“I never realized how many “rules” there are to good parenting. With each comment my confidence was slowly being chipped away. I started to feel that I was doing something wrong or even everything wrong”. (Emma, mother of a three month old)
Here you are gazing at your amazing newborn, completely overawed that you could feel so in love and protective of somebody you have just met. And yet, despite your wonder at the beautiful little being you have created, you are probably a little overwhelmed too: who would have thought that one tiny being could create so much washing? Or that they could breastfeed for an hour every two hours? Or that their squeaks and snuffles are loud enough to keep you awake all night? Or that getting out of the house before 2pm could be an impossibility? Or, perhaps most surprisingly, that all this is completely normal?
On top of this is the incredible barrage of advice about how you should be caring for your baby. Is it any wonder you feel overwhelmed? Even if you consider yourself to be well-informed – you have read a stack of books, attended classes and decided exactly what kind of parenting style would work for you – what seemed sensible to you before you had your baby may not actually fit YOUR baby. Or be practical, now that he is here.
For instance, I have seen women with neatly printed and ruled routine charts and checklists, all ready to slot their baby in. When their unique baby doesn’t eat, sleep and play, according to the chart, the poor mother is thrown into chaos.Instead of considering that the routine (prescribed by somebody who doesn’t know YOUR baby) might simply be unhelpful right now, mothers tend to think that they are doing something wrong, and this self- doubt begins to erode their confidence.
I have also seen women who write down every feed (how many minutes, which side), how many wees and poos, and how many minutes of
sleep their babies have each day. They strive to find a pattern in an effort to feel more in control. Again while this sounds sensible, it can have the
opposite effect: soon these mothers become so obsessed about what their baby is doing (or not), that they not only create an enormous amount of extra work but they end up so focussed on outcomes that they don’t get to spend time enjoying their baby – gazing and smelling and smooching and ‘drinking in’ their beautiful new being.
This time is what really matters – not following the rules about how long your baby sleeps, how often she feeds or whether you have her in a routine. Remember, there are no ’good mummy rules’. So, you may be asking: How do I know what advice is right and who do I believe?
My criteria for discerning what is right is to step back and filter information by asking three questions: Is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right for us?
If you want to try out some new advice or a new way of being with your baby and it fits into this criteria, then go ahead. If what you are doing works for you and your family, feels right and is safe and respectful, then do it. If it feels stressful or isn’t working, ditch it. Of course, babies grow and change so quickly as they reach new developmental milestones that just when you feel you have thingsworking well, you’re back to the drawing board! This is the time to reassess and perhaps try another strategy – remember, caring for babies requires experimentation and will involve some trial and error.
If you can appreciate that there is no other baby exactly like your baby, (although there is typical baby behaviour and developmental stages that are useful to understand), you will be able to step back and filter advice that could potentially undermine your confidence. Then, instead of trying to live up to inappropriate’ good mummy rules’ or make your baby fit into advice that creates stress for you both, you will be able to relax and accept the wonderfully unique baby you have, you will be able to nurture him gently and respectfully and you will be able to enjoy this precious time.
For reassuring strategies to help you understand and care for your newborn, check out “Parenting By Heart – gentle care for your baby’s first year ” by Pinky McKay.