When it comes to the early days of mothering, it seems everyone’s a critic – and an expert! But the best thing you can do is ignore the doubters and have some faith in yourself – you’ve got this, Mama!
So, just in case you need to hear it from someone who’s got your back, this is what you really need to know:
It’s impossible to spoil a newborn
Most of us have heard that it’s impossible to spoil a newborn, but it seems somewhere along the way the simplicity of this message gets lost in all the advice handed out to parents about their new baby’s behaviour. Whether it’s a health professional advising that your baby should fall asleep without being rocked, or a family member who criticises you for picking up your baby too much, it gets increasingly hard to nurture your new baby without second-guessing yourself.
The fourth trimester concept
Most baby experts agree that the first few months after the birth is all about supporting baby’s transition from the womb. This means offering as much womb experience for baby as possible, such as plenty of cuddle sessions, physical contact and on-demand feeding. This explains why newborns like to be held so often, and why they often protest the moment you put them down. The easiest way to manage all this is to meet your baby’s needs as much as possible while they slowly adjust earth-side.
Our culture is obsessed with Bad Habits
While there’s plenty of research to support all that hands-on bonding, our society is obsessed with avoiding Bad Habits. New parents are told to encourage independence in their new baby, and to limit behaviours that could become problematic down the track. For example, many of us are told that young babies should be put down for a sleep awake, encouraged to self-settle, or that we should avoid feeding our babies to sleep.
These are all great ideas in theory, but unfortunately, hardly any babies will put up with this. Babies have spent months being rocked and fed to sleep in the womb and naturally expect the same conditions in the outside world, especially as they get used to their new environment. When parents resist following their baby’s lead, and try to apply misleading advice around avoiding Bad Habits, they end up with a cranky, unsettled baby, and tears all round.
The funny thing is, most new parents I meet don’t have a problem with spoiling their baby. It’s the pressure they get from society about avoiding Bad Habits that gets in the way. It feels natural, amazing even, to pick up their baby when he cries, or to let bub fall asleep in their arms after a feed. And doing these things works: they keep baby calm and content and make parenting life easier for all concerned. So why are we being told to do things the hard way?
You’re actually creating GOOD habits
There’s this ridiculous belief out there that babies need to be independent as soon as they exit the womb, and encouraging anything different is a big parenting mistake. But early parenting is all about establishing a strong emotional bond (attachment) with our baby, which means following baby’s lead, responding with love and letting baby know that someone is there for them whenever they need it. This teaches baby that their new world is safe and secure. Rather than encouraging ongoing dependence, a strong attachment will actually lead to greater security and confidence in the child.
In other words, cuddling and loving your baby, and responding to those needs every time is actually creating very GOOD habits.
Listen up! There are no f*&@ing bad habits
There’s nothing wrong with loving and cuddling your baby, both of which help your baby to grow and thrive. It’s impossible to do too much of this, whether it’s baby-wearing, picking up your baby whenever you like, helping your baby fall asleep and breastfeeding on-demand. Whoever heard of loving a baby too much? Crazy, right?
And while we’re at it, anyone who suggests to you that your baby is manipulating you is also talking nonsense. Your baby doesn’t cry to trick you into picking him up and getting cuddled to sleep. Babies have been in the world for a few days – manipulation is an adult skill that takes years to develop. Your baby cries to communicate a need, one of which is physical contact. It’s not baby who needs to learn how to toe the line – it’s us parents, who need to learn how to respond to baby’s needs, whatever they are, and whenever he has them.
Babies are just getting started
New babies deserve respect, patience and understanding. They’re brand new to the world and need loving support to find their way. Expecting them to fall asleep on their own, sort out their own emotions, and fit neatly into our lives the way we desire them to is unreasonable. After all, most of us grown adults still find the world daunting and overwhelming at times, yet we have skills and experience to deal with this … new babies are starting from scratch.
So go ahead and create those beautiful habits. Your baby is lucky to have you.