According to the experts.
First time parents are magnets for unsolicited advice, much of it as bad as it is unwanted. (No, I will not be dipping his pacifier in corn syrup, thank you very much.) Although well-meaning, a lot of the folks dispensing advice to new and expectant parents aren’t exactly qualified. To help balance the confusion many new moms and dads feel, we assembled a panel of experts who are qualified to speak on different aspects of parenthood.
Here are their biggest pieces of advice for first-timers:
Atkins likes to keep her advice for new parents as simple as possible: Relax when you can, rest when you can and don’t try to do too much. She suggests new moms trust their intuition and disregard any unwanted tips dispensed by well-meaning relatives.
She says guilt should not be part of a new parent’s baby experience—and she doesn’t want new moms to feel like they’ve got to rush around cleaning the house when the baby finally takes a nap. She’d like to see moms devote those precious moments to relaxing rather than dusting. So go ahead and delegate the chores if possible.
“The key is to find me time,” she tells Motherly. “If you’ve got a sec, put your feet up. You’ve just had a baby!”
Dr. Shimi Kang, child and adult psychiatrist and author of The Dolphin Way: A Parent's Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy and Motivated Kids-Without Turning into a Tiger:
This Harvard-trained doctor says first-time parents should surround their new family with people who are not perfectionistic or competitive. Instead, the best people to invite into your home will provide emotional support, practical guidance and positive role modeling during those early days. A social group with people from different ages and backgrounds is ideal, as it brings different perspectives to your parenting circle.
“Build a positive community of support,” says Kang, who notes that doing so takes intention and effort, but it will be worth the work. “Surround yourself with honest, genuine people.”
The community you build will not only support you in those confusing early days—you gotta text those poop questions to someone!—but also prevent the feelings of isolation many new parents report.
Nina Howe, professor of early childhood education at Concordia University:
“Relax, listen, watch and interact,” Howe, an early childhood education researcher, tells Motherly. “You want to get to know your child and you do that by listening to them, learning their different cries, what they mean and how to interpret them.”
Howe suggests parents watch how their child responds to the different ways the parents are trying to provide comfort to figure out which one works best. Just don’t overlook opportunities for meaningful connection in the process.
“Interact. Talk to them. This child is a person and will respond, particularly to the mother’s voice,” she says. “Because let’s not forget the baby’s been inside the mother’s tummy for many, many months.”
It may feel silly talking to a child who can’t understand what you’re saying, but rest assured, love is a language even the youngest babies pick up on.
Gail Bell, co-founder of Parenting Power:
Bell’s advice echoes the other experts who want parents to, above all, relax. She says new parents need to treat themselves with compassion when they come up against challenges.
“Remember that this isn’t something they’ve done before, so they have to realistic and allow themselves to learn,” Bell tells Motherly, adding that there is no one right way to parent.
Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of The Book of No. 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It—and Stop People-Pleasing Forever:
Some of the experts on this list advise new parents to accept help from their support networks, but Newman reminds us that not all help is good help. If well-meaning family or friends are “helping out” by doing unnecessary things or creating more work for you, Newman’s advice is to speak up.
“You need to steer them into helpful directions,” she says. “You will feel more in control if you find the right way to speak up, say ‘No, thank you’ and ask for what you need: a load of laundry, a meal [or] no visits just yet.”
Rather than bending to what others offer, she says to think about what kind of help would actually be beneficial to you. You can even do this before the baby comes by setting expectations with your little one’s grandparents around which kinds of help are welcome.
The thing about first-time parenting is it’s the first time. So take some advice from our experts and relax, mama. Trust yourself, enjoy bonding with your baby, surround yourself with trusted people and give yourself permission to prioritize napping over the dishes in the sink. After all, as Sue Atkins says, you’ve just had a baby!