It’s official, baby books promoting a strict routine are bad for maternal mental health.
A study by Swansea University highlighted a link between the books and postnatal depression.
The study found that the more mothers read these books, the more likely they were to have symptoms of depression, experience low self-efficacy and not feel confident as a parent.
This news does not surprise me in the slightest.
I should have had a book bonfire a long, long time ago. I drove myself bonkers with various baby gurus promising me an easy solution to all my problems.
Let’s face it, the main issue these books promise to tackle is that old classic sleep.
You don’t realise how hard sleep deprivation with a new baby will hit you until it happens. It’s like you’re sleepwalking through your life.
Every evening I would sit in my milk-stained PJs, which I hadn’t changed out of in at least two days, and pour over the books. It was like a thirst, this desperate search for the answers, as I took in every piece of advice like it was water.
I decided tomorrow would be the day I launched the routine.
7am would be the start time. Once we had got over the teething problems of the first few days, we should finally get some decent naps, happy awake time and no more snacking every 30 minutes, just proper breastfeeds.
When it was 5am and I had been up every two hours since 10pm with a baby who was now wide awake, I realised that I couldn’t face the routine. It wasn’t even 7am yet and I had already failed.
When you’re in the thick of sleep deprivation you will listen to and read anything.
But then the words start to swirl around your head like a hurricane and instead of discovering the answers you’re more lost than ever.
You shouldn’t let your baby become overtired, because you’ll miss the sacred “nap window”, but don’t put them down too early or they won’t settle.
You should definitely exclusively breastfeed but an evening bottle will make your baby sleep through the night.
You must get out of the house and attend baby groups to give yourself a break. Naps must be taken every 90 minutes and should always be in the baby’s normal sleep environment.
A baby who doesn’t have enough decent naps will be overtired and won’t sleep well at night. A baby who naps for too long won’t be tired at bedtime.
Put your baby down drowsy but awake to teach them how to self-soothe. If your baby cries, pick them up and comfort them, then put them down again. Repeat until your back is aching and your baby’s voice is hoarse from crying.
You get dizzy from all the fragments of advice rushing before your eyes. Ten minutes after you try something new, you question whether it was the right thing to do because your baby is crying inconsolably.
The happiest day during my second baby’s sleepless early months was the day I said to myself: “F**k it.”
I accepted this just is how it is. I have a baby who is a cr*ppy sleeper.
I embraced what was happening. This is how life is now. There is no magic solution.
And I reminded myself whenever I could that it will not last forever.
It’s not that all babies hate a strict routine. Some slot into a schedule really well and thrive off of it.
But babies are unpredictable, like people of all ages. Some want to be held all of the time. That’s normal and no book is going to fix that.
So that’s why I write so many how tos on this blog. Not because I want to be the next Gina Ford, although the money would be nice.
It’s because I want to share my version of a baby book, which has the very firm and repetitive message that you, mum, are not doing anything wrong.
There is no magic solution. Sure, try different things out to see if they work for you. But do not believe that any “problems” you’re facing are because you’re doing this mothering thing wrong.
So I’m talking to you, yes you, the new mummy who’s desperately searching for the answers.
There is no formula for motherhood.
Your baby did not read the manual.
Your baby is an individual.
Baby books do read like they have all the answers. That’s because publishers know what sells to tired and desperate parents.
Please step away from the baby books.
Get some fresh air, complain about it to a friend, ask your other half to step in for an hour.
Do anything to help you get through it in the way you see fit.
Don’t let a book make you feel inadequate.
Parenting a new baby in the first year cannot be broken down into a neat little paperback with organised chapters and a cute picture of a giggling tot on the front. Life is more complicated than that. People are more complicated than that.
So mama, step away from the baby books. Have a book bonfire, it’s October after all.
Above all things, have confidence in yourself.