So I am not a parenting expert. In fact, I wouldn’t even call myself that great of a parent. I am in the trenches with a 20 month old and a 4 ½ year old. They push my buttons more than I ever thought possible. I am always struggling to learn, to do it better and also not to lose my freaking mind. As a midwife, people ask me a lot of questions about parenting babies. I have some wisdom from my personal experience and others’ experiences to share, but I always hope when people leave my care they KNOW they are the experts on their own baby and that they trust their own instincts above anything else. My intent is not to be preachy. I am not perfect, I make lots of parenting mistakes, but I love my kids more than anything in the world and I try my hardest most days.
1. Parenting begins when you are pregnant.
I am not trying to make you feel guilty for that McDonald’s you ate in the first trimester, or the drinking you did before you found out you were pregnant. Don’t stress out about everything you do or don’t do while you gestate—pregnancy is stressful enough! It is important to note that what you do, your level of stress, what you eat and how you choose or don’t choose to connect to your baby inside of you affects your baby. Nutrition is a prime example of this. When you get past the difficulties of the first trimester, try really hard to eat as well as you can. It is the best gift you can give to yourself and your baby (this will be discussed more in future posts). Also if you have something really challenging going on, tune in to your baby a little every day and let them know that they will be ok, even though you are having a hard time right now. Your baby is bathed in your hormones, so if your hormones are predominantly stress hormones (catecholemines), it affects how your baby’s nervous system develops, in turn affecting how your baby will experience stress throughout life. There is a whole field of prenatal psychology and you can find more information about it here.
2. Trust yourself.
When you have a baby, or really a kid of any age, people feel free to give you lots of advice. Though it is almost always well intended, much of it is still crap (especially breastfeeding advice). When you are a new parent, or even an experienced parent in a new situation, there are times where you will feel overwhelmed. You might be sleep deprived and emotional, you might feel at your wits end and easily influenced. Remember that you don’t have to take any advice that doesn’t “feel” right. You don’t have to listen to your mother when she tells you that you really shouldn’t pick up a crying baby (BTW, you are hard wired as a parent to need to pick up your crying baby). You don’t have to listen to your Aunt Rose who tells you that breastfeeding shouldn’t be so hard and that you should quit being a martyr and just give your baby formula. This applies to midwives and doctors and any other professional as well: if the advice doesn’t seem to work for your family, then don’t do it. You are this baby’s parent and you will find what works for you and your child. If you feel at your wits end, talk to parents you trust and see what worked for them, but don’t feel obligated to do what they did and find the solution that works best for you.
3. Keep your cup full.
So this is one I have a really hard time with. It is something I am working towards as a mom and as a midwife. You will be a better parent and have much more patience for the craziness of parenting if you are taken care of. You need breaks from your kid. You need to eat when you are hungry. You need sleep. You need adult interaction. You may need physical intimacy. Taking the time for those things and finding creative solutions so that you can have them does not make you a neglectful parent. Having your needs met supports the needs of your children. It helps you meet the constant flow of demands with creativity and resiliency. It helps your kids to have a parent who is rested and nourished, and thus not resentful and cranky. It also helps your kids to see how self-care is done, which is an important life skill!
4. Babies have needs and crying is how they ask to have them met.
Crying is the only tool that babies have to ask for things and their cries are designed to get you to respond. This ability to get you to meet their needs is how babies survive. As I said above, you are hard wired as a parent to respond to your baby when they cry. Don’t ignore this hard wiring because someone told you that your baby was manipulating you. They have studied the biological reaction that mothers have when they hear their baby’s (or really any baby) cry. Their milk starts to let down, they start to sweat if it goes on too long and they are made to be really uncomfortable. This is biology at work, people. Nature wants your baby to make it and responding to your baby’s cries is the best way to get that done. There are numerous other benefits to responding to your baby: your baby learns that the world is a safe place, you learn what your baby’s different cries mean and learn to respond appropriately (this takes a few weeks or maybe months), your milk supply gets well-established, you get the oxytocin rush from snuggling your precious baby, and you get to marvel at your power as a parent to soothe your baby.
5. Mommy guilt is a worthless emotion.
I learned this from my friend Maureen Campion and I have tried to take it to heart. When you screw up as a parent (and you will, I can promise you that), don’t dwell on it. Apologize to your kid/s and move on. It is ok and even important for your kids to see you make mistakes, lose your temper and then go back and make it right. Maureen also says that if the majority of your interactions with your children are positive (she says 80%) you will be able to preserve your relationship with your child. You will probably screw up again and again. Mommy guilt isn’t going to make it any better. Instead, teach your kids that we all screw up, how to learn from mistakes, and how to make amends by modeling it for them in your parenting.