What were we thinking! promote confidence and reduce distress in parents with a first baby

"One fits all" parenting?

By Melissa

"What's wrong with Lily?" My husband said while I was trying to calm her down for over an hour. My response: "Go to her room, grab the parenting manual and let me know!"  There was a blank look on his face at that point, but at least I had a chuckle.  

There have been so many moments where I've thought: what the hell am I doing? Is this normal?  Is Lily too hot or too cold? Do her teeth hurt, is she hungry or is it a sore stomach? Honestly, never in my life did I think I'd care about poo as much as I do right now.

I haven't discovered the "one fits all" parenting guide as yet but how much easier would it be if it existed!  I was relentlessly searching for it while I was pregnant and even more so in those first few months once Lily was born because, in my mind, if I was well-read on all the theories, milestones and necessities, I would be able to raise the perfect baby, have the perfect life and nothing would really change.  I know, it sounds hilarious when I read that statement back too.

The more I read, though, the more confused I became!  Does Lily need more sleep or less?  Should she be in our room or not?  Is tummy time really working? How many feeds per day, should it be formula or breast milk?  So many questions. Honestly, I won't go into detail but there is a hell of a lot of contradicting information and the worst part, these are all experts!  And don't get me started on mummy forums, they confused me even more. So, with information overload giving me a great deal of anxiety I knew it was time to stop, put the books away and leave Google alone. Just stop and realise that at some point I needed to take control. So instead of continuing my research, I asked the experts, rang the help lines or went to the GP if I was really concerned.  

What really got me over the line though was the support that I didn't even know I had; it had been right in front me the entire time: a network of new mums going through exactly what I was. One mum taught me how to discreetly breastfeed in public as I was completely self-conscious. There was another who was so raw and honest about her struggles in  those first few months that it allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief that how I was feeling was, in fact, "normal". On those really bad days where I was completely exhausted and overwhelmed, it lifted my spirits knowing support was only a text away and I wouldn't be judged on anything I said or asked.

Everyone parents so differently, based on their core beliefs, or their upbringing and I don't think there is a right or wrong way to do it and there certainly isn't a #onefitsall parenting guide. I have to admit, I'm flying by the seat of my pants (which mostly don't fit at the moment) but the one thing I can always count on is my network of mums.  The ones that don't judge and tell it as it is. So to mums out there, who have had support and made it through, make sure you pay it forward, because soon enough the cycle begins all over again.

Expert response from What Were We Thinking! expert, Ann O'Doherty

Dear Melissa,

Thanks for your wry, funny, heartfelt and honest post that echoes what so many parents say about the early and not so early days with a new baby. There is an enormous amount of information out there, so readily available but often contradictory. It starts even in the hospital where different healthcare staff offer different views on how to manage feeding, sleeping and crying. There are countless books on sleep and settling, all offering a different approach. As a new parent you are looking for guidance and support and when the sources you turn to contradict each other, it becomes frustrating and very difficult to know what to do.

The internet gives us access to so much information, some of which is well researched and helpful and some which is not factual or evidenced based and may even be harmful.

Your approach of using help-lines and experts (presumably early childhood health professionals) is a sound one. These services can not only help you understand your child’s behaviour and offer strategies to deal with the issues you are facing but they can point you in the direction of support services and reputable information sites designed for families in Australia, like the ones below.

Raising Children Network

Child and Youth Health

Better Health Channel

Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne

PANDA

Beyond Blue

And the What Were We Thinking website that you have already discovered that has clearm evidenced-based information on infant sleep as well as relationship information for new parents.

Having a supportive network of other Mothers/Parents to meet with, share common experiences, discuss issues and problem solve is invaluable. I think as new parents we learn the most by talking with other parents who have been there too. Every parent who has experienced a screaming baby, poor sleep, feeding issues and anything to do with poo (too much, too little, too hard, too soft, too green!) and has figured out what seems to help are generally more than happy to share their knowledge because as you say help given will return in kind and every new parent has skills, experience and knowledge to share.

Local Shire Councils run New Parent Groups through their Maternal and Child Health Services. Families can get information by contacting their local Shire. Playgroup Australia supports community run playgroups and has a website where you can search playgroups by location and most Shires have a contact person to guide parents around choosing a playgroup to suit them including playgroups with facilitators for families looking for extra supports.

Posted in:  Baby 17-20 weeks  A new reality  Your needs  Every baby is different