You don’t have to be a parent for very long to realise how much conflicting advice there is about how to care for your baby. Everyone knows what is “right” and is more than happy to tell you all about it. Looking online is no help either – facebook groups abound with conflicting advice and it can leave new parents more confused than ever! Seeking professional advice is a great idea but few people realise how little education is given on breastfeeding, normal infant sleep and common (non-pathological) causes of unsettled babies in medical school, specialist training such as General Practice and Paediatrics, and even midwifery, let alone other allied health disciplines.
Breastfeeding and baby-care, like many aspects of women’s and children’s health, is given very very little in terms of research funding. What research is available is often poor quality. It is hard (actually impossible) to do randomised controlled trials on breastfeeding! When research is undertaken that changes our understanding, it takes about 17 years, yes YEARS, for that information to spread down to the health professionals at the coal-face. It takes an average of 17 years for policies, protocols and guidelines to change. This leaves a huge space for opinion sprouted as fact. Everyone, well most, are well-meaning and genuinely want to offer advice that can help. Unfortunately, this advice is often based in anecdota and baby-care is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
So, where does that leave new parents who want to do the “right” thing for their babies; to be the best parents they can be? Where do they turn when things are not going well; when their baby is crying excessively, won’t go down for that nap or doesn’t sleep “all night long”?
The first thing to realise is that there are no rules. Anyone saying that a baby must do xyz, or else something bad will happen, probably isn’t correct. If the advice doesn’t fit well with you, if it doesn’t sound like something that might help your family, just leave it at your doorstep. Trust in your ability to read your baby. Trust that all you need to do to be a good parent is try and fulfil your baby’s needs when they are telling you something is wrong. This is cued-care. If you think your baby is crying because they are hungry – feed them. It doesn’t matter if it has only been 30 mins, if your gut tells you that’s what they want, give it a go! What’s the worst that can happen? Baby will tell you you got it wrong, and you try something else. Is your baby crying and fussing when you’re trying to make them nap? Maybe they’re not tired and they are trying to tell you it’s not what they want right now. Try something else. Constant experimentation will teach you how to keep your baby dialled down. Following a list of ‘rules’, a ‘one-sized-fits-all’ approach, will probably not work for your baby, or at least, not all the time. They are all so different!
Dr Smith and I are lucky as we have taken the time to get across the current evidence-base for breastfeeding, infant sleep and causes of unsettled babies. It is often very different to what is currently understood by many. We are keen to work with any family that is struggling, and offer another option. Take the ideas that might work for your family and leave the rest. That’s ok! After all, you know your baby the best. We will work with your values and hope to make raising your baby as enjoyable as possible.
by Dr Briony Andrew