So, naturally I did what every terrified mom-to-be probably does at some point in their pregnancy…I checked out several books from the library.
It sent me into a tailspin.
Nothing about babies ever says “This may or may not be the right way, just try it and see”. Instead, the advice all seems to scream “If you do this the wrong way at worst your baby will die, at best they will be developmentally behind for the rest of their life.” The sentiments don’t exactly give you the warm fuzzies.
Those books gave me extreme anxiety throughout my pregnancy and for the first several months postpartum. Think about the advice just centered around sleep. If I put my baby to sleep the wrong way, she was going to die. If she sleeps too much she won’t eat enough, too little and she’ll never learn to fall asleep. I lay her down to sleep and she will suffer attachment issues. I hold her while she sleeps and I won’t get my bed back until she graduates high school. And that’s only sleep! There’s just no way to win.
Every author of newborn parenting books thinks they have ‘discovered’ the right way to raise a newborn. Their method is the best and nothing else will do. The truth is that every baby is different. Those first few months are just about surviving for both you and your newborn. No book is going to tell you the most important (and most basic) advice: trust your instincts, call your mom, and ask for help.
Trust Your Instincts
Moms have been raising babies for thousands of years, even without the advice of Gary Ezzo or Dr. Sears. When my mother-in-law came to help during the first few weeks I had my daughter, I was frantic. Nothing was working. Everything I had read was useless and I was floundering in a sea of exhaustion and baby poop. I love the way her kids turned out, so one day as we were driving in the car, I asked her “Nothing I’m doing is working – what book did you follow to raise your newborns?”
She looked at me like I was a little crazy, but she responded gently, “I don’t think I read any books.”
Undeterred, I pressed a little further, “Yeah, but you had to read something – who’s method did you follow to get them to sleep?”
Genuinely puzzled, she said, “Method? I’m not sure. I don’t think I really followed anything in particular.”
Honestly (and this is a little embarrassing to admit on my part), I didn’t believe her until months later. I had no idea how anyone could raise a newborn without following a specific plan. And yet, less than 30 years ago, she had winged it! And her kids are just fine. When your baby is screaming because they’re scared, tired, or lonely, your instincts will kick in (or your milk will let down). You will know what to do next. One day when your baby is crying and a little older and can tell it’s not an emergency, you’ll let them cry a little longer. Mama, just trust yourself. You were literally designed to do this.
Later in the week, my mother-in-law did mention one thing she had done several times through the newborn phase, which brings me to my next point.
Call Your Mom
Of course it might not be your actual mom, but you need someone to call when you have questions about your newborn (and you will have a million questions!). It might be your mom, your mother-in-law, a friend with older kiddos, an aunt, or a neighbor. They will be able to answer your everyday questions like ‘Why is his poop yellow?’ and ‘She poops every single hour – is that normal?’ (most of your questions will deal with poop). She’ll even be able to answer questions like ‘I can’t stop looking as his sweet cheeks, how am I supposed to get anything done?’.
There are more serious questions that deserve a call to a pediatrician or poison control, but most newborn baby questions can be fielded by a woman you love whose kids have turned out the way you want your to turn out.
In other countries, new moms stay in bed with their babies for a whole month while female relatives take care of their household and older kids. You can bet this means those relatives are there to answer every little question.
In some Asian cultures, there’s a practice called ‘100 Days’ where the baby doesn’t leave the house at all for the first 100 days of their life. Moms and aunts typically stay during that time to help the parents and answer questions. It is only in our ‘modern’ culture where we live so far away from family and friends that we feel like a call or a text is imposing. There are certainly women who would love to help and answer your questions. You don’t need to rely on a book to dictate your life.
Ask for Help
Asking for help is incredibly important, especially if family is far away. When friends ask what they can do for you, don’t be shy! Ask them to set up a meal train in your honor or ask for a gift certificate for a house cleaning. If they are stopping by to visit the baby, ask them to stop and pick up your favorite take out or throw in a load of laundry. Friends often want to help, but they either don’t know how or don’t want to get in the way. If you don’t want to seem pushy (which is silly – you just had a baby!), just drop hints on Facebook like ‘5 Things Moms a New Mom Really Wants‘.
Even your husband may not be sure where he fits into the equation, but just be honest with him. Let him know what would be most helpful to you.
I am passionate about the importance of finding a real (helpful) community, so I have written about finding your village before. Asking for help during those first few weeks and months will make your life immeasurably easier. You just can’t do everything on your own, despite what some of the books seem to think.
The bottom line is – you’ve got this. You don’t have to read a book to know how to raise a baby. Just trust your instincts, call your mom, and ask for help. Oh, and find all those parenting books causing your anxiety and don’t be afraid – toss the books!