I just read a great piece of research by professor Amy Brown, that shows that reading baby books that recommend strict routines for babies is associated with poor mental health.
“New research from academics in the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences has explored the link between parenting books that encourage parents to try and put their babies into strict sleeping and feeding routines and maternal wellbeing. The study found that the more mothers read these books, the more likely they were to have symptoms of depression, low self-efficacy and not feel confident as a parent.”
I’d like to say I’m surprised but sadly, I am not.
As a doula and antenatal educator, I’ve been saying this for years. Many so-called “baby experts” are just self professed people cashing in on new parents worries. And I have seen many times exactly what the study says, namely new parents buying those books promising that if you follow their rigid, strict routines, you’ll be rewarded with an easy going, predictable baby.
Ah bloody ah!
Life doesn’t work like that.
And neither do babies.
Doula Maddie McMahon says that having a new baby is like having a new guest in your house.
You need to get to know them, their likes and dislikes, so you can make their stay as comfortable as possible.
Imagine for a second that there was a guide book about having a new guest in your house.
And that the book said really rigid strict things like:
“Wake your guest up at 7am exactly every morning ” (not great if they aren’t a morning person)
“Serve them a full English breakfast with bacon, eggs and beans at 7h15 exactly” (not great if your guest is vegetarian, or if they need a bit more time after waking up before they feel hungry. Or would prefer a slice of toast. Or prefer to get washed and dressed before breakfast)
“After breakfast take them to the bathroom for a wash”
“Then play a game of monopoly with them for 23 minutes exactly”
“Take them out for a 20 min walk so they get some fresh air”
“Give them a snack of a banana and biscuit at 10h30 exactly”
“Take them to a darkened bedroom and insist they lay down for a nap”
“Wake them up at 12h exactly even if deeply asleep”
I could go on with the rest of the day but you get the gist.
It sounds pretty ridiculous doesn’t it?
And yet this is not so dissimilar to what is advocated in many baby books.
I’d like to say I’m surprised but sadly I’m not, and in a way, I am glad this research is now here to backup something I have been telling expectant and new parents for years: By all means read some books if you feel drawn to, but remember to check the credentials on the author. Often the author is coming from a nanny background. We should remember that nannies are usually hired to look after babies by parents who don’t want to look after their babies themselves-so they became very successful at it. The author seldom has any scientific background, or solid evidence to backup their made up claims, which are usually just personal opinions flying in the face of evidence. And finally, and may be more importantly, they haven’t met your baby. And your baby hadn’t read their books.
The research article states that
“Many of these books suggest goals that go against the normal developmental needs of babies. They suggest stretched out feeding routines, not picking up your baby as soon as they cry and that babies can sleep extended periods at night. But babies need to feed lots because their tummy is tiny and they want to be held close as human babies are vulnerable – far more so compared to lots of mammals that can walk and feed themselves shortly after birth. Waking up at night is normal too – after all, many adults wake up at night but babies need a bit more help getting back to sleep.”
This is also what I’ve seen.
Whilst routine, as in the normal daily rhythms most of us tend to adopt, can be quite healthy, strict schedules do not fit with normal life.
These books contribute to setting up abnormal expectations about normal infant sleeping and feeding patterns.
Exhausted new parents try and fail to make their baby fit into the schedule and end up feeling like failures when they cannot.
How on earth are we supposed, as new parents, to navigate the maze of conflicting advice, and listen to our own voice in the middle of it?
This is one of the many reasons why hiring a postnatal doula is invaluable.
She will often be the only person whose sole interest is to help you listen to yourself and support you in developing your own, unique style of parenting.
As I wrote in this blog before : who else is going to truly listen without an agenda? This is the heart of counselling, or coaching-helping someone listen to the voice within. From childhood onwards we are led to believe that the answers lie outside ourselves-with the “experts” . The parenting world is awash with self proclaimed gurus cashing in on new parents insecurities-people who promise the holy grail of a baby who sleeps through the night, and have rigid quick fixes answers to every problem.