When a mother holds her baby for the very first time, she knows she will do everything within her power to keep the tiny little human safe. She becomes overprotective, watching her baby every passing minute to ensure that the baby is okay.
However, the line between being a protective mother and being obsessed is very thin. Most times, these first-time moms take the caution too far and end up suffering from ‘Precious Firstborn Syndrome’ (PFS), an extremely obsessive condition which every mother can attest to.
PFS comes with many symptoms. For instance, if the baby sleeps a little longer than expected, sleeps too quietly or looks very still when sleeping, the cautious mother will wake the child just to check if the child is still alive. Many new mothers are privy to the experience of leaning into the baby’s face to confirm if the baby is still breathing.
Every visitor who comes to the house has to be thoroughly inspected by the new mother and a special jar of hand-wash or antibacterial gel is handed to them to sanitise their hands before they can hold the baby. Surfaces and toys are religiously disinfected and any small spill on the baby’s clothes warrants an entire outfit change.
When breastfeeding her baby, the mother will often wipe her nipples with baby wipes before giving them to the baby to suckle. Not only that, surfaces and toys in the house are constantly disinfected before the baby touches them to offer protection from pesky germs.
The child is rarely left under the care of a stranger, and if the grandparents are the ones on duty, the mother leaves them with a folder full of written rules on how to take care of the child.
TV producer and vlogger Milly Chebby is a typical first-time mother who had hyper-PFS. She says that when her baby was born, she was the only one who attended to her for the first three months.
“I am a paranoid mother and I know it, very few people have carried my child. I only trust my husband and a few family members,” she says. “I started trusting my house help by the fourth month and that’s when I allowed her to carry her. The fifth month is when I was able to leave the house and get back to work.”
To date, Chebby’s baby has a special place set aside for cleaning her feeding bottles. Moreover, her clothes are washed with specific detergents.
“She sleeps only on the side; I don’t allow her to sleep facing up because I fear something will happen,” says Chebby, adding, “she cannot sleep on her stomach because I feel like she might faint. I am the only one who feeds her because I fear when other people do it she might choke on the food.”
The fear of contaminating baby’s personal items with germs causes many mothers to go to the extremes of sanitizing. Some mothers have special items for the baby which cannot be shared with any other member of the family. These include special bathing soap, special utensils and even special buckets to wash the baby’s clothes! Should another person use these items, they are either heavily disinfected or thrown away altogether.
Yvonne Odhiambo a fashion designer at Afrostreet Kollexion says she spent a lot of money buying clothes and items which the baby has never used.
“I bought excess things that I did not need. I bought newborn clothes for my son and some of them he has never worn; he could not fit on the small ones. He started wearing the sizes from six months as he was a big boy.”
An entire supermarket of shopping which Adhiambo had purchased for her newborn, including soap, shampoo, powder and oil became useless because the baby developed allergic reactions to them.
“I started using kipande soap to wash the baby. I had prepared his nursery with beautiful furniture and full-blown décor yet he has never spent a night in that room apart from taking a shower,” says Adhiambo.
Popular singer Yvonne Darcq has not been left out of the paranoid mother bandwagon. The mother of two boys says her main challenge was when the babies got sick.
“As a first-time mother, there are many things you need to figure out for yourself like being a mother, understanding the child and breastfeeding among other things,” she says. For her first child, Darcq remembers buying expensive products to clean her child’s feeding bottles. However, when the baby started reacting to some of these products, she went the old school way to sanitize with boiled salty water.
Says Darcq, “I made countless trips and calls to my paediatrician for small things just because I was scared for my baby.” This is not new to other new mothers who constantly blow up the doctors’ lines for every little symptom they notice in their baby. Some even walk with thermometers in their bags just in case the baby catches a random fever.
For gospel musician Nicah The Queen, her first baby was trial and error. “When I had my first kid I was a teen and it was unplanned, so a lot of things were so random. I had no idea what to do, it was unexpected. Everything I did was trial and error the baby just grew by the grace of God,” she says. Nicah reveals that she even bought excess clothes that the baby didn’t need.
“I was so overprotective with what my child touched, actually where she was playing had to be spotless. I was basically a helicopter mother,” she says.
For similarly inexperienced mothers, the fear of going wrong is so deep-seated that they end up risking their baby’s wellbeing. For instance, mothers who fear to get the baby cold end up wrapping them in countless blankets and shawls yet the baby is already wearing several layers of clothing including a hideous bochori.
Other moms end up throwing huge amounts of precious foodstuff just because they are afraid of feeding the baby leftover foods which are otherwise safe to eat if handled properly.
Psychologist James Mbugua says that new mothers end up being paranoid because they are left to do it alone and yet the society has very high expectations for them.
“Young mothers lack preparation so they don’t know if they are doing it right and yet the training they get from antenatal clinics is not enough,” says Mbugua, adding, “inexperienced couples become extra aware and concerned for the child. A firstborn child carries the dreams and aspirations of the parents; what the father and mother think their child should be. So when the child is born, they will overprotect him or her.”
In the case where parents have been struggling to get a child, Mbugua says the child will automatically be treated like a golden egg. “Also in some communities, a mother gains respect and acceptance when she gives birth, that’s why she will hold on to the child,” he says.
Mbugua however warns that too much protection has a downside to it, noting that children who are overprotected in childhood will face identity issues in adulthood.
“Too much attention to a child will make it hard for the child to deal with the larger society and his surroundings without the parent. The child will not know how to deal with certain issues or make sound decisions without the parent’s influence. For some it will be hard to take risks because they are afraid,” states Mbugua.
He notes that sickness and getting injuries is part of growing up, therefore children should be allowed to go through these experiences. However, when they skip such phases, they may be prone to sickness later on because their immunity did not have a chance to develop.
However, for first-time mothers who go on to get other children, going through PFS is an important learning curve despite the long-term risks involved.
Singer Darcq says when she got her second baby, she invested less on material things and instead trusted her instincts. “When it came to fever, I managed most of them except for the extreme ones that needed the doctor’s attention,” she says adding “I can see the difference in my choice because with the first baby I was more protective and careful. Unfortunately, he is less adventurous compared to the second one with who I let a lot of things slide,” she says.
As for Odhiambo the designer, she has promised herself to go slower on her second baby. “For my second child I will not do any shopping, I already have enough baby clothes. I will stick to my Arimis and kipande,” she says.