When It's Your Baby, Not You Screwing things up
Unrealistic expectations, pressure to be the perfect mum and too many ‘rules’ are making mums overthink – and blame themselves when they don’t have a ‘good’ baby.
The first question every new mum is asked will be ‘is he a good baby?’ This will be followed by, ‘how does he sleep?’ Is it any wonder mums are asking, ‘am I screwing things up?’
The thing is, even normal baby behaviour such as sleeping and feeding is being pathologised – babies wake up, they cry, and their feeding is influenced by your individual baby’s appetite, stomach size and feeding ability. Babies each have their own developmental timelines and growth patterns that will be influenced by genetics.
When there are any perceived problems, mothers feel blamed and judged. I have seen babies with feeding issues such as a tongue tie that is seriously affecting a baby’s ability to latch and feed effectively. This poor mum with an unsettled baby who has been swallowing air at every feed has been told, ‘you need to learn tired signs.’ Instead of getting the help she needs, because she isn’t being heard by the professional she has asked for help, the mother is questioning every aspect of her baby’s care, wondering what she is doing wrong.
On the other hand, there can be a baby who needs some help to fall asleep with cuddles, which is perfectly normal, and the mum is struggling with pressure to teach the baby to ‘self-settle’. This mum is also questioning what she is doing wrong.
My message to all mums is, please don’t let anybody ‘should on you’. You are the expert about your baby. If you want to try some new way of being with your baby, go through the checklist, ‘is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right for us?’ And if you are concerned about anything to do with your baby, please don’t worry about being an over anxious parent. Get professional help and, if you don’t feel heard, get a second opinion. You are not screwing up your baby!”
When it is your baby, not you
• I can’t get my baby in a routine – your baby can’t tell the time. He needs to eat when he is hungry and he will sleep (mostly) when he is tired, just like you. So, take the pressure off, ditch the books with strict feeding schedules, watch your baby, not the clock and enjoy every delicious cuddle, whatever time your baby wants to feed, play or sleep.
• My baby is refusing to breastfeed – if your newborn won’t feed, it’s most likely because he can’t, it’s not your fault. Get an expert to check his mouth, does he have a tongue tie, for instance? Would a different feeding position help him latch more easily? If he is older, is he teething and has sore gums? Could he have oral thrush that’s hurting his mouth? Or sore ears or a blocked nose that make coordinating sucking, swallowing and breathing difficult?
If you are ever concerned about your baby’s feeding, call in an expert such as an IBCLC Lactation Consultant who will observe your baby feeding, take a history and check what might be happening. And please don’t blame yourself, breastfeeding is natural but it’s also a learned skill for you and your baby.
• My baby won’t self -settle – this isn’t you, it’s your baby: most babies need help to relax, switch out stimulation and fall asleep. Enjoy the cuddles, relax and allow your baby to breastfeed to sleep if that helps him relax – there are amazing chemicals in your milk that encourage sleep. You aren’t depriving your baby of an important skill, even though that is often implied. To put things into perspective consider, even most adults have little rituals to help them fall asleep - your partner isn’t nudging you as you doze off all snuggled together, saying ‘get on your own side of the bed, we are creating bad habits
‘ My baby doesn’t sleep all night – do you sleep all night without stirring at all? Getting up to pee? Drinking a sip of water? Baby sleep is a developmental process and, just like being able to crawl or walk or grow teeth, readiness varies with individual babies. So, it’s not a reflection on you or your parenting skills whenever your baby manages to sleep ‘all night.’ ‘All night’ in baby sleep studies is five hours, so if your baby sleeps 5 hours in a row (or ever has) you can answer anyone who asks, ‘yes, he’s a good baby, he sleeps all night.’ And if he is still ‘getting there’ (newborns have tiny tummies so need frequent feeds day and night in the early weeks), create a diversion. Tell them, ‘no he’s a bad baby, he’s already robbing banks!’ They will be so bamboozled they will forget to ask how your baby sleeps.
• I’m worried I have created bad habits – stop beating up in yourself, whatever you did weeks ago that you worry is now a ‘bad habit’ was exactly what your baby needed at the time. For instance, if your baby was uncomfortable due to reflux, so you needed to hold him upright after feeds or wear him to help him settle to sleep, what was the alternative? A distressed baby? Any time that some way of caring for your baby becomes unsustainable you can make changes, gradually with love,– without beating up on yourself that it’s ‘all your fault’.