How Our Expectations For Newborn Development Set Moms Up For Failure
When you have a baby, you will likely be asked a series of annoying AF questions. You know the kind I mean, right? Here are some of my favorites:
“Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?”
“Are you sure your baby is hungry again?”
“Don’t you think it’s time to put your baby down?”
And my all-time favorite: “Is he/she a good baby?”
The thing that would stress me out about questions like these is that they very much implied that my baby was deficient in some way, or that I was. At first, I believed it.
I mean, my baby wasn’t sleeping through the night at three months, or even six months (and didn’t, for years). My breastfed baby ate all the damn time, sometimes every 45 minutes. If I put my baby down, he screamed bloody murder.
And WTF did it mean to be a “good” baby? One who never fussed or cried? Well then, I probably had the worst baby on earth.
Like many new moms, I internalized certain myths and ideas about how babies were supposed to be, and when my babies didn’t adhere to these suppositions, I believed one of us had flunked the test. But after a few months of wrestling with it all, talking to other like-minded moms, and doing a little research of my own, I realized something really important.
There was nothing wrong with my baby, or with me. Nope. It was everyone else who was wrong. The way our society and culture looks at babies – and what they expect of them – is based on lies, and it sets moms and babies up for failure.
For example, let’s take the first question: “Is your baby sleeping through the night?” There is so much pressure out there to get your baby to sleep through the night, often at a very young age. Some of it comes from nosy relatives, strangers, or even your pediatrician. And a bunch of it comes from parents’ real need to get some damn sleep, especially as moms go back to work, or have almost zero support at home – and I get that.
The thing is that most of us are fed falsehoods about how our babies are supposed to sleep. I know that I was told to expect my baby to sleep through the night by 3-6 months or so – this was from my doctor as well as a million parenting books, articles, experts, etc.
It was total horseshit.
According to many peer reviewed articles (including this one, this one, and this one, if you are looking to delve into it), babies aren’t biologically ready to sleep all night – as in 6-12 hours in a row – for very many months. Take this 2018 study from the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), which found that on average, 57% of 6-months-olds weren’t sleeping 8 hours in a row. At a year, 43% still weren’t sleeping 8 hours in a row.
The same goes for baby feeding. We’re supposed to be able to feed our breastfed babies every 2-3 hours so that we can put them down in between and get shit done. Formula fed babies are supposed to be able to go every 3-4 hours, right?
But we all know that is not how it always works out. Babies have a schedule of their own, and most of us find that the best way to feed them is to stick to that, whatever hour it is or however much time has elapsed between feedings.
I’ll quote the AAP again on this, from an article in which they also outline similar feeding intervals as I’ve referenced above:
“The most important thing to remember, whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed, is that your baby’s feeding needs are unique,” writes the AAP. “No book―or website―can tell you precisely how much or how often he needs to be fed or exactly how you should handle him during feedings. You will discover these things for yourself as you and your baby get to know each other.”
Great advice, yet it goes contrary to the expectation that so many of us were taught, and what society expects of our babies as well. It’s all supposed to be some easy-peasy, predictable schedule that leaves us moms with all this time to be strong and successful women, and to balance it all, which is some serious bullshit.
And what happens when our babies don’t adhere to the unrealistic expectations that we are taught is “best?” We’re told to train our babies out of it.
So much of parenting advice and methodology when it comes to babies is all about training them to be something they are not. We try to train them to sleep all night before they are biologically ready to do so. We try to stretch out their feedings before their bodies are ready for that. We try to train them not to cry, to go to strangers easily, to adhere to our schedules rather than their own.
Yes, some of this training works fine, and doesn’t cause harm to our babies. Still, the work of “fixing” our babies usually falls on a mom’s shoulders. And very often, the “training” fails miserably, and moms are blamed for having an untamed baby who doesn’t follow the rules.
Babies are hard. They don’t always eat or nap or sleep on the schedule your friend or some stranger on the internet says they should. They don’t always take well to strangers. They don’t always stay quiet or behave when you want them to.
But your baby isn’t the problem. You don’t need to fix them. We need to fix society so you get the support you need to care for your baby.
We need to offer postpartum moms round-the-clock help. We need amazing postpartum mental health care. We need paid maternity and paternity leave that lasts much longer than three months. We need low-cost, competent, trusted childcare options for working and stay-at-home moms. We need universal daycare and universal preschool.
The thing is that other countries around the world have these sorts of things. And guess what? Moms are happier, more well-rested, and healthier. They don’t go in trying to change their babies. They have the support to meet their babies where they’re at. And they don’t feel like “bad moms” just because their babies act like … well, babies.
So if you are a new mom feeling the pressure to have a picture-perfect baby and a picture-perfect life as a mom — and you feel like you’re failing miserably — please know that you most certainly aren’t. Your baby is perfect the way they are, and you a perfect mother to them. Our society and culture needs to get its shit together to support you more fully.
Let’s hope it does so sooner rather than later.
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