Being a new mother is challenging enough without adding unnecessary pressure and worry to our plates.
That's why staying informed on what we should (and shouldn't) worry about is so important! We recently caught up with research scientist and journalist Emily Willingham, PhD, to talk about her book, The Informed Parent: A Science-Based Resource for Your Child's First Four Years.
Willingham offered her expert insights on some of the most common worries among new mothers—and why mamas can officially stop sweating them.
Here are 4 things mamas can quit worrying about, according to Dr. Willingham:
Crying is communication.
You and your baby have really just met, and you're not speaking quite the same language yet. Give yourselves time to learn what your signals mean and which responses work.
Some babies cry more than others and crying can signal hunger, pain, fatigue, frustration, an unscratchable itch or an uncomfortable diaper, among other things.
There may also be a period of PURPLE crying:
- Peaks between 2 weeks and 4 months of age
- Is Unexpected
- The baby Resists soothing
- The baby makes a Pain-like face
- The crying is Long-lasting, going on for hours
- It occurs most often in the Evening
It can be exhausting and alarming, but it's fairly common. If it happens to you, run through your checklist of things to address (like feeding and fatigue).
Don't get frantic and never, ever shake a baby.
Putting the baby down and just walking away for a break is okay. It's important to remember that as upsetting as the crying can be, it's not doing any lasting harm. We all did it.
2. 'Spoiling' your infant
The danger around spoiling an infant isn't that it's possible to do. It isn't.
The danger is that the idea of “spoiling" exists and can lead parents to misread the needs an infant is communicating and see them as demands rather than needs.
One survey suggested that 50% of adults think that a parent can spoil a 6-month-old infant and 44% of parents think that picking up a 3-month-old every time she cries runs a risk of spoiling her.
As we note in our book, at this age, your child is as un-manipulative as a human can be, and it's fine to respond to all her requests for food, love, safety and comfort. Just consider it “nurturing" instead of “spoiling."
3. Breast milk vs. formula
When it comes to feeding, nature has designed a good food source—if it's available. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends of exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of life. (More on that here.)
But for many, even most, American women, the reality is often quite different. And mama, you don't need to worry about it.
All kinds of obstacles (work, low supply, caring for other children) can come between a woman's wish to breastfeed and being able to do so, and some women simply don't want to do it. Luckily, humans have also developed a perfectly good food for infants called formula. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sets the standards for manufacturing commercial infant formula, which is carefully balanced to avoid overwhelming infant kidneys and liver (it's not a good idea to mix up your own for these reasons). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an iron-fortified formula for infants; for infants with special dietary needs, specialized formulas are available.
The end goal is a fed, growing and healthy baby, and either breastmilk or formula feeding will get your baby there.
The other frequent feeding-related concern is timing: How often should you feed the baby and how much? Formula feedings can be pretty standardized in volume, so the timing tends to be more predictable. But the space between breastfeeding sessions can vary widely from day to day, so expect anything from cluster feedings, grouped every half hour, to stretches of time up to four hours or more. An infant will often signal hunger by becoming restless before progressing to the crying stage. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waking a breastfed newborn every three to four hours if she isn't waking on her own.
Sometimes a relationship has a spark right away.
And sometimes it grows slowly over time as two people gradually learn one another's rhythms and ways of communication.
At the beginning, your developing relationship with baby may be sparky, slow or somewhere in between.
Give it time and don't carry around an extra burden of guilt if you didn't experience the sparky version of baby bonding. You have a completely new human being living in your home who has just entered a strange new world of light, color, strange shapes and loud sounds. There's no window that's going to close while you navigate this new relationship structure and learn more about one another.
It's a myth that if there's no bonding at first sight or soon after, it's an early sign of failure to thrive.
While you settle in with your new person and she settles in with you, engage in some face gazing with a little chat… just like we do when we're establishing a relationship with any human being.
For more myths and truths about modern parenting, check out The Informed Parent, which offers even more research-based information on topics mamas can't help but worry about, such as sleep training, pacifiers, postpartum depression and more.