Dear new mom,
I hope you are ensconced in adorable snuggles and kisses as you gaze into the eyes of your newborn baby. I see your gorgeous pictures on social media: the cute little feet, the tiny fingers, the peaceful slumber of an angel... I remember the soft feel of my own baby’s skin and that new baby smell!
And then, when I dig deep into my memory bank, I also remember the distant fog of sleepless nights. I can still smell the soggy, smelly stench of spit up and other bodily fluids best left unmentioned. Buried deeper, yet not altogether erased, are the memories of the crushing frustration of a baby who refuses to be calmed.
This may come as a surprise to you, but rest assured that all moms have experienced feeling overwhelmed and isolated, although we may be spectacularly deficient in communicating and preparing other new moms to walk the same path.
Somehow we devote much time, energy and attention to pregnancy and birth while neglecting to provide a similar level of preparation and support for moms after the baby is born. Please know you are not alone even you may feel under-supported as you seek a realistic frame of reference of what to expect from your baby developmentally as well as expectations for yourself.
Unfortunately, many new parents are susceptible of falling into the trap of believing in unhelpful and destructive notions regarding their new babies and their ability to care for them.
In an effort to combat these damaging beliefs and to offer some encouragement, I would like to address some of the myths that may be prevalent among first time parents.
1. Other parents instinctively know exactly what to do and how to do it.
While it is true that some new parents have had extensive experience around babies and feel comfortable holding and caring for a newborn, no one has experience loving, holding and caring for a baby that is theirs alone until they become parents.
New parents usually deal with hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, discovering new things about themselves and their partners all while balancing their own needs and that of the fragile, newborn baby. It is not an easy or smooth process for anyone!
The actual holding and caring for a newborn can be learned at any time; it is not too late. You will become more and more competent as you practice.
2. I should know what my baby needs and should know how to interpret her cries and soothe her.
Interpreting a baby’s cries in order to soothe him or her is a skill that may develop over time. By the time most parents begin to feel competent in this area, their children are actually talking and expressing themselves verbally. Through trial and error and the development of consistent routines, some of your baby’s needs will become quite apparent to you as your relationship develops.
3. Other babies do not cry as much as mine.
All babies cry. All parents go through times when they think their babies will NEVER stop crying. All parents feel frustrated by their inability to soothe their baby at one point of another. Sometimes some babies cry more than others. Sometimes your baby does not cry, but sometimes he or she cries.
4. My baby is rejecting me when she cries.
Your baby is adjusting to being outside the womb. As your baby grows and develops, millions of synapses continually fire off in that little brain. However, your baby CANNOT manipulate you. Your baby feels no ill will towards you. Your baby is not trying to hurt your feelings or rejecting you. Your baby’s wails are not personally directed toward you.
5. Other parents have consistent routines and are able to continue on with the lives and responsibilities they had pre-baby better than I am.
This is the time to dig down deep and pull out the lessons you learned in Middle School. Stop comparing yourself and your situation to others. We do not know the challenges and burdens others carry on the inside that we cannot see. Perhaps it looks as though others do not share your struggles, but maybe the struggles that are obvious to you are not to them.
If you feel overwhelmed, find a friend or loved one to confide in. Be honest about the help you may need. You may be pleasantly surprised to find support and understanding where you might least expect it.
6. I should be providing more cognitive and linguistic stimulation for my baby if she is to become successful in her life.
Recent advances in the study of neuroscience in young children provides evidence that offering care, affection and one-to-one social interaction and responsiveness is the single most important thing a parent can do to impact a child’s future brain development, behavior and learning. For more information on brain development read the article posted here.
Spending time with your baby: making eye contact, talking, listening, singing and playing one on one as well as consistently responding to your baby is the single most important thing you can do to enhance your child’s brain development.
The following statements are true and should be repeated to and by new parents on a daily basis.
I am enough.
I am the parent my baby needs.
I am capable.
I am learning every day.
I can (and should) ask for help when I need it.
Identify the things that are important to you and focus on those. Allow yourself the luxury of time to nest, to figure things out and to get to know your baby.
Meanwhile, know that your baby can also be competently cared for by others. Give yourself a break from your baby from time to time without feeling guilty.
Ask for help.
Seek out caring support.
And, do not fall for the myths!
This article was originally posted on the Nurturance blog.