An Open Letter to New Mamas

Dear New Mamas,

With so much unsolicited parenting advice in our information era, I encourage you to raise a red flag to advice including any of the following 6 terms:

”Should”

There is no “should” with babies especially regarding breastfeeding, safe cosleeping, and milestones. Ignore anyone telling you what your baby “should” or “should not” be doing, based on age of baby. The easiest way to avoid these types of conversations is to not discuss the topics of lactation, sleep, milestones, and nutrition with family members, friends, and coworkers who may not be aligned with your gentle parenting style. Once you find your groove, a simple response of, “This works great for us,” will hopefully pacify the naysayers.

There are lots of varying parenting styles, and it’s less stressful to not compare your baby with others of similar age and to not discuss those topics listed above openly.

“Habit”

Babies change so frequently that there is not enough time in one consistent state of development for habits to form. If your instinct is telling you to soothe baby in a certain way or to create a safe sleeping environment, you are not forming “bad habits.”

“It works.”

You may come across defensive loved ones advising, “It worked for you,” or well-intentioned friends saying, “It worked for us.” But at what cost? Do your research. For example, the only reason sleep-training “works” is because a baby doesn’t think anyone will come get baby. As another example, putting rice cereal in a bottle adds no nutritional benefits and actually reduces the nutrition baby would otherwise receive from the breastmilk that the rice cereal displaces.

“That’s what the doctor advised.”

Pediatricians receive minimal lactation and nutrition education. Lactation advice should only be taken from a lactation specialist, preferably with the credentials of IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). Many insurance companies cover their costs. Important to note, only 40% of US women successfully breastfeed after 4 months postpartum and only 20% after 6 months postpartum. If those statistics are that low, yet most infants see a pediatrician, one could assume pediatric advice is not aiding in successful breastfeeding rates.

Children’s nutrition guidelines and recommendations change frequently and can be skewed by corporate sponsorship. Read labels, and get up-to-date about children’s’ nutrition information. Consider baby-led weaning once baby is starting solids as early as 6 months. MDs are not to be considered experts on parenting style advice. Various methods for baby sleep and nutrition fall under parenting styles and do not require a medical professional’s input.

“Spoiling”

You cannot spoil a baby. Creating a relationship of trust and responsiveness is your role as a mother. Terms like babywearing and Attachment Parenting do not mean you are “spoiling” your baby, but rather creating a safe and secure foundation to set up baby to be an emotionally thriving child adult.

“Good baby”

You will quickly learn the term, “good baby,” is redundant. All babies are good. Unfortunately, Western society associates a “good baby” with one who requires the least amount of caregiver attention. Instead of asking if a baby is “good” when striking up conversation, it’d be more appropriate to ask “What makes baby happy?” And when someone asks if your baby is “good,” try responding with, “We’re having fun.”

Sincerely,

A fellow mom, meandering her own peaceful parenting journey, by surrounding herself with those who get it

Why babies don’t “behave”

Have you ever had someone comment to you how “well-behaved” your baby is? If not, don’t worry, just read on.

This compliment reflects a pervasive Western misconception about how babies function. Have you ever met an under-one-year-old who understood what society expected of him and adjusted his behavior to accomodate those expectations? I haven’t.

I was among the lucky parents who was approached by strangers who commented on my baby’s “good behavior” (as opposed to those parents who received seething glares from fellow diners at a restaurant – although, believe me, we got those, too). But I deflected every compliment with a comment on my baby’s state of mind, like, “her tummy’s full and she’s satisfied” or “she’s well-rested.”

Every parent who’s been there knows that it’s impossible to control your baby’s behavior. The best effort we can make to ensure that our baby reflects the contentment and joy we associate with “good” behavior is to anticipate and meet his needs, as well as we can.

My baby was “well-behaved” because her needs were met. She had trouble sleeping alone, so I cuddled her to sleep. She often wanted to nurse, and I met her requests as quickly as possible. She preferred being held to sitting in a carseat, so we carried her in arms or in an ergo most of her first year and well into her second.

Was my baby responsible for regulating her internal state to please strangers in restaurants and supermarkets? No. Her parents were. And believe me, we weren’t thinking about those strangers when we were doing it.

We didn’t do a perfect job, if such a thing exists, but we did the best we could. And she let us know instantly how well we were doing. And so, I guess, did all those strangers.

Good and Bad – what’s in a name?

As a new parent, I’ve begun to notice interesting terminology used by parents and other observers of children. Today I was given a compliment – “you have such a good baby!” Translation: My baby sat quietly during our moms group meeting, looking around contentedly and smiling at babies and moms in the room.

While I’m pleased that my daughter was able to bring joy to those around her, I also reject the premise of the compliment.

Why? To say that a baby is good when she’s happy implies, also, that she’s bad when she’s unhappy.

What our culture begins to communicate, from the first day of life, is that “positive” emotions are acceptable and welcome, and “negative” emotions are unacceptable and unwelcome.

Very few of us are immune to such judgments in our ‘civilized’ society.

How do these judgments affect us?

Many of us have learned to keep “negative” emotions – anger, resentment, frustration, jealousy, discontent – bottled inside. Some of us have become such experts at this practice that we are unaware of the nature or depth of our authentic emotional state.

Many outwardly successful members of society go through life seeking to please others, choosing paths perceived as acceptable in order not to fall out of favor with others.

This pervasive practice of people pleasing (for short, the four p’s) is a recipe for disaster. Not only are we doomed to fail at a life whose goal is to satisfy others – whose minds we can’t read – but even if we were to succeed, we would be failing ourselves.

Takeaways for parents?
Be aware of our language. Even by praising our children, we may invalidate their right to ‘negative’ emotions. Our children are healthier when we enable them to experience life’s highs and lows – with proper support and guidance, of course. Pretending the lows aren’t there doesn’t make them go away; it just sends them deeper underground, doomed for explosion or implosion.

Takeaways for the rest of the population?
We are not good when we are happy and bad when we are down. We are simply experiencing the natural spectrum of emotions as part of our human experience. When we take the time to appreciate all of our experiences, they will have far less power over us, thus increasing our capacity for true joy and contentment.

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