I recently had a friend of mine call me all freaked out because someone told her that she wasn’t feeding her almost one year old [who was only just weened from breastfeeding] enough solid food, that she wasn’t doing it the right way, and that her baby must be so hungry. I said, “does she cry or seem upset?” She said, “no, she’s fine.” That’s right, I told her, she’s fine. If she’s hungry, she’ll let you know.
You see, becoming a parent doesn’t just end with your immediate family, it means becoming part of this entirely new community, and parenting culture can be a very bizarre and mind-boggling one.
As someone who is by no means a parenting expert, this got me thinking, and I wanted to write about some of my own parenting theories and some practical tactics that I’ve learned along the way.
I feel like too many parents out there seem to think they have all the answers, that they’ve got this raising humans things down, like they know something that the rest of us don’t. I don’t buy it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, all of parenting is trial and error. From start to finish. Forever. As soon as you get one stage down, you’re immediately faced with an entirely new stage that you have no idea how to navigate through. You’ve got to just trial and error your way through it. If one thing doesn’t work, you try another thing. That’s how it works. That’s how we all learn to be good parents.
I remember my mom saying, “you didn’t come with instructions!” And that’s the truth. There is no real guide to getting through this amazing and often times terrifying journey called parenting. And so this article is more of an anti-advice advice post. Take from it what makes sense for you, or completely disregard it all, either way though, this is my take away from the early years.
1. Do Not Take Advice from Other Parents!
This might seem contradictory to this entire article. It’s meant to be. The biggest piece of advice that I always give my new parent friends is not to take advice from other parents.
Yes, read all the books and go to all the parenting classes where you’ll learn to properly swaddle your baby and how to burp them – soak in all the important basics. But know too that these basics are just that and by no means will they prepare you for the day-to-day dealings with a newborn. That part you figure out on your own with your partner – and when it comes to outside influences ruffling your feathers by telling you that you’re doing something wrong, block that nonsense out.
I’m sure that you’ve already received an overwhelming amount of unsolicited advice, and probably much of that advice came from total strangers! [Which still blows my mind.] Listen, you’re welcome to try out all the pro tips bestowed upon you, and a lot of times there are some hidden gems in there, but do not get discouraged if said pro tip doesn’t work like a charm as promised.
As a brand new mom, I received tons and tons unsolicited advice from family, friends, and yes, complete strangers. And I made the mistake of taking everything they said to heart. I had no idea what I was doing and figured I should rake in all the master tricks and tips that I possibly could. This tactic totally backfired on me. I’d try holding my colicky baby in the exact position that I was told to, rocking her gently at the exact angle suggested. Surely it would calm her down. No, it didn’t calm her down, and then I’d freak out even more and start thinking, why am I so bad at this? I’m doing it just like they said! Finally I’d give up and try a different position and suddenly it would work like a charm.
After enduring several incidents like this one, I began realizing that the pro tips weren’t working because my baby is a totally different baby than those giving advice, and what works to calm their baby may not be what calms mine. Sounds like such a simple and obvious concept, right? But it’s not. It’s sooooo easy to get wrapped up in the you must do this and the good grief you’re not doing that hype that you start to second guess your own intuition.
You do this because you want to be a good parent, because you want to do it right. Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you that only you know what’s right for your baby and whatever methods that you come up with to calm them down, to get them to eat, to laugh, or to sleep, is the right way. Promise.
2. Don’t Compare your Baby to Other Babies
Parents are often trying to measure their own baby’s level of success to what other babies are doing. If you have a friend with a one year old that can already sit up on their own and crawl across the room, but yours has only just discovered their own feet, don’t stress it.
The same goes for newborn parents who have older children. You don’t even do it on purpose, but you find yourself remembering that your toddler was doing such-and-such by now, so why isn’t new baby? It goes back to what I was saying before about each baby being different. They’re born with different temperaments, levels of engagement, strengths and weaknesses, and even though you might raise each of your children exactly the same – they will ALL be doing things a completely different way, on their own timeline, and that’s ok.
If you’re genuinely worried that your baby is showing behaviors or significant delays that fit the description or symptoms of potential health or developmental issues, definitely, 100% have it checked out. If nothing else it’ll bring you to ease knowing either way. In many cases though, it doesn’t mean that they’re delayed or that they won’t be super smart, it just means that they’re taking their time with it.
I was totally an over-worried mom. When my second baby was nearing a year and half I was very concerned that he wasn’t speaking very much. By that age my daughter was having full on conversations. I didn’t want to force him because then he’d get really frustrated and shut down. I called a speech therapist and had them come in and do some tests. She worked with my son for about 45 minutes, and then she turned and said to me, “so your baby can understand everything you’re saying, and he can totally respond because he knows all words. He just doesn’t want to.” I should have known. That is SO my son. She said too, that he was only using the words required to have his needs met, and because he’s the type of kid that is always chill as long as he’s fed and well-rested, he didn’t need to communicate anything further because he was content and had everything he needed. I should have known – he’s always been a kid that does things his way and in his own time.
3. Travel is Totally a Thing You Can Do
Lots of new parents have anxiety about traveling with their newborns. Definitely wait until their immune systems are healthy enough to be exposed to the public, six weeks is usually the recommended time by pediatricians, [assuming that your baby is healthy, if not definitely get cleared by your doctor first] after that period, do your thang.
The thing to remember is to keep your routine. If you’ve developed a sleeping and eating schedule, then do your best to keep that same schedule while traveling so that nothing changes for your baby. In fact, the only thing that really changes for you will be lugging around six times the amount of gear between your actual luggage, the diaper bags, pack-and-play, and carseat, but if you take your time and aren’t rushed through it, it really is manageable. And it truly makes no difference to your baby whether your at home in your Bay Area Bungalow, or visiting relatives in Missouri, as long as your routine for them stays the same.
Do be sure to prepare for any sudden changes in temperature by packing appropriate clothing for your baby, and if you’re bottle feeding, you’re allowed to bring as many bottles of breast milk or formula as needed for the duration of your flight. They’ll test it to make sure you’re not smuggling in something weird, but in most cases you’re expedited through it, as families with small children are generally moved to the front of the security and boarding lines.
It has also been advised [and this definitely worked for my babies] to try and feed your baby or give them a pacifier during take off and landing because the sucking motion really does help with the pressure in the ears. When it comes to crying babies on an airplane, sure, your baby might cry – but who cares? Babies cry. Try and book an aisle seat so you can pace with your baby at times when you’re free to move around the cabin. As for the pesky onlookers who are giving you the stink eye, don’t let them get you flustered. Don’t feel bad. And for the most part, people are very understanding.
4. Develop A Routine
Ok, so this one does count as actual advice, but I’m letting myself off the hook for it because this one is backed by science. And while I do believe that developing a routine for your baby from the get go is an absolute essential, I also believe that each routine should be individually tailored to meet your child’s needs.
It has been proven that what makes babies feel the most safe and secure is routine. Fear of the unknown, especially with being so new to the world, is remedied with routine and allows for their days to not just be random. If you start one right away then they always know what to expect, and they immediately gain a sense of security and safety. Consistency is key. Once you start a routine, try and stick to it so that your baby always knows what’s coming next: when they first wake up they’ll have their diaper changed, then they’re fed, they know that after they eat they’ll be burped and rocked, they know that after a bath they’ll be lotioned and clothed and read or sang to, and so on. They trust it to happen, they trust the system in which you’ve created for them, and so they develop a sense of trust in you as their parents.
Of course, your routine will grow and expand right along with your baby, so with newborns you start small, perhaps make sure that feeding times always happen the same way and that the bedtime routine does too. She might still wake up a million times in the night but as their waking daylight hours become longer, they will depend more and more on knowing what that will look like.
This does not just apply to newborns, but [in my humble opinion] should be continued throughout the course of their lives. Routine in toddlers, older children, and even teenagers establishes what the standards and expectations are in your household. Upholding your standards with consistency teaches your children to be doers, to be organized and proactive, and to be self-disciplined. Routine has made parenting so much easier for me, too – because I also know what to expect, which makes for planning my days and my evenings that much simpler.
5. Breastfeeding is Hard
Nobody told me this! Everyone is of the mindset that breastfeeding is best and I couldn’t agree more! However, not everyone can do it, and those that can still might not have the instant latch-on-super-eater experience. I might even wager to say that that type of experience is rare. I nearly killed myself trying to breastfeed my baby, literally. After six weeks of nothing but steaming hot showers, pumping, feeding, and zero sleep, I was hospitalized with mastitis in both breasts that was so bad I was told I had to quit trying. I was heartbroken. I felt like a failure. I didn’t understand why my body that was built to nourish my child wasn’t working properly. I had worked with nine different lactation consultants and joined a breastfeeding support group, but nothing helped.
I hated the stigma that came with my baby being formula fed. I’d be out and about and a stranger would approach to admire my darling child and without fail, every single time, they’d ask me if I was breastfeeding [which I feel like is such a personal question] and I’d immediately feel like I’d have to rehash my entire sob story to validate my reasons, to justify myself to this stranger.
If you’re able to breastfeed with relative ease, then rock that out, and do so for whatever length of time you see fit. But if you have a hard time and it doesn’t work out for you, or you make the choice from the get-go not to breastfeed, it is a personal choice made for reasons that best suit your family’s needs. It’s not something you should ever feel shameful about. In the same way that breastfeeding mothers are fighting the battle to feel free enough to nurse in public without backlash or judgment, I feel that those same sentiments should be extended to formula fed babies, and a parent’s right to choose the best way to nourish their children’s bodies.
So basically what I’m saying, with each of these points that I’m making, is that as a new parent you shouldn’t feel nervous about not knowing what you’re doing – because none of us do. Don’t be afraid to try your own methods, to go a little rogue and blaze a new trail, don’t be afraid to breastfeed, or formula feed, or to travel. Don’t lose your sense of you and remember to always trust your gut.
A special thank you to Meagan and Jason Mitchell for letting me use their darling newborn, Georgia Jane, as my feature image.