Every day in Facebook groups, on television, and when I speak to parents I hear variations of the same phrase. Especially when it comes to parenting young babies;
“They say you should have them in their own room at 6 months”,
“They say you shouldn’t have them in your bed”.
Or, “They say you shouldn’t hold them all the time or they’ll always want holding”,
“They say you should set up a feeding schedule and stick to it”,
Honestly… “They say you should jump off a cliff…”..?!
It actually infuriates me when people say these things, and yet I used to listen and believe them.
When I was pregnant and completely clueless about the realities of being a parent and had learnt most of my knowledge through, television, movies, the media and what I’d heard other people say, I thought “they” were right too and that I should or shouldn’t be doing certain things with my baby. I thought there was some formula that we should all follow to look after a baby and if I didn’t read all the “expert” tips and follow them, I would fail my child.
You are the expert in your own family
I put “expert” in inverted commas because I now know there is absolutely no such thing as a parenting expert. You can be an expert in many things but you cannot be an expert in other people’s children. You as the parent ARE the expert in your child and only your child!
Now, if you’d told me this 18 months ago I would have laughed, or more likely cried; ugly, hormonal, post birth, trying to work out a 3 week old baby, sleep deprived, crazy lady, cried, in your face and said I don’t have a clue what I’m doing with my baby. The thing is I did. I just didn’t know it because people kept shoulding all over me all the time, including myself.
Undermining parents’ instincts
I’d soaked up this culture of what we should do with our babies and found my inner voice repeated these things at me. It was loud and fuelled by anxiety, hormones and some postnatal depression thrown in for good measure. It was so overbearing that my natural instincts, whispering quietly inside, were drowned out by all the noise. I found myself in a complete nightmare situation. I had no faith in anything I was doing and was constantly plagued by guilt. Guilt for having baby in bed with me; not following a feeding schedule; not getting up and going out to groups; spending too long in bed with baby; eating too many family sized boxes of biscuits!
Everything I did became a struggle. Reading books and researching online just threw me out even more. I just got more “They say you should’s” thrown at me. Who the bloody hell are ‘they’ anyway? Why do they have all the answers and I don’t?!
Then one day soon after Belle was born the health visitor came round. I couldn’t tell you when as the days were all a bit of a blur. You know, with the sleepless nights, tears, nappy changes, hours spent lying in bed or on the sofa cuddling a sleeping baby. Not to mention the constantly breastfeeding with sore nipples that “they” said are perfectly normal. I remember dreading her visit and had no idea what to expect. Just the fact I had to wash my armpits and get out my pyjamas made me resent her coming over and invading my house.
I was half expecting a terrifying matronly woman like Miss Trunchball to come in and shout at me for being a rubbish mother. Although I was secretly hoping it would be a Miss Honey instead who would just hug me and tell me everything is wonderful. (Kudos if you got the Matilda reference!). In actual fact I got neither of these fictitious characters. My health visitor was a friendly, down to earth, lady who was kind, understanding, considerate and realistic. I was so lucky to have this wonderful lady as my health visitor and I know that she saved me! I dread to think where I’d be now if I hadn’t been one of the lucky ones.
My health visitor was interested in me, not just my baby
She asked the usual questions about baby, but she was more interested in me; in how I was feeling, my mental health, how I was sleeping and who was looking after me. Other than my close family, I think she was the first person I’d spoken too who was actually asking how I was. And she really meant it. She didn’t once ask to hold my baby. So many other times I’d reluctantly handed her over. In reality I didn’t want anyone else to hold her. Having my arms empty made me feel a bit lost and useless.
I’d had an emergency C-Section so I wasn’t very mobile. I had a lot of problems healing as well as some birth trauma to work through. So I wasn’t in a great place mentally or physically, but I remember when that amazing health visitor came over. I immediately starting feeling better and I felt listened to and cared for.
I remember telling her how I was having so much trouble getting Belle to sleep in her Moses basket. She would only sleep on my chest or fall asleep feeding on the breast. So, I ended up sitting up all night holding her terrified of falling asleep thinking she “should” be in her Moses basket. Why? Because “they” said she should, and if I don’t put her in it now she will never learn to sleep in it.
She told me to follow my instincts
I remember her simply asking if we’d tried bed sharing. I felt shocked to hear it suggested by a professional. Surely bedsharing was “bad” and “unsafe” and “shouldn’t be done”. Wouldn’t it “cause issues in the future” and all the other bollocks I believed at the time?
She gave me safe bedsharing guidelines and all the information on how to do it safely. More importantly she told me not to worry anymore and to follow my instincts! She said all my worries about her feeding too much or not getting out enough or holding her too much were all perfectly natural and normal things. She said I just needed to do what felt right to me and for B and our family. I didn’t have to do what a warped society made us feel we “should” or “shouldn’t” do!
Freedom. Empowerment. Confidence. Relief
Freedom. Empowerment. Confidence. Relief. These are the gifts she gave me that day. When I asked other mums about what they liked and remembered most about their health visitor, people told me they liked the free Bookstart books she gave out. For me it was so much more.
She gave me back the ability to listen to my natural, biological, mothering instincts that were there all along telling me what to do. They were already telling me how to be the best parent I could possibly be. All I needed was someone to tell me to forget what everyone else says or does and just feel and listen and trust myself.
This is what society needs!
This is what society needs! Every new mother needs to be given this kind of support, not that she should or shouldn’t be doing things and the “expert” says this, that and the other, and “Barbara down the road bedshared and her son is still in her bed now at 37”. It’s all nonsense and, more importantly, irrelevant. There is no perfect single way to parent. All babies are different and all parents are different and we all need different things.
For me I found following my own instincts brought me to find a whole new world of alternative parenting skills, with a wealth of information about attachment parenting and carrying and bedsharing and breastsleeping and all the cuddles I wanted. I found out gentle parenting was a thing and found books upon books with evidence based, factual information. I read these and finally could relate to the pages as they told me everything I was already doing was perfectly fine as long as it felt right for us. Some of the previous books I felt belittled me and tried to mould me to be the mother society felt I should be. I have since come to realise this ideal mother is very much warped and miles from where I believe we should be and are naturally… but that’s another blog for another day!
Select your information sources!
The main point I’m trying to make here, is that if you’re a parent and you feel unsure of your decisions or don’t know what to do for your baby, then of course feel free to ask for advice and support from others and do read up on things if you need to, but make sure your reading is evidence based and factual rather than written by someone who calls themselves an expert and has never had children and would probably be better off writing a military attack plan. And most importantly, don’t feel you have to do anything you don’t feel is right. I
f someone suggests putting baby down drowsy but awake, for example, and you try it and baby screams at you and gives you that look as if to say, “Really Mum? You honestly thought I was going to fall for that?” and the whole thing just feels wrong and doesn’t work then don’t do it. Try something else.
9 times out of 10 baby is going to want to be close to you and on you 24/7 and that’s ok and that’s normal, not always easy, but normal! But it’s a hell of a lot easier when you can stick two fingers up to the world, stay in your pyjamas all day, lie on the sofa with your boob out because baby is cluster feeding again. Eat as many packets of biscuits as you like and don’t feel one ounce of guilt if you know you’re doing what’s right for you and your baby and you’re listening to that little whisper inside that is your motherly, or fatherly, instincts and knowing that’s the most important voice to listen to and none of the should’s and shouldn’t’s matter!
There are no should’s in parenthood, and anyone who should’s you can should off! But don’t feel you have to listen to me, I’m no expert!
Read more: Why I hate the word “should”
Read more: I hear your judgment and I don’t care
By Roma Malone – BabyCalm consultant CalmFamily West Norfolk
Roma is a mum to Belle, aged 2 and a half year old and is expecting baby number 2 in October. She is passionate about psychology and fascinated by the brain. She loves to spend time with her family and is a big fan of rock music and cooking. If you’d like to hear more from Roma check out her blog on all things motherhood, mental health and body positivity at Viva la Romalution or follow her on Instagram.