Why the Worst Well-meant Advice Is Worth Every New Mom’s Time

PSA for Pregnant Ladies: Every piece of advice your friends and family give you before your first child is born will be kindly offered and given in your best interest. In short, they mean well. Remember that.

(The same may not be true for complete strangers. That random person in the checkout line at Farm & Fleet who tells you “You must be due any day, get some sleep and get ready!” when you’re only 29 weeks along clearly doesn’t know your life.)

As soon as you announce your pregnancy, everyone’s got something to offer. It’s as if, once the world knows about that little baby in your belly, a fire hose of happy, helpful insight is turned on and never turns off again. Everyone has a sure-fire way to help you survive your first sleepy, noisy, poopy weeks with a newborn.

Not all of it is what you want to hear. Some of it you just won’t like. Plenty of it you won’t want to try.

Worse, a few things you will try and your heart will break when they don’t work. You’ll resent that they don’t work. Your faith will shake and your doubts will blossom and you’ll wonder what you’re supposed to do next.

If there’s anything I’ve learned by becoming a mom and interacting with others, it’s that kids don’t come with manuals for one good reason: babies aren’t machines. Each is uniquely made, requires their own specific kind of care, and reserves the right to change his or her mind about what works and what doesn’t any day of the week. It isn’t always fun to figure out what works, but it’s how you bond. It’s how you learn to be a mom.

Naturally, with that work behind her, every mom wants to share her best tips with all her mommy friends. Her enthusiasm may come off as over-confidence, but that’s because that feeling she got when she found something that worked was confidence. Extreme confidence. Fight-with-an-angry-bear confidence. Because she did it. She made that baby feel good again. She made him as happy as he makes her in their best and brightest moments together.

Of course, you’ll decide how to raise your child. There is a moral and social compass by which you will learn to parent. But the little things that help keep you sane day-in and day-out are about small moments of peace. And you never know which ones are going to work.

So even when you’re 8 months pregnant and struggling to carry your own weight, let alone the weight of the big bucket you’re using to catch the flood of advice coming from every angle, don’t stop listening. Absorb what you can, because all of the mommies around you really do mean well. They want to share their experience with you so the newness of it all is a little less daunting for you.

Then, if you’re as new to babies as I was and aren’t sure where to begin once you have a newborn screaming in your arms, start by giving your loved ones’ advice a try—even if it sounds crazy. Even if you planned to follow the eat-play-sleep rule, try play-eat-sleep. Try a different swing or a lullaby or a white noise machine. Try the methods espoused by all the conflicting parenting books (and parents) in your life. It might be just what you and your little one need.

A personal example. For me, the biggest thing that didn’t work was one of the most common pieces of advice I heard: “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

Sounds like common sense, right? Limited, interrupted sleep at night + long naps for baby during the day = long naps for Mom, too.

But that didn’t work at all for us.

I’m a terrible daytime napper, and after about a week of being tethered to the couch by physical recovery and frequent nursing, I was going crazy. I needed to get something done around the house—even the littlest things. I needed to feel productive and like myself and not live every second fixating on a mental timer counting down to the next feeding.

As a result, no, I couldn’t sleep when the baby slept. And now, 11 weeks in, I still stay up with my husband for an hour or two after our daughter falls asleep, even if last night was rough and the day wasn’t much better. Because that time with another grownup—more importantly, the time to just be together and enjoy our marriage like we always have—is actually better than sleep. Who knew?

As for what worked? Here’s one: sshhhing a screaming baby. Someone told me that, when she’s crying and I need to calm her down for a feeding or just help soothe her, I should shhhhh right into my baby’s ear, as loudly as she’s crying. It sounded silly to me, but I tried it in a moment of typical new mom desperation/confusion, and what do you know? She stopped. Why such a little thing should help so much is beyond me, but there it is.

So here’s to the moments that click—those precious seconds when the baby stops crying or you wake up feeling actually rested in the morning because that tiny piece of advice came through. Keep trying every tip until you find those seconds. They’re worth all the “bad” advice you tried along the way.

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