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’ve created, you’re 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’ve read a stack of books, attended classes and decided which parenting style will work for you – what seemed sensible before may not actually fit YOUR baby. Or it just might not be practical.
I’ve seen women with neatly printed and ruled routine charts and checklists, all ready to slot their baby in – and when their unique baby doesn’t eat, sleep and play according to the chart, the poor mum is thrown into chaos. Instead of considering that the routine might simply be unhelpful right now, mums tend to think they’re doing something wrong, and this self-doubt begins to erode their confidence.
I’ve 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 baby gets each day. They strive to find a pattern in an effort to feel more in control. While this sounds sensible, it can have the opposite effect: soon these mothers become so obsessed with what their baby is doing (or not doing) that they not only create an enormous amount of extra work for themselves, but they end up so focussed on outcomes that they don’t get to just 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 how do you know what advice is right? Who do you believe? My criteria for discerning what’s right is to step back and filter information by asking three questions: Is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right for us?
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, and it fits into this criteria, then go ahead. If what you’re 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 things working 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 always involve trial and error.
If you can appreciate that there’s no other baby exactly like your baby (although there is typical baby behaviour and developmental stages that are useful to understand), you’ll 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 everyone, you’ll be able to relax, accept the wonderfully unique baby you have, and just enjoy this precious time.
Pinky McKay runs a private practice in Melbourne, specialising in gentle parenting techniques. She is running a series of baby sleep seminars in April, May and June in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia; visit her website for details.