Once upon a time women gave birth and raised their babies without a book or online reference telling them how to do it. It's a shocking thought, I know. There was no printable birth plans for you to fill in and hand to your midwife, no timetables of sleep and feed times for you to dutifully follow and no growth chart for you to agonise over. Once upon a time women just went with the flow and let their babies teach them as they went, and I have a feeling they enjoyed the process a whole lot more than mothers do today.
Don't get me wrong, I cherish my well-worn copy of Baby Love and devoured every baby related website there is during my first pregnancy, becoming thoroughly addicted to online chat groups like Essential Baby. When embarking on the daunting experience that is birth and parenthood you are hungry for information, which you can now find in abundance. But while this knowledge is certainly helpful, I wonder if it has made us so obsessed with 'doing it by the book' that we've stopped following our own instincts?
Parenting styles, and the authors promoting them, go in and out of vouge, from the revolutionary Dr Spock in the 50’s to the return of old fashioned principles by Gina Ford in the 2000’s. But with many of their recommendations on the ‘right’ way to do things contradicting each other it can lead to new parents feeling confused as to which way to turn. Controlled crying versus attachment parenting, the structure of Tizzie Hall versus the on-demand feeding and co-sleeping Dr Sears. Who is right and who is wrong?
I remember reading Gina Ford’s ‘Little Contented Baby Book’ during my first pregnancy and being horrified by it. The idea of being told when I could have a cup of tea seemed insane to me, not to mention the idea of waking a sleeping baby. What?! And I found while reading it I suddenly felt scared and unsure about my abilities to take care of a baby, where I had previously been confident and relaxed. So I never read it again.
However, I know many mothers feel differently and swear by it (clearly, if you look at the number of copies sold throughout the world.) These mums will credit it for getting their babies to ‘sleep through’ from early on and profess that following the strict guidelines was the closet thing they could get to an instruction manual for their new babies.
But, personally, I believe books like this have a lot to answer for by placing unrealistic pressure on mothers. When their babies refuse to comply with the instructions set out for them, or want more or less milk than is suggested for their requirements, it can lead to confusion and frustration for both mother and child.
Which is why I think, in many ways, all this information has done us more harm than good. Because it makes us feel like we’re in control, when we’re actually not at all. You can read every book ever written and you will still not control your baby’s moods, temperament, sleep cycle, ability to breastfeed successfully etc, etc. But if a book is telling us a certain technique should work and it doesn’t, we are more likely to feel like a failure.
I am sure the fact that we are having babies later in life, after spending years as career women who are used to being in control, has lead to the rise of the strict routine methods. We want to have order, deadlines and predictable outcomes, with minimal impact on our already busy and stressed lives. On top of that, many of us have to go back to work at 6 months, meaning the idea of ‘going with the flow,’ waking up all night, and feeding on demand is too prohibitive.
But, no matter which book you follow, in the end any one-size-fits-all approach ignores the fact that babies are people, not robots. In reality some babies will sleep from the start whether you put them in a routine or not, others (like mine) will fight sleep no matter how hard you follow the advice given. Some will advance quickly and exceed development charts and others will take their time but get there in the end. And in my mind, just getting through the first year with yourself and your baby intact is a success!
It's great to use the books as a guide but maybe we need to tap into our own instincts a bit more. By relying too much on other peoples opinions we might just be missing the subtle signs our child is giving us as to what is working and what’s not.
Back when my firstborn was waking constantly throughout the night and I brought home my tenth baby sleeping book my husband said something that annoyed me at the time, but I realised later was quite insightful. He said, "I don't know why you need so many books, our baby is the book. We just have to learn how to read him.”
I think he was right. Just don’t tell him I said that.
Which birth and/or parenting books have you found helpful and which ones do you dislike? Do you think we follow books to slavishly or would you be lost without them? Id love to hear your opinions....
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Don't get me wrong, I cherish my well-worn copy of Baby Love and devoured every baby related website there is during my first pregnancy, becoming thoroughly addicted to online chat groups like Essential Baby