When I was expecting my first child, I was a little bit overwhelmed with the amount of information I had to try and absorb. From coping with morning sickness to getting through labor, tips on successfully breastfeeding to getting your baby to sleep through the night, even what diapers to use and how often to give them a bath – I had lots of helpful and well intended advice from ALL my friends and family, but nearly all of them had a very varied range of, often conflicting opinions on the ‘right’ approach to take.
I very quickly realized that when it comes to parenting, there is no ‘right’ way to do literally anything, and that generally what works for one family, might not work for another. As such, you can read all the parenting books in the world and absorb all the New Mom tips you can, but ultimately, you need to trust your instincts – you know your baby better than anyone, and if you and your baby are happy – that is all that matters.
That said, in hindsight, now with a 3 year old and a 6 year old, there are some bits of parenting advice that I didn’t follow and wished I had.
- Teach your baby to self settle – Now this is a really tough one, particularly if you are breastfeeding, however ideally you should put your baby to bed when they are drowsy but not fully asleep. This enables your baby to recognize they are tired, get used to a bedtime routine and settle themselves to sleep, without relying on the breast, a pacifier or being rocked in order to drift off. This is important because if they don’t learn to self settle, when they wake in the night (as many of us do with normal sleep cycles), they are going to want you every time to help them get back to sleep. I will admit that neither of my girls learned to self settle until they were much much older, which meant my life became fairly nocturnal and I have been a fairly sleep deprived Mama in those early years at least! The challenge of self settling when your child is breastfeeding is that 9 times out of 10 my baby would fall asleep on the breast, and I was not going to wake them up before laying them down! I do wonder what difference this might have made to my child’s sleeping patterns if I had.
- Don’t compare yourself to others – When my first child was born, I linked up with a small group of new Moms who had all had babies around the same time. The aim was to support each other through every stage of our baby’s development and be there for each other if we needed advice or others’ experiences. The trouble is, as a new Mom lacking in confidence, it was all too easy to compare myself to them. They always looked so glamorous, whilst I had barely found time to shower; their babies started sleeping through really early, whilst mine still woke 4 times a night. I constantly began to compare myself to them and felt less of a good Mom because of it. Looking back now I know that comparison really is the ‘thief of joy’ and that I should have spent more energy looking after myself than worrying about what other people were doing.
- Be in the picture – When my first baby was born, I felt so rough after my 36 hour labor that I refused to have my photograph taken for 3 days. My face was swollen, my eyes were puffy, I hadn’t slept in over 2 days and I was exhausted. I would avoid having pictures taken unless I had time to make myself look presentable, and as those opportunities were few and far between, I don’t have half the amount of ‘real life’ images from those early newborn days. Trust me as someone who has since lost their own Mother – Be in the picture. When you look back at these photos when your children are grown up, you won’t care if your skin looks bad or if your hair is a mess, you will however see the happiness on your face, your child staring up at you and cherish those memories – and so will your children!
- Ask for help – It’s fair to say I am a fairly proud individual, so after my C-section I was reluctant to ask for help. How hard could it be? With a toddler at home and a newborn baby I should have asked for help. I shouldn’t have attempted to juggle everything by myself; had I reached out and just asked the question, I know for a fact my friends or family would have come around in an instant. Sometimes you just need to swallow your pride and admit that you need some support – it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of!