What is mother’s intuition, anyway? (And why don’t I feel it?)
Sometimes it comes easy. We “just know” what we need to do and we do it. But the concept of mother’s intuition or the encouragement to “trust your gut” can also cause a lot of frustration, especially if you tend towards anxiety and overthinking, like me. Add in all of those postpartum hormones, sleep deprivation, and mom guilt, and it’s no wonder that you feel confused and conflicted.
Intuition might seem like magic, but it doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. It’s more like a seed, buried somewhere inside you, that can grow and blossom or lay dormant and dead. It all depends on how you care for it.
A seed needs a good environment to grow, and in order to access our intuition, we need to cultivate an environment of awareness. If you are a person who is already tuned into their body, this might come easier for you. Many of us have been conditioned to ignore, distrust, or dislike certain aspects of our body, so this is a great first step towards understanding our intuition. If you’re not sure where to start, try this:
- Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
- Set a timer for 5 minutes (so you won’t keep checking your phone).
- Stare out the window and ask yourself, “How do I feel right now?”
- Accept any thoughts or feelings that arise without judgement. Just observe. If you realize you got distracted, repeat the question “How do I feel?”
Other ways to start paying attention to yourself could be writing in a journal, putting your hands on your pregnant belly and sending loving thoughts to your baby, or noticing the sound and feeling of your breaths going in and out. It doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming, in fact, simple is better because the more often you are able to tune in, the more natural it will start to feel.
Intuition is nurtured by experience and information. If you have never really spent time around babies before becoming a parent, then it makes sense that you would feel a bit lost while learning how to take care of yours. Imagine it is your first day of work at a new job. If you have never been anywhere near your new office, you wouldn’t expect to arrive at the building without directions. No matter how well aware you are of your own feelings, your intuition is not going to replace your GPS in this situation. The more time you have spent in the neighborhood, the less you will rely on maps or directions to get you where you need to go. Then comes the day you arrive at work and you don’t quite remember how you got there. Congratulations, your intuition has kicked in!
This layer of intuition requires lots of experience in a specific area. A doctor or nurse might develop an intuition about how to help someone after working with many patients in similar circumstances. A store owner will become more accurate in predicting what items to have in stock. And a parent or childcare provider will become more confident about understanding and meeting a baby’s needs as they spend more time learning about them. Instruction, observation, and participation are all important when it comes to building the knowledge that grows your intuition. For example, you might:
- Read books or listen to podcasts about child development and behavior.
- Take a baby care or parenting class.
- Make sure you are up to date with important safety information such as safe sleep and car sea safety.
- Pay attention to how other parents interact with and respond to their children.
- Talk to your doctor, other professionals, and experience parents. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (and don’t forget that their experiences may or may not apply to yours).
- Before the birth, offer to babysit your nieces, nephews, or the child of a friend.
- After the birth, spend lots of time holding and cuddling your baby.
- If you are not the primary caregiver, make an effort to do daily tasks such as soothing, bathing, and changing the baby as much as possible.
Remember that intuition takes time to grow and develop. Be patient with yourself as you continue to have moments of feeling overwhelmed or confused. The challenges are also important opportunities for learning and growth. If something isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to change your mind and try something else. Consistency has value when you know you’re on the right path, but persistence in the wrong direction isn’t going to help anyone.
Another key ingredient for a healthy intuition is trust. As you begin to listen to yourself and learn more about your baby, you will start to notice your feelings and responses more and more. At first, they may be like tiny, delicate seedlings poking up through the ground, easy to question or ignore, especially where there are other, louder voices surrounding you. Family, friends, medical professionals, and strangers on the internet all have their own, often contradictory, opinions on what you should be doing. Whether well-meaning or not, this onslaught of advice can cause us to question ourselves and our hard-won knowledge. If you keep choosing to ignore your feelings in favor of outside voices, your intuition will shrivel up like an unwatered plant. You may be able to quickly “weed out” certain opinions, but feel conflicted about others. This is the time to go back to the basics, shut out the distractions, and ask yourself how you really feel about the issue.
If you are really struggling with something and the suggestions in this article aren’t helping, it may be because there is something deeper going on. It isn’t bad to admit you need help, it’s actually one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby. Becoming a parent can bring up old challenges or traumas that we have kept buried for years, and mental health complications are very common in new moms. If you feel like you have some healing to do that you can’t tackle alone, ask for help and keep asking until you get it. A great place to start is by calling your OBGYN, or visiting http://www.postpartum.net
It’s ok if you don’t feel the same way your mother, sister, or best friend does. It’s ok to ask your doctor for more information or a second opinion. It’s ok to let go of of any unrealistic standards you have set for yourself, or to decide what you are doing isn’t working and try something else. It’s also ok to stick to something you know is right, even if it’s hard or someone is telling you to quit. Not everyone makes the same choices, but the important thing is that you love your baby and you want the best for them.