After attending a baby shower recently, I got to thinking about how much advice new parents receive. Sometimes it’s solicited, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. But even good, well-intentioned advice won’t always work for other mothers and their babies. Parenting is not one-size fits all, and there is no magic bullet, no matter what the bazillion books out there tell us (psst, there is always another book saying the complete opposite!) I still think it’s important for parents to share their experiences—I know I’ve learned a lot from other mothers, and clearly I have advice to offer.
But here are some tidbits I was given when I was expecting my first child that I will not be passing on:
You need to drink milk to make milk.
Erm, can you think of any other mammal that drinks another mammal’s milk in order to produce food for their own young? Can you think of any other mammal that drinks another mammal’s milk at all? Yes, nursing moms need to keep hydrated, but we are not cows, our babies are not calves, and human milk is not a dairy product. So if cow’s milk is not your beverage of choice, no, you don’t have to start drinking it in order to successfully breastfeed your human baby.
Crying is good for babies’ lungs.
Crying is how babies communicate, not how they exercise. Yes, there are going to be times you can’t do anything to stop it—when you’ve nursed her, changed her, picked her up, burped her, rocked her, nursed her again, passed her to your partner, put her down, picked her back up, and she still cries. But it is our job as parents to hear those cries, respond to them as best we can, and comfort our child through it even when nothing seems to help.
Don’t pick him up too much.
Here’s the thing. You can’t spoil a baby with love. Nurturing independence in your child is a process, something that takes approximately 18 years, not 18 months. And it happens despite us—those of you with strong-willed toddlers and teens will know what I mean. So let your baby be a baby while he’s a baby. Pick him up, hold him, comfort him. Need free hands? Try a carrier. Need help? Ask for it. Need to put him down because you are overwhelmed and need to collect yourself (or maybe you just need to use the bathroom, it happens)? Do it. Then take a deep breath, go back in, and pick him up.
If you let her in your bed, you’ll never get her out.
Some babies sleep fine in a crib in another room. Others don’t. Don’t be surprised if yours wants to be with you day—and night. Most adult humans like to sleep with another person close by—so why on earth wouldn’t our children? If you chose to share sleep in some fashion, there will come a time when your child won’t need you to put her to sleep, or back to sleep. In fact she’ll need you to wake her up. And it will happen before you know it. I promise.
Babies don’t feel/remember pain.
I once bit my baby’s finger (don’t ask). Another time I cut him with the baby nail clippers. Judging by the crying, yeah, he felt pain. No, he probably doesn’t remember. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt at that moment, or that I felt any less terrible about it. So I fail to see the logic in putting tiny babies through unnecessary pain now vs. later. If it would hurt him later, it’s going to hurt him now.
Babies should only eat every 4 hours.
Not any baby I’ve ever met. That said, every baby is different. Just because mine needed to nurse at least every 2-3 hours around the clock for the first year or more doesn’t mean that’s so for every mom and baby pair. Yours might need to nurse more often. Or less. But for most newborns, 4 hours is way too long to go between feedings. Even at night. Sure, some will sleep longer stretches early on, and that’s normal (lucky you!) But so is frequent waking. So is waking again after several months of sleeping through. Read your baby’s cues, and don’t listen to people who say “she can’t be hungry again!” Yes, actually she can be, or she could have another reason to nurse (comfort, teething pain, fighting off a cold, growth spurt…) And yes, just when you get used to one routine, it can change (comfort, teething pain, fighting a cold, growth spurt…). So don’t get too hung up on schedules or what a book says she “should” be doing, or what she did last week or last month, or what your friend’s baby is doing, or even what your other babies did. Meet the needs of the baby you have now, who is the only one who can tell you what those needs are.
It’s harder on you than it is on the baby.
Sorry, I don’t buy it. A baby crying himself to sleep, for example, doesn’t have the logic to know mom and dad are in the other room and this is “for his own good”. He just knows he is upset and alone and the people he depends on to keep him alive aren’t responding. And if the adults have to comfort each other through it, or phone someone for support, or go online looking for virtual hugs to “stay strong”, imagine how the baby feels. If you were upset, would your partner tell you to “self-soothe”? And if he did, wouldn’t you want to smack him?
Babies over [insert weeks, months or pounds] don’t need to eat in the night.
I once read babies over 12 pounds don’t need to eat in the night. Mine would have been 12 pounds at, oh, around 3 weeks old. So no, I wasn’t going to deny my newborns food and comfort because they were bigger than average. In fact I’d argue they needed to eat more often because they were bigger than average. But regardless of size or age, babies aren’t waking in the night to eat just to mess with their parents. When she no longer needs to eat in the night, she’ll stop (but just FYI, that doesn’t always mean she’ll stop waking in the night…)
Have your babies close together so they can be friends.
I’m not telling you not to have them close together. I feel family planning is up to, well, the family. I was not ready to have another any sooner than I did, but that’s me. I just hate this statement because closeness in age is no guarantee they’ll get along—and a big gap doesn’t mean they are doomed not to. That has more to do with personality in my opinion. Which is something you can’t pre-plan. But the main reason I hate comments about family size, parental age, age gap, sex etc. is—you never know what is going on in other people’s homes and hearts. It’s rude to tell parents of an only child they “should” have more no matter what—but what if those parents did want another child? What if they’ve been trying for years? What if they’ve experienced a loss? Now imagine how hurtful those comments are.
Parenting is a tough job. The last thing we need to hear is that we’ve already messed up by having children too young or too old, by having too many or too few, having them too close together or too far apart, or that we should “try again” for a child of a different sex—especially when some of these things aren’t even within our control, no matter how we try to plan them. So, let’s all just make our own family planning choices, and go with “no comment” on the family planning choices of others, agreed?
What was the best of the worst baby advice you received?