Preparing for parenthood

I’ve been thinking recently about what advice I’d give to a soon-to-be new parent, prompted by my sister’s impending birth later this summer. I read with interest the recent Attached Parenting International blog carnival on preparation for pregnancy, birth and parenting.

One of the key tenants of attachment parenting theory is the principle of education and making informed decisions around the principles of parenting. I don’t disagree with this but I do think that there are some risks with excessive preparation before your baby arrives. Too much prior preparation can leave you disappointed and demoralised when your real life doesn’t match up to the (sometimes impossible) ideal that is often presented.

I’m the kind of person who tends to apply themselves to a problem by reading and asking around – books, internet, classes, whatever. I did this in my approach to birth and attended my first birth preparation class at 16 weeks pregnant (everyone else was 28 weeks plus…) I was fortunate that my teacher at this class helped me to see that whilst knowledge is important, birth isn’t something you can solve, you can’t control it or treat it as an exam to be passed. You need to know the basics but then you need to get OUT of your head and go with the flow. You need to know what might happen but also to expect the unexpected. Thinking about and communicating your preferences is important but you can be ham strung by having too clear an idea of what should or will happen.

I believe that this approach is equally valid when considering life with your new baby. I think there are some basics which you do need to know and some areas where you need to consider your preferences. But anything that may tip you over into forming a very clear a picture of what should or will happen is unhelpful and can only lead to stress and frustration.

Approaches to baby feeding, sleeping, routines and schedules (or the lack of them) are intensely personal and highly subjective. What’s right for one family may be completely inappropriate for another. Having now read a fair few baby books I’m very pleased I didn’t read them before my baby arrived. Firstly because I would have had a thousand and one dos and don’ts, all felt to be vital by the various authors, going round my head at a time when I needed to focus on my new family. And secondly because they can present very seductive image of what your baby should be doing, leading to what I think of as ‘my baby should’ syndrome. It can be incredibly stressful if your baby doesn’t then do what the book assured you was going to happen and can make you feel very inadequate as a new parent. I found this reading some books even weeks after my baby was here but imagine it’d have been much worse if I’d had those expectations in my head from the start.

My advice is for new parents to stay away from any books dealing with any ‘your baby should’ issues for at least the first few weeks. Whilst there can be some really helpful things in these books, you need to be able to filter what you’re reading and pick out the useful bits whilst leaving behind anything that is unhelpful or a source of stress. And in my opinion it’s much easier to do this when your baby is here and you can use the filter of your growing experience with your child. You’ll know your baby and you’ll know your approach to parenthood. You’ll know what might be helpful and what to dismiss as presenting an unrealistic approach for your family.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t educate myself prior to the arrival of our new baby. My partner and I went to parenting classes run by the National Childbirth Trust. I felt these were really well structured and gave you things to think about without being prescriptive. They promote learning to follow your babies cues and aren’t judgemental about your choices. As part of this we had one class from a specialist breastfeeding counsellor and got to meet and chat to new mums about their experiences. I also read a couple of very practical baby care books that I picked up from a charity shop (this one and this one.) Both of these were very basic, focused on the nuts and bolts of babycare and didn’t contain many of those problematic ‘baby shoulds’.

Once our little J was here, that was when the real education started. I practically lived on google, looking up this and that question, depending on what our circumstances were at the time. It was through this that I discovered the very useful websites, Dr Sears, and kellymom. The web can be an incredibly useful tool to a new mum, so long as you are able to filter out the crap and find advice from sites you can trust. I also began to read some books, starting with a focus on breastfeeding and then later moving onto sleep and structuring your day.

Perhaps I’m fortunate that I was able to be confident enough to follow my own instincts. Or that we didn’t have any major issues in my son’s early weeks. There are risks that in resisting becoming ‘over-prepared’ you may be vulnerable to advice from others that may push you into certain practices against your instincts. There were certainly things I wish I’d known before my son was born that would’ve made life easier, for him and for me. But these are few and I believe we benefited much more from my lack of unrealistic expectations, particularly around sleeping and feeding approaches and routines. Because I hadn’t read that babies can sleep through the night at two weeks, or should feed every three hours, or should be able to fall asleep independently within weeks, I didn’t expect it. I therefore wasn’t disappointed when none of it happened and I didn’t put any stress on my baby or myself in trying to achieve this.

What do you think about preparation before the birth? Can you be over-prepared? Or is all knowledge useful?


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3 Responses to “Preparing for parenthood”

  1. baj4life Says:

    I think it’s good to be educated about certain things before the baby arrives, such as childbirth, breastfeeding, and newborn care. However, I believe in being flexible and willing to listen to your gut instincts as well. Babies seldom follow a rigid pattern of behavior so being mired in absolutes can be counter-productive.

    • jenmum Says:

      Thanks for your comment. Agree that there is a balance to be struck between having no info and having too much of the wrong kind. Gut instinct is very key and quite under-rated (though I guess it doesn’t sell many books!!)

  2. jenmum Says:

    Just read this post which seems pretty much to capture what happened to us too.

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