A young mom’s post on social media this morning reminded me of the importance of reaching out to and encouraging new moms. This mother confessed to feeling overwhelmed and isolated.  Being the first in her friend group to have a baby left her feeling under-supported she seemed to lack a frame of reference (in real life) of what to expect from her baby developmentally as well as expectations for herself.

As I think back to my baby’s first years I remember adorable snuggles and kisses as well as the achievement of significant milestones: smiling, rolling over, sitting up, crawling, transitioning to solid food… Some memories might be fuzzy: the sleepless nights, the soggy messes and the frustration of a baby who refuses to be calmed. Fortunately, like giving birth, the troublesome and painful memories of the first year of parenthood have been suppressed as I forget how seemingly endless and isolating that first year felt at times.

Some new parents are susceptible of falling into the trap of believing in unhelpful and destructive statements that are easily perpetuated in our thoughts as we transition to parenthood. In an effort to combat these damaging beliefs, I would like to address some of the myths that may be prevalent among first time parents.

1.  Other parents instinctively know exactly what to do and how to do it.

While it is true that some new parents have had extensive experience around babies and feel comfortable holding and caring for a newborn, no one has experience loving, holding and caring for a baby that is theirs alone until they become parents. New parents usually deal with hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, discovering new things about themselves and their partners all while balancing their own needs and that of the fragile, newborn baby. It is not an easy or smooth process for anyone!

The actual holding and caring for a newborn can be learned at any time; it is not too late. You will become more and more competent as you practice.

2.  I should know what my baby needs and should know how to interpret her cries and soothe her.

Interpreting a baby’s cries in order to soothe him or her is a skill that may develop over time. By the time most parents begin to feel competent in this area, their children are actually talking and expressing themselves verbally. Through trial and error and the development of consistent routines, some of your baby’s needs will become quite apparent to you as your relationship develops.

3.  Other babies do not cry as much as mine.

All babies cry. All parents go through times when they think their babies will NEVER stop crying. All parents feel frustrated by their inability to soothe their baby at one point of another. Sometimes some babies cry more than others. Sometimes your baby does not cry, but sometimes he or she cries.

4.  My baby is rejecting me when she cries and I am unable to soothe her.

Your baby is adjusting to being outside the womb. Your baby is growing and developing and millions of synapses are firing off in that little brain at all times. However, your baby CANNOT manipulate you. Your baby feels no ill will towards you. Your baby is not trying to hurt your feelings or rejecting you. Your baby’s wails are not personally directed towards you.

5.  Other parents have consistent routines and are able to continue on with the lives and responsibilities they had pre-baby better than I am.

This is the time to dig down deep and pull out the lessons you learned in Middle School. Stop comparing yourself and your situation to others. We do not know the challenges and burdens others carry on the inside and at times we cannot see. Perhaps it looks as though others do not share your struggles, but perhaps the struggles that are obvious to you are not to them.

If you feel overwhelmed, find a friend or loved one to confide in. Be honest about the help you may need. You may be pleasantly surprised to find support and understanding where you might least expect it.

6.  I should be providing more cognitive and linguistic stimulation for my baby if she is to become successful in her life.

Recent advances in the study of neuroscience in young children provides evidence that offering care, affection and one-to-one social interaction and responsiveness is the single most important thing a parent can do to impact a child’s future brain development, behavior and learning.  For more information on brain development read the article posted here.

Spending time with your baby: making eye contact, talking, listening, singing and playing one on one as well as consistently responding to your baby is the single most important thing you can do to enhance your child’s brain development.

The following statements are true and should be repeated to and by new parents on a daily basis.

You are enough.

You are the one your baby needs.

You are capable.  

You are learning every day.

Identify the things that are important to you and focus on those. Allow yourself the luxury of time to nest, to figure things out and to get to know your baby.

Meanwhile, know that your baby can also be competently cared for by others. Give yourself a break from your baby from time to time without feeling guilty.

Ask for help.

Seek out caring support.

Forgive yourself!

And, do not fall for the myths!