And the internet can create a village for many: connecting and educating and empowering us, but it can also create harmful, unrealistic expectations of the fourth trimester, or the first three months postpartum.
What are the Facebook groups and the blogs getting wrong? As a postpartum doula (and mother of three,) I’ve supported many mothers and babies. Here are the top five lies about newborns we need to stop telling so that parents stop being so hard on themselves.
1. Babies will sleep through the night quickly.
Suggesting that a newborn can sleep ten to twelve hours is harmful. It doesn’t reflect how babies are developing. Every baby is different, but the majority of babies’ have teeny stomachs and aren’t able to sleep long stretches yet.
A baby sleeping “through the night” is actually 5 - 6 hours. When parents are told that a newborn should sleep 10-12 hours, it makes parents feel like failures. They (read: me) might even lie to others about their baby’s sleep to avoid judgment or advice.
Instead of perpetuating these unrealistic ideas of baby sleep, remember that your baby needs to feed around the clock in those early days, then they will slowly work their way toward longer stretches.
2. New parents need to host and entertain.
I remember when I had my first son and we had visitors. I was clearly tired and wanting time alone to figure out how to feed and care for this little human. I made food for myself and my husband, and our visitor asked me to make them a plate. I was so confused and thought, “Aren’t you supposed to come take care of me?”
New parents should not be hosting. They should be opening the door to grab food that was delivered; they should have helpers there to fold laundry, take out the trash, hold the baby while the parents eat and sleep and shower.
So, set boundaries with your helpers about how long they can stay and how to help while they’re there. And if people expect you to host, don’t ask them back.
3. New moms need to “bounce back.”
Having a baby leaves a wound the size of a dinner plate in a new mom’s stomach. So many cultures honor and respect the need for time to recover. (The United States unfortunately doesn’t.) Just like new moms are told they should host a sip-n-see, they’re told they should start working out and having sex after just six weeks.
The “snap back” and "bounce back" culture is harmful, but surrounding yourself with loving, supportive people who’ve had children can make a big difference.
4. There’s a right way to do… anything.
Because I’ve worked with so many families, I’m often asked, “What’s the best way to” feed baby, have baby nap, get baby to sleep better, and on and on. My advice is always the same: every baby, every family is different, so there isn’t a “best” way for everyone.
You might choose to nurse your baby for three years while someone else might choose to start using formula immediately. And that’s OK! You might choose to room-share while someone else has their baby sleep in their nursery from the first night. And that’s also OK!
There isn’t a right way to have a baby, only the way that’s right for you and your family. So, instead of comparing yourself to others, listen to your intuition and your baby.
5. Parents should enjoy every minute.
New parents are given sage advice like, “it all goes by so fast” or “you’re gonna miss this.”
Not only is that advice very unhelpful, it makes parents feel guilty if they don’t enjoy it. But why should anyone enjoy the midnight (or the 3 a.m., or the 5 a.m.) diaper changes or hour-long feeding sessions? Why should parents enjoy the days when their baby wants to be held nonstop, and they don’t even get a break to eat or shower?
Instead of “remember to love every second of this,” let new parents share their struggles, listen, empathize. And normalize sharing parts of parenthood that are tough!