Becoming a parent is both exciting and daunting. Many first time parents have been desperately trying for a baby only to be anxious about the impending arrival of their much-longed for bub.

Parents are thrust into a completely unfamiliar world where talk of poos becomes ‘the norm’ and a good night sleep, or any sleep at all, is yearned for more than a winning lotto ticket.

We spoke to bestselling author and Australia’s baby whisperer, Pinky McKay, to get her tips and advice on being a mum.

First of all, Pinky, what’s your fascination with babies and helping young mothers?

I think it goes back to when I had my first baby and was feeling really isolated. I was the only one I knew who was still breastfeeding, after my baby got to 3 months. I had six sister-in-laws with babies but they weren’t breastfeeding, mothers in my mums’ group weaned at 3 months because that was considered a good start in those days.

I went to the doctors when my baby was 8-months-old and I had a lump in my breast. I actually had a blocked duct. I had no clue. It wasn’t until a year later when I was in New Zealand, that I went along to a mothers group. I went along to try and find out how to wean my child and realised I didn’t have to. I just let him do it by himself. I just remember getting embraced by these loving and nurturing women and it felt so good.

So many mothers get conflicting advice and advice that goes against their intuition to respond to their baby. Everybody’s so caught up in the ‘rules’ that they‘re not enjoying their time with their baby.

If you’re about to have your first child, how should you prepare for parenthood?

Truth is none of us know what it’s going to be like for the first time!

Try following a woman around a shopping centre and offer to look after her kids while she’s taking a break or in the shower – she’d probably think you’re a bit weird, but you’d learn quickly (Pinky laughs)!

No, just hang out with someone with a child or go to one of the Australian Breastfeeding Association meetings while you’re pregnant and meet the mothers there, so you can get a feel for what’s going on.

What are some of the best things about being parent?

Babies just smell so delicious! (Pinky laughs)

It’s awesome watching a little baby go from completely dependent on you, to then watching them grow and learn and respond to you. You get that engagement and they talk back to you, they do mischievous things to but that’s all part of growing and learning.

The first time they smile at you is so exciting, they may have just smiled at the doorknob behind you, but you know it’s still exciting. (Pinky laughs)

You’ve got 5 kids and 4 grandchildren, what are some of your tips on being a good parent?

Just be kind and respectful to your children, when you commit to that child and see them as a unique little being, you come from a better place. None of us are perfect we’re all going to have bad days, we’ve just got to forgive ourselves and get back on the bike or go out and skill up. Don’t be embarrassed to go out and ask for help!

Every stage of parenting is a new thing; you have your newborn, then that new born becomes a toddler, then your toddler goes to school and then they became teenagers. So we’re always learning!

Apparently, it takes at least 9 hours of care a day for the most easy going babies, people don’t respect and honour that the mother is actually working all day every day. People just assume she’s just sitting around watching telly, but even if your baby is sleeping you’re still listening and alert, you’re always thinking about them and what you have to do next.

What do you think about mothers going straight back to work not long after giving birth?

Some mothers don’t have much of a choice and it’s really about doing as much as we can to organise time off when we can.

If you can recover from pregnancy and birth and establish feeding and get to know your baby well and not put pressure on yourself, that’s what’s important for a new mother and they need to feel supported in that. When women do too much, too soon, they often crash a few months down the track.

It would be lovely if our community honoured the job that mothers are doing. Mothers deserve to take time off and be supported by the community around them and their family. There is such a pressure on women to always be busy and I think we’re glorifying busy instead of stopping and honouring that special precious time (with their babies).

Some women that have never had a baby before don’t realise that special bond they’re going to have, they plan to go back to work and realise they’re not ready. Mothers need to think about what they can do to maintain that connection with their child as much as possible. Maybe pop into the day-care centre and feed your baby or hire a nanny to bring the baby to you, you can sleep with your baby at night, have a bath with your baby – there’s heaps of things you can do to stay connected.

What are some of the funniest things about being a parent?

Some of the stuff the kids say and do is just hilarious!

They’ll be right next to you and you’ll turn around and somehow they’ve taken the whole cupboard out onto the floor or they’ll sneak up with you and wet you with the hose or something. They’re always getting into mud too, and then there are the little buggers that like to roam off. They like to get into mischief, that’s for sure!

My little 3 year old loved to roam off and climb trees! My neighbour used to always ring me up -there was a big tree outside her kitchen window – and say “she’s up too high” and I would have to go out and get her down.

Another time, I went outside to see what the kids were up too – there was this old mattress outside that they used to play on – the older kids were jumping off the roof onto the mattress! My 3-year-old was just about to jump as I walked out and I couldn’t say anything because I didn’t want her to fall and then she jumped!! She did a forward roll onto the mattress and she was fine. I nearly had a heart attack!

A good thing about having a big family is that the older kids do lots of fun stuff with the little ones. Well sometimes.

One day, I found my 4-year-old with his little 2-year-old brother, my 4-year-old was playing with his friend in his bedroom and my 2-year-old was standing outside the door with a stick. I asked, “what’s going on here?” and my 4-year-old said “oh he’s the guard.” They put him outside the door so he wouldn’t get into their stuff, cheeky buggers! He stood there with his sword, being all important at the door while they played without him. He was happy though. (Pinky laughs)

You just have to laugh at all that kind of stuff, because I mean what else are you meant to do?

When your kids are being naughty, how should you discipline them?

You need to see all behaviour as a communication, what they’re doing is often something that has been brewing and you’ve probably had four or five cues beforehand.

With a little baby their needs and wants are the same, but when they become toddlers they start to wander of and do things and we let them, which is great, but we often don’t notice the good things they do and don’t fill up that little love tank as much anymore. If we can be a step ahead and recognise their behaviours rather than getting cross with them, that’s a better way to do it.

Understanding the level of development and the capacity of each age group is important too. Until a child is about 3-years-old they don’t have the brain wiring that enables them to have impulse control. Children want to explore and touch things, so put a cover over that power point because even though you’re saying “no, no, no” they can’t stop themselves. It’s in their drive to explore.

It’s important to look for the triggers of their behaviour – whether it’s the environment they’re in and they’re over stimulated or they may have had junk food etc – and finding ways to control that. Some kids may need more exercise or more running around rather than be couped up inside, other kids might need more rest during the day. Ask yourself what’s the best environment for them?

What are some of the not so great aspects of parenthood?

It’s absolutely relentless! There’s no getting off the train, you’re it and the buck stops with you.

A lot of people say it’ll be easier when they can walk or talk or it’ll be easier when they go to school, and it is different and it changes, but we’re there forever.

What would your advice be for the new mums out there?

Listen to your baby and trust yourself. When you do get advice ask yourself is it safe? Is it respectful? And, does it feel right for me? It might be from your health care professional or your mother in law, but some of it (advice) is not going to be appropriate for your baby.

Pinky McKay will be giving talks on babies and sleep at the Essential Baby and Toddler Show, on from 4 to 6 March at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Pinky says it’ll be a good day out.

There will be lots of baby products and gadgets to look at, there will also be lots of information from different people and programs. Parents and parents-to-be will be able to find core services to help them with parenting. There’s fabulous entertainment for the kids and giveaways too.

If you’re pregnant it’s a really good way to see what’s out there and have a think about what you really do need. You don’t need a million things! Try out the prams there, have a look at things and you’ll actually get to talk to people who know about the products.

I’ll be promoting my books and you have to come and try my Boobie Bikkies too – all natural and organic cookies made with lactogenic ingredients to support a healthy breastmilk supply.

For more information about the Essential Baby and Toddler Show visit www.babyandtoddlershow.com.au

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