Don’t let anybody ‘should’ on you

I have just returned from visiting another lovely, intelligent mother who is doing a wonderful job with her baby, but is convinced she must be doing ‘everything wrong’. She feels guilty that she has messed up her baby’s early days (she hasn’t at all!); she feels inadequate because (she thinks) she can’t read her baby’s cues (she is making perfect eye-contact with her baby – their connection islike alovers’ gaze and as we talk, she intuitively comforts her baby or changes his position at the slightest grimace or squirm); she feels guilty that she has stressed her baby about feeding. The baby was refusing to breastfeed after some inappropriate advice and now the mum is beating up on herself for listening to the advice that made things more difficult. But really, what choice did she have? Her baby was unsettled (as newborns often are), so what desperate, sleep deprived mother wouldn’t be ready to grasp at whatever straw was being offered if it sounded reasonable at the time – or was being offered by somebody who seemed more experienced about babies than a brand new mum?

Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident. Almost every day, I am visiting or speaking to beautiful attuned mothers who are totally confused and convinced that they are ‘bad mothers’ or that they are failing their babies in some way or another.

It seems that everybody has been at these women,telling them they are ‘doing it wrong’ or not following ‘the rules’, depending on what rules their critic thinks they should follow or which book they have slavishly been trying to follow ( which, of course, came highly recommended by a friend or acquaintance who found it worked for their baby).In the vulnerable state of new mummy-hood, these formerly competent woman are feeling overwhelmed enough by their new life (the little one in their arms most of the day, that is) without also being undermined as they struggle to nurture their babies with the very best intent – to be the best mothers they can be.

While it is great to be informed – to read, to ask questions and to watch what other parents do with their children – it is also important to remember that each baby is different and every family is unique. When you try to follow a single, one sized set of rules, and it doesn’t apply to your individual baby, it can do your head in. It is also important to bear in mind thatwhat may have seemed perfectly logical before you actually met your baby, may not feel right now. This doesn’t mean you have lost the plot or ‘given in’ especially if you find yourself being less ‘organised’ than you had planned to be.As well as a whole new job spec, you have a new set of hormones to work with. These are actually nature’s tools – these ‘new mummy’ hormones help you feel responsive towards your baby and this is why you feel confused as you take on advice from the lady next door, your best friend or the lady in the supermarket (who advised one couple, “if she cries, don’t pick her up!” even though the baby was perfectly content in her pram at the time), especially if it involves dire warnings about spoiling your baby.

Instead of stressing about what you ‘should’ be doing with your baby, remind yourself that the cuddle police won’t come knocking on your door: hold your baby in your arms and look deeply into those dark navy blue eyes. As you spend time talking and listening to your little one, you will become aware of his language and you will become skilled at communicating. As this happens, you will naturally develop confidence – that you are the expert about your baby.

baby sleepbaby sleep problemsbreastfeedingbreastfeeding newbornnew mothernewbornnewborn sleepPinky McKaysleep and settling
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  • Stephanie

    Great article. I know how that mother is feeling I am there right now Thanks for the confidence in what I am doing is right for me and my new family!

  • Belinda Irvin

    All I can say is that there is so many traps for first time parents and for subsequent births. Research and the ‘how to’ do the care giving changes like the weather. I am a nurse/midwife and family support worker who also does home visits. I understand that the confusion that confronts parents is overwhelming. A fantastic body of research and evidence outcomes is contained in the Circle of Security Website. Being emotionally engaged and available for your new babies and growing children can only nurture healthy family relationships. Remind the outsiders who intrude that their comments are ‘UNHELPFUL’ and keep doing what you instinctively know is correct for you and your children. If in doubt ask a compassionate and empathic professional.

  • Anna

    I’m so glad that you’ve written about this~ I see it often, too! Wonderful new mothers who are sure they’re doing everything wrong, even to the extent that they’re afraid they’ve ruined their babies in the first few days of life. I love being able to support and reassure them, but it’s very sad to think of all the mamas who aren’t getting the support they need. Love to all~

  • Sarah

    I had enormous trouble breastfeeding my little one. In the process I saw 3 different lactation consultants to try and fix the problems. Two of the consultants made me feel guilty, one even said that if I was doing what she had explained then there should be no reason for my issues. I was taking motilium, feeding my little one constantly and expressing all day, even getting up in the night (when my bub was sleeping!) to express. The last consultant I saw was the only one who told me I was doing a great job. She also reminded me that whether I succeeded or not, the most important thing was that I was trying. We reached a point where I was primarily breastfeeding bub with a few top ups, and I didn’t feel guilty because instead of feeling stressed, overwhelmed and resentful of my baby I was able to relax, connect with her and bond.

  • Christie

    this is exactly the reason im becoming a postnatal doula, im a part of an online mothers group with mums who were due in March 2012, and so many of these mums doubt themselves or find their babies falling short of the “experts” expectations because their baby isnt sleeping through, or is breastfeeding constantly. will be sharing this with them 🙂

  • Tracey

    But if you are doing everything you can and doing it as gently as you can and bubs is still miserable, how can you believe you are doing a good job?

    • Eunice

      Agree with you. I’m trying all my best to be gentle and not let baby cry too much. Bub is almost 5 months, requires lots of attention (I can’t put him down for long before he cries for attention), bed share (as he wakes up frequently at night and needs to be breast fed back to sleep) and wear him during his naps as that’s the only way he will sleep. Many keep telling me “this will pass” but some has been telling me I’m spoiling him by holding him too much, bed sharing with him and hugging him to sleep, etc. I’m so worried I’m raising a pampered kid that will scream whenever he wants his way.

  • renee widdison

    An excellent article!
    If only all first time mums were reading this article!
    It is such a shame that new mums are often miss-guided or even pressured into styles of parenting that are just unnatural to them. As a new mum i quickly realised that i had to develop a thick skin and stick to my gut feelings, if i didn’t i am sure i would have an unhappy baby and i would be forever sad about conforming to ideas i didn’t agree with. Also reading you book reaffirmed who i was as a mum, so thank you pinky!

  • Alison

    @ Tracey – You are interpreting your baby as miserable but remember it would not be common to have a miserable baby every second of every day. Look at your baby right now and observe the behaviours. Now see if you can just be with your baby in that feeling. Babies are like the rest of us, we all have different temperaments and we don’t have to feel good all the time. We just need someone there who can say “hey baby, you are sad and uncomfortable right now and I will be with you while you feel sad and uncomfortable” Help your baby to learn that he won’t always feel bad.