As a first-time parent, it's hard to know what's worth worrying about and what's not, and many of us err on the side of worrying about it all.
That is, until we learn what’s really important to us, and what we can let slide. Case in point: the joke that says with your first baby you sterilise a dummy that falls on the floor, with your second you rinse the dummy under the tap, and with your third you stick it right back in.
When I was thinking about starting a family, I confessed to some wise friends – who were parents of teenagers – that I didn’t want to mess my future kids up. Their advice? The best thing you can do is to not worry. Resist the pressure to follow all the "rules". The more you worry about ruining your kids' lives, the more you'll hold back for fear of doing the wrong thing, and the more anxiety you'll pass on to them.
Now, as the relieved mother of a baby who survived to toddlerhood, I'm gaining perspective on what not to worry about when you have a newborn. Here are a handful of specific ways you can give more energy to enjoying your child and less to wondering what you'd score on the Good Mother exam.
Try not to read the books
Especially don't read really big thick ones with details on the new things your baby should be able to do today, and the activities you must provide to create a future CEO or gold medallist. I've got no idea how mums managed before they had Google in the palm of their hand (I suppose they just talked to each other!), but try not to overdo it with Dr Google, too. I don't think I ever actually felt better after googling "BABY POO GREEN WHY".
Definitely join a mothers’ group and laugh about your shared experiences, or chat with others in an online parenting forum. And if you're really concerned about your baby, talk to a professional; they can give you genuine reassurance and fantastic tailored advice that no book or website can.
Use whatever nappies you want to use
Don't get bogged down working out whether it's less environmentally friendly to throw away disposable nappies or wash and dry cloth ones, or which will be better for baby's bottom. Your little one will certainly use enough nappies to make it worthwhile changing later if you go on to discover that cloth ones give her a rash, or you feel bad about all the disposables filling your wheelie bin. Save the guilt for the things that matter (like deciding on the perfect wipes).
When it comes to routine, do what works best for you and your baby
Some of my friends are in the camp that believes everything hinges on bub napping at 1pm for exactly 90 mins. I started at the other extreme, avoiding any routines, and wanted to use my little boy's signals to tell me when to put him to bed and feed him.
So who’s right? No one … and everyone. Some babies and their parents work best with a bit of a routine, while others cope best with a more ‘go with the flow’ approach. It can take some trial and error, but it’s best to keep an open mind and see where your baby takes you.
Lower your expectations about sleeping through the night
Remember all those mums who congratulated you on your pregnancy and then immediately encouraged you to get lots of sleep while you could? And you thought "Yeah, yeah, I know babies wake up overnight for the first few weeks, it’s fine.” Some experts believe it's a bonus if children consistently sleep through the night before they're two. No, not two months – that’s two years old.
Missing out on sleep really bites, but being frustrated that your baby won't sleep through only makes you feel worse. If it helps, remind yourself that everyone eventually learns to sleep without their mum's help. Take advantage of child health nurses for advice and reassurance, and ask them to refer you to the next level of support if you need it.
Ask for help, and spell it out if you need to
Some partners just don't put two and two together when they find themselves standing beside a smelly baby or a pile of dirty dishes, but will gladly do their bit when asked. For now, just accept it, ask them politely to do something specific, then follow-up with a thank you. Then, when you get a chance, sit down and divvy up the chores together. I do the ironing and he does the folding; he baths the baby while I clean the kitchen; we take turns to do the vacuuming.
As a fourth child I can't imagine how much my parents relaxed their standards between my eldest sister's babyhood and mine. Now that I'm the mum, I know this precious time will pass even faster than I can believe, and I’m trying to savour it.
Really, I don't think my baby gives a hoot what type of nappy he's in, but a happy, relaxed mum can make a world of difference.