed while walking around the maternity ward at 3am, looking for my babys chart at the nurses station to mark off another feed and nappy change. But although we had attachment all sorted out, there were difficulties with supply and my own health. Halfway through the seventh month, my baby was on formula full time, and we were both very upset about it. When I was pregnant with my second baby, I again looked for advice on the Natural Parenting website to better prepare for breastfeeding. Following a tip to join the Australian Breastfeeding Association, I was able to work through difficulties with my second baby, and she was breastfed until self-weaning at 14 months old.
One thing I did feel prepared for before my first baby was using a sling. My mother-in-law gave me a beautiful embroidered podaegi from Thailand, and showed me how to use it. Unfortunately, my first baby didnt like having her face against my chest unless I was feeding her. But later on, with the help of a friend who I met on the Natural Parenting forums, I learned to use a ring sling to carry her on my hip. Luckily, my second and third babies quite like mei tais, and I now have an extensive sling stash in regular use. My mother-in-law even taught me to carry two at once in mei tais!
When I was pregnant, the Natural Parenting forums were an invaluable source of support and tips. During my middle childs most difficult sleep issues, the “No Cry Sleep Solution” discussion on the forums saved my sanity during marathon all-night settling sessions. Printing out vegetarian recipes, getting chemical-free cleaning tips, looking for book reviews for bedtime stories… the Natural Parenting forums have been my own personal “mothers help”, available anytime I need it.
While my priorities havent changed since having babies, my knowledge of the resources available for new parents has grown. I have learned to ask for help when needed. I have also discovered support groups – the Australian Breastfeeding Association, Maternity Coalition, Caesarean Awareness Network, Baby Carriers Downunder, and many others – through Natural Parenting.
I have found that I need exposure to a rich diversity of other perspectives as part of my own parenting evolution. Friends and family provide me with great advice and support. But online communities can provide another dimension, or a different perspective, adding to the range of parenting experience in my offline community. Whether it is reading an article, asking for advice in forums, or finding a local playgroup or mothers group targeted to a particular parenting issue, it is well worth seeking out support that may not be represented in your other social networks.