In her much-discussed podcast interview, the Duchess of Cambridge talked about mum guilt, hypnobirthing and the isolation some parents feel after bringing their baby home. “Having a lovely support network through pregnancy and delivery from nurses and midwives, it’s then a very lonely period before going into perhaps the education system, in terms of the support network for parents,” she said. She’s right. When you’re pregnant, you’re busy with hospital appointments and birthing classes, the birth itself is surrounded by doctors, midwives and other informative helpers, you bring your bundle home, have a few check-ins over the first few weeks, then it all subsides. That institutionalised, high-level of contact and information doesn’t pick up again until you’re little person is headed to school. For some, that’s a good five years of not knowing where to go for support, company or to encourage your child’s development.
The good news is, there are many places you can go to learn, play and connect with other parents and your baby. The Duchess is working to help new parents make that link in the UK, so we decided to straighten our tiaras and do the same for Australia. When you want to get out and about, meet people and build your village, here’s where you can go.
Before you leave hospital, make sure you have the numbers of who to contact for breastfeeding support, the hospital lactation consultant and women’s physiotherapist and the details of when and where you’ll have your stitches out (if you have them) and your six week check-up. You’ll also need all your parenting helpline numbers somewhere handy.
In your first few days at home you’ll be visited by a government midwife. In Victoria, this is the Maternal and Child Health Centre midwife, in NSW they are the Maternal, Child and Family nurse. They will let you know the details of your next check-up (usually at two weeks) and at that check-up you’ll be placed in a Parent’s Group. How these run varies state to state, but in general it's six to eight weeks of meeting up with the same parents, with babies the same age, and sharing your experiences. They are usually led by a midwife or nurse and are an excellent resource of information, confidence and companionship. You’re all in it together, and even if you are blessed with a good group of parent friends, it’s rare that you do it all at the same time. There are often community groups for specific circumstances. If you’re a young parent, single parent, parent of twins, are struggling with breastfeeding or English is your second language - there’s a group for it, sometimes even online groups if distance is a problem. Even if you don’t think it’s for you - nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Your places, with a twist
Just as your yoga or Pilates studio provided prenatal classes, they may also offer postnatal classes where your baby is welcome. Attending these classes is a great way to feel like you’re getting back to your old self, and you may see some familiar faces. In those newborn days, when a rock of the pram is enough to send your baby into a deep sleep, take advantage of it. Restaurant and cafes will accommodate your pram (especially at your early dinner hour), many museums and art galleries allow people with prams to cut the cue (the NGV is particularly great), and most cinemas have “bring your baby” options.
Once your baby is a bit older and wants to move about, it’s time to hit up the exercise classes that involve your baby (often using them as a weight). Mum and baby yoga or baby swim classes are great for getting both you and your baby moving. Libraries offer free reading time sessions and there are a heap of baby information sessions (solids, sleep, leaps) and baby play classes (sensory, signing, music) you can take part in. Toy libraries are now throughout Australia and are a great place to go, play, donate and swap toys as your child grows out of their favourites.
If you like the idea of a standing appointment or a place where you see the same parents every week, many of the baby activities are offered as schools (and even have terms). Music class, swim class, even dance class! If you bonded with new mums at your mother’s group it's a nice idea to all sign up to the same school so that you continue to see each other weekly. And if you didn’t, and you’re looking for some parent pals, it's a good place to start.
A note on making new-parent friends
Having a child seems to strip you of your hang-ups - maybe it’s because the most private areas of your body have just been laid bare to a room full of people - and it’s a good way to approach your new parent life. When you take your baby to a kid-specific activity, introduce yourself to other parents. Even if you’re having a good day, someone else might not be, and a friendly chat can really turn it around. If you’re concerned about something, say something. You won’t be the first mum to ask another if she thinks you have mastitis, examination included. Parenting gets intimate real fast. Embrace it.