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More than a mother's intuition

Chloe Schneider

Chloe Schneider

Chloe is a writer and content strategist with bylines in mindbodygreen, Mashable, Ageless by Rescu, and more. She's a mum to one-year-old Felix, and believes that you can have it all, you just can't have it all at once
Created on May 07, 2024 · 6 mins read
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“Your maternal instincts will kick in, and you’ll just know!” Every worried pregnant woman has heard this sentence, or something like it.

You give birth, and suddenly you will have an innate understanding of your baby and their needs – it’s a reassuringly simple concept when you’re venturing into the unknown. 

And it’s not without merit. When you just know something isn’t right with your child, advocating for them is essential. Even if it turns out your gut was wrong, it’s better to have pushed for answers than risk missing something bigger. 

In the day-to-day of parenting, however, my journey to something that resembles a mother’s intuition was anything but simple, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. 

When anxiety is louder than your gut feelings

Towards the end of my pregnancy, I had near-fortnightly scans to track my son’s growth. I’ve always been an anxious person, but I’ve mostly been able to manage it with exercise, breathwork, and therapy. These scans sent me spiraling, and none of my old coping mechanisms seemed to help.

By the time I reached 39 weeks, the doctors recommended I schedule an induction. The number one thing I wanted to avoid in the birth plan I’d developed with the birth centre midwives. 

I had no idea what to do. While it was a doctor’s recommendation, they said (in the same breath) that it was not an emergency induction and I had time to make a decision. 

When I called around for advice, I was repeatedly asked, ‘What is your gut telling you?’ 

It’s a well-meaning question, but impossible to answer when your gut is whispering and your anxiety is yelling. I felt lost, confused, and — worst of all — like I had already failed as a mother. There was certainly no maternal instinct guiding me, just a cloud of anxiety. 

In the end, I went ahead and scheduled an induction for my due date; I proceeded to have the exact birth story I didn’t want. 

Maybe my anxiety won that round, but I don’t regret the decision. Was it the birth I’d dreamed of? The furthest thing from it. But the moment my son arrived, with his big blue eyes looking around the room, I felt an instant, spiritual bond and nothing else mattered.  

Stumbling my way to instinctive breastfeeding

By now we all know that breastfeeding is not particularly easy for every mother. The vast majority of mothers in my circle have experienced nipple pain, supply issues, mastitis, latch problems, tongue ties, or some sort of horrible two-for-one-special. 

And yet the myth that breastfeeding is intuitive somehow persists — you only have to participate in a hospital-led breastfeeding course to see that. 

Needless to say, I was not one of the lucky few who had an easy feeding journey. 

When my son was born, we did get the all-important skin-to-skin contact and he did crawl to my breast and latch. But over the next few days in hospital, feeding became increasingly difficult and I started experiencing some pretty serious nipple pain. Then, around 10 days in, we learned my son wasn’t gaining enough weight and I had a suspected low milk supply. 

That very evening, I started triple feeding; breastfeeding, pumping, and then bottle feeding every three hours. When I wasn’t doing that, I was learning about, thinking about, and stressing about feeding — it all but consumed me. 

When your world is reduced to three-hour intervals, you lose some of the ability to tune in to instincts or read your child’s cues. Over time, my confidence in my ability to feed my son waned and, along with it, the hope of developing some kind of intuitive compass as a mother. 

After around three months of triple feeding under the guidance of a truly wonderful private lactation consultant, things started to shift. Together, my son and I found our groove. Sure, it involved combination feeding and occasional pumping, but it was as close to intuitive feeding as I was going to get. 

Making good decisions for tomorrow, today

A couple of months later, I was feeling confident in my ability to make quick, intuitive decisions as a mother. 

It was around this time that I was due to return to part-time work, which required me to send my son to daycare. Everything in my body was telling me not to do it — I was desperate to stay home with him for as long as possible.

This time I had an answer to that question — ‘What’s your gut telling you?’

In an ideal world, my gut told me staying at home with my son for at least his first year was the right thing to do. But we don’t live in an ideal world, do we? 

My brain knew that was not what was best for us as a family in the long term for a myriad of reasons. I enjoy work, life is really bloody expensive, and we have plans that require money. 

Again, I felt stuck. I so desperately wanted to be the mum who trusted her gut, but the practical side of me was getting louder and louder with each day that passed, And so, with the help of my husband and my mum, we reached a compromise. I would go back to work, we’d do daycare two days a week, and if I still felt this way in a fortnight, we’d change course.

I’ll admit, those first two weeks were hard. But after popping in to visit during the day, I was able to see first-hand that he was forming bonds with the educators there. Today he loves daycare days and as much as I miss him, so do I. 

In this case, finding a compromise between my gut and my brain, the emotional and the rational, was the right thing to do. 

Shifting the balance

Today, 14 months into my journey, I feel completely confident in my ability to make quick decisions as a mother. 

But to say I’ve landed in this place because of my motherly instincts isn’t just inaccurate, it’s almost insulting. These decisions I make every day are the result of sheer determination, countless hours of experience, and active education. 

When the work of mothering is already so silent and unappreciated, I wish we could focus a little more on the very real work that goes into ‘just knowing what to do.’  

If we can shift the balance here even just a little, we might also have a better chance of driving home a new message. That fathers are just as capable of doing the research, watching for the cues, listening to the advice, and making informed decisions about their child’s care. And wouldn’t that be a win for everyone? 

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