As a new mother, I am often faced with the dilemma that I may not be doing things “right” in order to raise my baby in a healthy and proper way — the RIGHT way. Before my daughter was born, I’d spend hours online and at bookstores reading books and articles on the “Do’s and Dont’s” of taking care of a newborn/baby.
I’d read articles where it was encouraged that all mothers breastfeed their babies, no matter what, because it was the best, cheapest and most healthiest option.
I read articles where it was encouraged that I started feeding my baby solids as soon as she turned six months. (I mention this because this isn’t the norm where I come from. We Pashtuns, especially those that live in villages and perhaps even urban areas, start their babies on solids as young as four months old.)
I read articles where it was encouraged that I start letting my baby sleep — alone — in her own room by six months or so, so that she could learn to “become independent.”
I also read articles which encouraged parents to let their babies “cry it out,” so that she may learn to self-soothe and sleep on her own, otherwise, life will become very “difficult” because the baby will be too dependent on the parent.
Yes, I spent countless hours, days, weeks, months even, reading these articles, trying to absorb it all and make some sense of it, and while, back then, before my baby was born, it all made sense and I agreed with it, now, a little over a year later, I can’t help but disagree with most of what is ‘encouraged’ in these articles/books.
You see, taking care of a baby is no picnic. I probably mentioned this in my earlier blog posts as well. But taking care of a baby, especially during the critical first three months of life, is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, jobs in the world. You spend about 95% of your time with your baby: feeding her, rocking her, singing to her, bathing her, cleaning her vomit/drool, changing her stinky diapers, etc. You do this, non-stop, until your child learns to become somewhat independent. And that’s usually not until your child is at least three or four years old. So, basically, for about the first three years of your child’s life, she pretty much relies on you; depends on you. You become her world and she yours. She relies on you to be there when she gets hungry, agitated or scared. Hence, I really see no point in trying so hard to train a baby to learn to become independent so soon, when she has plenty of time later, when she is old enough to understand. I know many new moms, myself included, have this fear that if we don’t train our babies now, then they might never learn. However, that’s where we go wrong and perhaps even misled. Babies are constantly growing, learning, evolving; if they don’t learn something at the one year mark, chances are that they will learn it at the one and a half or two year mark. Besides, babies need to be just that: a baby. They need us — mommies — because they know we will always be there to protect him, nurture them, and keep them safe (from harm’s way).
I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve read articles and blogs with the tagline: “Let your baby cry it out; it will teach them to learn to self-sooth and become independent!” Of course, the tag-lines weren’t exactly that, but similar and along the same lines. I even had my paediatrician tell me a few times that I should start letting my baby sleep, alone, in a separate room. Why? Because, she, too, did the same thing with her baby boy, who by the way is two months younger than my daughter. And, now, each night, he falls asleep (albeit crying non-stop) on his own. Eventually. As much as I love my paediatrician, I just couldn’t bring myself to agree with her. And, though, we have in fact shifted my baby’s crib to another room, she mostly sleeps with me for the most part. And I don’t mind that. At all. I love it, actually. I love having to have my baby fall asleep, cuddled, in my arms. Because it is moments like these that you know you will never get a chance to experience, once your baby is all grown up. It is moments like these that you get to savour and cherish, because it only lasts a little while. So, why throw all of that away by separating and distancing your baby from you? Not me. My baby’s independence will come, whenever that will be. But, I’ll never experience these rare moments again. That’s for sure.
I must also say that I do not, at all, support the idea of letting a baby cry herself to sleep. And while I don’t like to judge those that actually use this mechanism on their babies, just because they happen to believe that that is the “best method” to train a baby to learn how to sleep on her/his own and also learn to self-soothe, I personally would never, ever, do that to my daughter. I don’t even allow her to cry! It breaks me each time I see tears in her eyes. So, even trying to remotely imagine her crying herself to sleep literally makes me hyperventilate and become short of breath. Besides, this is a baby we are talking about here! Babies are meant to be protected and to be as close to their parents — mommies — as possible. Letting a child sleep on her own so soon and so suddenly is just indicating to the child that she is not needed anymore — the child feels unprotected and neglected. And, to me, that’s not exactly the best way to parent any child.
Similarly, the same deal goes with breastfeeding and starting a baby on solids. While I absolutely love breastfeeding, and completely agree that it is indeed the best choice for babies over formula, fellow mommies shouldn’t have to beat their heads over it. Especially, if these mommies decide that they don’t, in fact, want to breastfeed and would rather use an alternative option. We also shouldn’t look down or judge these mothers, because it is her body, her baby and her choice. So, new mothers, if you want to use formula, please go right ahead! Do what YOU think is right and appropriate for your baby, and not what society tells you. Do it and feel good about it. Never let anyone tell you that what you are doing is wrong, as long as you ensure that whatever you are giving your child is safe and nutritious.
As for solids, the reason I wanted to bring this up is because doctors often recommend that new (and experienced mothers) breastfeed or give their babies formula for at least the first six months of life. However, in many places around the world, including where I come from (Pakistan), some women start their babies on solids as young as four months old. And, the babies have turned out perfectly fine, normal and very healthy!
There really shouldn’t be so many set of rules telling you what is right and wrong when it comes to your baby. As long as you ensure that your baby is healthy, feeding well, and feeding on foods that are in fact very nutritious and healthy (solids should include mashed bananas, sweet potatoes, apples, etc.), then there really isn’t any reason for new mothers to feel bad or guilty about something that they feel they are not doing “right.”
I am not an expert on giving baby advice, and this post shouldn’t be taken as such, but the reason I wanted to write this is because I went through and experienced a lot of these fears as a new mom. And I am not going to lie, I still experience them. However, we also need to realize that our babies are our own. Not society’s, not the doctors who advise you, and certainly not the authors of all those books and articles you read. You, as a mother, know exactly what you should do for your baby. Instinctively. Intuitively. And that, my dear friends, is RIGHT.