When you are a new mother, you will find yourself overwhelmed with advice. Whether it’s from well-meaning friends, interfering aunties or even, bafflingly, fun-loving bachelors, everyone thinks they know better than you about how to parent your newborn.
The reality is that we’re all winging it. And even those mothers with loads more experience than you might have vastly different approaches to raising children. At the same time, sometimes you do need someone to turn to. So how do you sift through the mountains of information thrust upon you to find the gems that are right for your parenting style?
Here are some points worth considering on your quest for a parenting resource or guru that you trust.
Always remember that the way that you want to care for your baby might be completely different to how someone else does. There are people who wear their babies in slings all day and share a bed with them and breastfeed for years, and there are those for whom routine and independent sleep and early weaning are important. Each approach has its own justifications, and you can make yourself anxious by listening to friends who insist that their way is the right way, if it’s not your way.
Even if you are confident in your approach to parenting, you might find that your baby has other plans. Parents who wanted to stick to a routine will find that their baby resists regular naps and feeds. Parents who wanted to be led by their babies’ needs can find that things get out of control if a routine isn’t imposed. There’s no harm in changing your mind and your approach if you realise it’s not working for you and your little one. Always keep an open mind.
You’d think that your mom, gran or trusted aunt would be the best person to turn to with your early parenting concerns – after all, they raised you. This may be true, but you may also find that there are parenting norms now that are absolutely baffling to parents from a generation ago. The older women in your family may be your most valuable resource, but don’t be afraid to let them know that you want to do things differently.
This generation of parents is extremely fortunate to have access to the wealth of information, opinion and discussion that is the internet. Unfortunately, if you are confused about an aspect of parenting, the internet is just another repository of vastly conflicting opinions. By all means, use the world wide web to educate yourself and to understand different viewpoints, but don’t take anything you read there as gospel.
And while parenting books may be researched by a professional who has good advice to give, babies can’t read those books and don’t always do what they are supposed to.
You’d think you could ask your paediatrician, right? Well, yes, to a certain extent. But it’s worth bearing in mind that even specialist doctors disagree on parenting approaches – and are generally far more concerned with your baby’s health than with which brand of nappy to use or how to get your baby to sleep at night. There are a host of other people you can turn to – nursing sisters at your baby clinic, midwives, lactation consultants or even people who run parenting courses, but always remember that there is no single, correct way to parent, and these people will all only share their own opinions.
In the same way, as parenting changes over the generations, so does medical science. We understand things differently as our scientific knowledge increases. This means that even between your first and second baby, you might find that the same doctor is making different recommendations. There was, for example a recent shift in how early potential allergens should be introduced to your baby’s diet – doctors are now saying this should be done when your baby is younger than one year old.
This might be the hardest of all to accept. When you’re trying to decide which baby products you need, you’ll find that the packaging is all written in comforting language that assures you that the manufacturers care about you and your baby. In actual fact, they really just want to make money out of you. For instance, you can still buy baby biscuits and baby walking rings, but doctors and dieticians will tell you that those have absolutely no benefit – and can potentially cause harm – to your baby.
All this makes it abundantly clear that there’s no single source of good advice for new parents. Instead of trusting someone because of who they are, try to find a person you trust because of what they say. Don’t listen to fear-based advice (“If you rock your baby to sleep, you’ll have to do it until they are four!”), and rather try to understand how different opinions fit in with your own approach or your needs at that moment. For some people this is about identifying one person who makes sense, for others it will be about finding lots of different resources and trying all the approaches until one works.
Early parenting – and any parenting really – can be a daunting time. Find the person or the advice that brings you peace or gives you direction, and then try to follow your own instincts and enjoy your baby.