Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Letter to Kate Middleton (and other new mothers)

I hope you're snuggled up with your new baby, getting lots of rest and recovering from your hard work bringing a new person into this world. I'm sure the deluge of advice has already started, but I just wanted to give you some of my thoughts; things I wish I'd heard with my first baby, that I've learned after having 4 children.

Everyone is going to tell you how quickly it goes by. You'll probably smile and nod politely, but until it's over, it's really hard to grasp. This isn't just something people say, it's a cliche because it is devastatingly true and people who say it really want you to understand that it will be over before you know it. It feels like forever, especially in the hardest parts, but then you have a child who is nearly a teenager and you wonder where your baby went. Assuming everything goes normally, in just a few short months, your helpless newborn will be trying to sit up. In just 1 short year, you'll have a tiny person who is either walking or trying to walk. In 2 years, they'll be talking.

Since it does go so fast, don't get sucked in by baby trainers. When your little baby is an independent toddler who would rather play than cuddle, would you rather be happy you snuggled them as much as you wanted when they were tiny or sad you left them to cry on the advice of complete strangers, many of whom have never had their own children? They are tiny and needy for such a short time, they have a whole life time to be independent. Don't buy into the lies of tiny manipulators who need to self-soothe. Babies don't have the mental capacity for such things. All they know, all they need, is loving arms, full tummies & clean, dry bums. That's it, everything else is just so much fluff.

Co-sleep with your baby in your room, if not your bed, for at least 6 months. It not only makes it easily to hear them and deal with their needs, it also reduces the risk of SIDS. If you bed share, follow safe sleeping guidelines. If you don't bed share, make sure your baby will be safe if you fall asleep while feeding.

Respond to your babies cries promptly and feed them on cue. If your baby is crying, they need something, even if it's "only" some loving touch and reassurance. Parenting doesn't stop when the lights go out, in fact night time is when babies are most in need of knowing they are safe and cared for. There is no set time when babies don't need to eat at night anymore, despite what you will hear from well meaning friends, relatives and sometimes even medical people. Do you sometimes wake up in the night, thirsty, hungry, lonely or scared? Babies do too, far more frequently.

It is NORMAL for babies and toddlers to still be waking up at night at least occasionally at 1, 2 or even 3 years of age. It is UNREALISTIC to expect babies to sleep through the night at 2 months or even 6 or 8 months. Some rare babies will, but to expect it is to be frustrated and disappointed if your perfectly normal baby doesn't. To try to force them to, as the baby trainers promote, is to risk damaging the bond you are trying to build. The most essential skill for babies to learn in the first year is trust and they learn it by having their needs responded to by their caregivers.

Keep your babies close, snuggle them, use a baby carrier if you need to do other things, feed them on cue around the clock, rock them and nurse them to sleep if they want you to and respond to their cries so you can watch as they develop independence on their own terms, when they are ready. You won't regret the small amount of time you put in now because it really does go by so fast.