“My mother in law insists that I put my baby down so that he learns to fall asleep on his own.  But I don’t want to, I like cuddling my baby to sleep.”

Mothers regularly talk about the (often conflicting) advice they receive from family, friends, online and from and strangers. It can feel like their feeding and parenting decisions are constantly under scrutiny. What is going on here? We are a social species, and we invest in our little ones. The advice-givers want to help, and they want validation for their own cherished ways of doing things. New mothers often seek advice, they are fearful that they are doing something wrong, and want to conform to society’s ideas and expectations. While this is all understandable, it can help for a new mum to focus on her own baby, and gain confidence in her ability to make choices that are right for her and her little one.

Seeking advice

If you are a constant advice seeker, you can probably stop it!

By whatsapp this week…
“To be honest, there is so much out there that I can get information overload. M is only sleeping in two hour stints, posseting a lot and is quite gassy. Some people are saying that she is not getting enough food, others say I should wind her every two minutes when I feed, someone said she is not full because the latch isn’t great, but then someone else said that she is only sleeping two hour stints because she is not getting enough awake time…”

Oh my word.  The poor mummy.  Her baby was putting on weight, weeing and pooing better than fine, just being a normal baby.  As a new mum she was utterly overwhelmed with conflicting advice from well-meaning but probably not fully informed friends, family and health professionals.  She had completely lost her sense of judgment and did not trust her instincts.

A couple of things.  Many midwives, health visitors and GPs have not had extensive training in baby feeding or sleeping.  I know, because they come to me for consultations when they have their own babies (and I am secretly sometimes a bit shocked).

Advice is rarely helpful.  Unless someone has sat with you for many hours or even days, they will not really have any clue how your baby is and how your breasts work over time.  They can only give you ideas, based on their own experience, or worse drawing on limited evidence and out of date research.  They really are well meaning, but they do not know your baby like you do. I am sure that I fall into the same trap.  You know your baby best.  Listen to the advice if you want to, and then try the information on for size.  Does it resonate with you?  Does it sound like something that might be worth a try?  If not, discard it.

It is so easy for a new parent to blow like the wind, trying one thing and then the next as you read or hear about an opposing view.  All you can really do is to try to listen to your instincts, watch how your baby responds, and find something that works for you and your little one.  If you are seeking information, make sure that it comes from a credible, evidence-based source. This is all part of the learning process, and as a parent it never really ends.

What about unsolicited advice?

“Put that baby down, you are making a rod for your own back, she needs to learn to sleep on her own”

“Why aren’t you spacing out the time between feeds”

“He can’t still be hungry!”

“Just give him a bottle of formula to help him sleep longer”

It might be that you are not asking for advice, but you are being given plenty of it!  How can you deal with it?

As we have already said, you are the expert on your own baby.  If you keep receiving advice, you might like to try any of the following suggestions from La Leche League’s book “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.”

  • Ask to hear their stories, without criticism from you. Many advice givers lose interest in your story as they are busy telling theirs
  • Find some way to agree, and then change the subject
  • Say “thanks, we are working on it,” which is not necessarily an untruth
  • Ask why they are telling you. “Are you concerned? Does she look happy and healthy to you?”
  • Defuse it in advance. “I know that David and I are feeding Liam differently from the way that you fed David. It means everything that you are so understanding.”
  • Agree to differ. “I realise that this doesn’t fit with your ideas, but it is working for us.”
  • Be honest. “We find this works for us.”

Do reach out to your friends and support network. Surrounding yourself with people who love you and do not judge can make all the difference.