A first time mum, I was recently told to just, ‘do away with the baby books,’ since I ‘really knew best’ (with my instincts and all). I ought to have been comforted but the comment bothered me – why was I annoyed? It took me a few days to work it out.
Here’s the thing: while I agree that new parents do wade through too many confidence-destroying ‘shoulds’, and that there are way too many inflexible, guilt-inducing parenting books and misinformed internet forums out there, everyone still needs a parenting bible or two. One based in (scientific) research, bolstered by anecdotes of parents. Telling me not to read what I was actually finding instructive and helpful seemed just another unhelpful ‘should’.
Having just (just!) survived the first 12 weeks of motherhood, I’m surprised by the amount of critical parenting knowledge that didn’t just come to me ‘naturally.’ My idea was to be a sling-wearing, dummy-snubbing, easy-breastfeeding, chemical-free mother-earth-mum. The rest would be easy. Who knew how much I had no idea about? And I mean no.freaking.idea. I write this as a pram-pushing, dummy-abusing, sometime-formula-feeding, ‘whatever-bloody-works’ kind of mum. Instincts? Sure – They’ve helped me decide what feels right of the (often unsolicited) advice I’m given. Maternal instincts have me scanning pedestrians’ hands for cigarettes, and zig-zagging across the pavement to protect my baby. Instincts wake me up two minutes before she seeks a midnight feed. They put me on edge when her cry gets a distressed edge.They’re what make constant cuddles and regular co-sleeping so blissful. But my instincts failed me in some basic baby-life-maintaining facts. Enough, in fact, to fill a baby book (or five).
Let me walk you through a scene to illustrate – it’s Day 1. My little Mexican baby was born at 2am, weighed, wrapped and popped in a wheely bassinet in my hospital room. Now a bit after dawn, I’m off my face on happy hormones with no hope of sleeping. I feel like I should check with the nurse if I’m allowed to pick her up to play, and have to keep reminding myself that she is my very own baby and I don’t need anyone’s permission to cuddle her. This day she is smacking her lips together, loudly, repeatedly. Right now the thought is enough to trigger my milk let-down, but at the time I had no idea this was her telling me she was hungry. So while my newborn baby smacked away in hunger, my instincts and I filmed it on my phone and sent it to her aunties to show them how cute she was, ‘blowing kisses’. Luckily a midwife later put me onto a resource with illustrated feeding cues that I could check to see if she was hungry.
Like many in my generation of mothers, we are professional, educated women having babies later in life, with little previous exposure to infants and especially not to newborns. Raised in the information-age, we are used to seeking out research-based responses to problems – we need a book, a TED-Talk, an App. or a series of Blogs to help us tackle an issue. That’s what I need the baby bibles for – not to prescriptively tell me what to do, but to lay out the science for and against so I can make an informed choice. Being time-poor though, how brilliant that many of the baby bibles have quickly accessible cheat sheets! The list that follows is not exhaustive but I hope it gets you or your new-mummy friend through to a ten minute coffee break with sanity intact.
Breastfeeding difficulties meant crying was all either of us really did from week 2 to week 5. ‘It sounds like she needs burping’, a lactation consultant told me one day over the phone. She meant to help, but it shredded any fragment of maternal confidence I had: how can this stranger know – through the phone! – what my baby needs, when here I am too hopeless to even breastfeed her?!
So much for the instincts that wire my brain to ‘just know’ what my baby needs. I should admit here I still can’t tell her cry apart from any other baby in the supermarket. Sometimes I jump at the neighbour’s baby crying through the wall, when she is on my lap or at the breast. Actually telling what she wanted in each cry seemed a stretch beyond. But there is a difference between when she wants a feed, a burp, experiences tummy pain, is tired, or needs changing. I discovered this in week 7, but oh how my poor wretched nipples wished they knew about it earlier. Time poor? Of course you are, so forgo the video and watch the youtube clip with either Oprah or Ray Martin. Sometimes she still invents whole other cries but it wouldn’t be parenting without some guesswork.
On Unsettled Babies
Pre-baby, I thought there was always a reason babies cry, you know – something to fix. Turns out sometimes babies are just going through stages in their mental development that make them particularly grisly, where a non-stop cuddle is in order; the Wonder Weeks. The good news though is that the stages are time-linked and predictable so you can practically schedule them… and there’s an app for that.
A lot of the advice you receive will be about infants, not newborns. Dr Howard Chilton is great for medically-sound, scientifically informed, approachable information on newborns. His number one takeaway is if in doubt, feed. He has a great start-up manual on newborns and fantastic information on his website. He speaks regularly at Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney. His explanation of the history of co-sleeping helped build my confidence that what felt so right – and what was the only way I could get any sleep for newborn or me – was that way for a biological and evolutionary reason. When a G.P. told me not to co-sleep as I am broad-shouldered, I could shrug it off (those broad-shoulders) and continue to do it within the guidelines Chilton outlines in his book.
Dr Harvey Karp seems to be USA’s answer to Chilton. Much of the advice in his book is similar, but blogs outlining his settling steps are instructive, and in my house moved settling from a 60 minute process to more of a 20 minute one on a good day. The white-noise CD he has on iTunes got me hours and hours of baby/mummy sleep. As a matter of fact I’m listening to it now, so this blog has Dr Karp to thank!
So, don’t throw out all the baby books. It turns out we learn our instincts over time. If you find the baby books helpful on that journey, read them. Hospital nurses, midwives, early childhood health nurses and other mums are fantastic resources, but there’s conflicting information between them. There are also ideological baby books that prescribe inflexible approaches – these are about as helpful as a crocheted nappy and can happily be thrown away or put down. Quality books help by laying out the science behind the differing advice so you can make a more informed choice for your own baby.
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