There are many ways to raise a child. Here’s some insight and practical advice from those who have been there.
Do I need to read the books?
Raising children is probably the most important job – and the biggest responsibility – we will ever have. So it’s no surprise that welcoming a new baby can be daunting as well as exciting. Should we read all the books of parenting tips, buy enough kit to fill several nurseries, sign up for every class going? Will it make us better parents?
The answer is no, it probably won’t. The reassuring truth is that newborn babies have simple needs. Take care of the basics and the rest you can probably learn on the job.
The same goes for equipment. Once you have the crib (or Moses basket for the early months if you prefer something portable), a buggy and/or a sling and a car seat, it might be best to wait and see what you will use before spending more.
No one – not even an expert – knows everything. And all babies are different, as parents of more than one can confirm. So, to start with, focus on getting to know each other. Milk – you might be amazed by how much of it a baby can put away – sleep and cuddles are all your baby needs at the start.
It’s absolutely fine to sign up to all the classes (and they can be a nice way to meet fellow parents) or follow to the letter the rules enshrined in the manual, but it is also absolutely fine not to.
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Learn to trust your instincts
“A lot of first-time parents are very lacking in confidence. They feel they should be doing everything,” says Amy Ransom, author of The New Mum’s Notebook and mother of three. “With my oldest I put on educational videos at six weeks old, followed a rigid routine. I worried she wasn’t stimulated, that I wasn’t doing enough or that everything would fall apart if she napped at the wrong time.”
Third time around, says Amy, she learnt to trust her instincts and relax. “I enjoyed not doing much and cuddling up. That is actually so important for bonding. Plenty of mums tell me they wish they had slowed down.”
Establishing a good feeding system – be it breast, bottle or both – takes practice, so it is important not to rush, allowing time to wind the baby properly afterwards, too.
Sarah, mother of a three year-old and an eight month-old baby, found by contrast that trying to trust her instincts was too bewildering. “I am terrible at decisions and question myself a lot so I found reading parenting books – which I borrowed from the library and then bought if I liked them – very helpful. It made me feel a bit more in control,” she says. “I wrote myself a rough timetable for the day with both babies. Then I had a plan – even if it didn’t always quite materialise – which helped us develop a sleep routine, get some fresh air each day and get started with weaning when the time came.” Sarah’s most trusted reference book was What to Expect: the First Year by Heidi Murkoff.
The importance of sleep
Sleep, of course, rapidly becomes the Holy Grail for new parents. Newborn babies do a lot of it – up to 18 hours a day at first – but their parents don’t.
Make the most of any chance to rest (napping when your baby does if possible). Go to bed early if you will be up for the night feeds, leaving your partner to give a late evening feed while you sleep.
By around three months, you might find a bedtime routine – bath, story, cuddle, for instance – helps encourage good night-time habits. Make sure your baby has a safe place to sleep (in your room is recommended for the first six months), that it is not too hot or cold (around 18°C is the ideal room temperature) and that you always place him or her on their back to sleep.
As the months pass your baby will sleep more. And so will you! And remember that should your baby fall into a pattern of poor sleep, it needn’t last. “I remind parents you can break a bad habit in three days,” says Amy Ransom. “If one day is hard, it doesn’t mean they all will be.”
Some days seem tough, but they will pass. Babies cry. Hunger, tiredness, a dirty nappy, wind, being too hot or cold are some of the reasons, but sometimes you might not know why. It doesn’t mean you aren’t doing it right.
“You need to value yourself and not take it all too seriously, as well as give plenty of love,” says Amy. “That is what makes a good parent.”