I hate so-called ‘baby experts’ who promise that your baby will be happy and super easy to look after if you follow their rigid ‘schedule’. Gina Ford is the most famous one in the UK, but there are plenty of similar ones all over the world. Many of these so-called ‘experts’ are just self professed experts cashing in on new parents worries.
The reason I dislike them so much is because I’ve seen so many new parents lose confidence in their parenting skills because they couldn’t get their baby do what the book said. For many new parents, these books are actually harmful.
Having a 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 you had never had an adult guest in your house. Because you didn’t know what to do, you bought a book on the topic. Imagine that the book suggested a really rigid schedule such as the one below :
- Wake your guest up at 7am exactly every morning (what if they aren’t a morning person?)
- Serve them a full English breakfast with bacon, eggs and beans at 7h15 exactly (what if they are 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, etc)
- After breakfast take them immediately to the bathroom for a shower
- Then play a game of monopoly with them for 23 minutes exactly
- Take them out for a 20 min walk
- 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 they are deeply asleep
Do you think your guest would feel good? Do you think you would feel good? What are the odds that you would both enjoy the experience? How would you get to know each other? It sounds pretty ridiculous doesn’t it? And yet this is similar to what is advocated in many baby books.
Professor Amy Brown published a great piece of research that shows that reading 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 am glad this research is now here to prove what I have witnessed for years. I tell new parents to read as many books as they like, but to check in whether they feel right, and only follows the suggestions if they fit with their instincts and their family routine. I also tell parents to check the credentials on the author. Often the authors come from a nanny background. Nannies are hired to look after babies by parents who do not look after their babies themselves. Nannies do not have the bond and emotional connection that a parent has with their baby, and it is a very different story for someone who looks after their baby themselves. The authors of these books may have experience in nannying, but seldom have a scientific background, or solid evidence to backup their claims, which are often just personal opinions which fly in the face of evidence. And finally, and maybe more importantly, they do not know you or your baby.
And I have seen many times exactly what the study says: new parents who buy those books promising that if you follow their rigid, strict routines, you’ll be rewarded with an easy going, predictable baby, but only end up feeling more inadequate when they cannot make their babies fit into what the books prescribe.
Dr Brown’s research 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 often set up abnormal expectations about 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.
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. A doula 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.
To grow and learn to trust your own instincts and ability to parent, having someone who helps you see your strength, as opposed to insisting that you do things their way, is truly invaluable.