Your Baby Didn’t Read the Book

If you’ve ever been to one of my Lamaze classes, then you know I cover a whole lot more than just birth in the last class. The reason I do so is because, while birth is an important part of your story as a mother and father, it’s not the end of the story. We spend a lot of time preparing for birth and breastfeeding, and not a lot of time preparing for the rest. Let’s be honest here, when my husband and I brought our first home, we stared at him sitting in his car seat and asked, “now what?”

Valid question, but the answer isn’t so simple, because every baby is different and every parent is different. My students often ask me, “What is the best sleep training method? What is the best way to breastfeed and work? What is the best discipline book?”

I can’t answer those questions, because even if I suggest a book, your baby won’t read it.

We do know that some things are better than others from the research:

  • When it comes to sleep training, the research shows that parents who get sleep are better parents than those who are sleep deprived. It also shows that graduated cry-it-out methods are as safe as other methods (though straight cry-it-out at a young age is still associated with temporary spikes in cortisol).
  • Breastfeeding shows some advantages over formula feeding, a difference that is more pronounced for preemies. Of course, if the choice is between formula or not getting fed at all (or getting fed any other species/type of milk), then formula comes out the clear winner.
  • Research shows that spanking is one of the least effective forms of discipline, but that not all children respond to gentle discipline or positive parenting principles.

But if you are debating between the Five S’s and the No-Cry Sleep Solution, I can’t tell you what to choose–it will largely depend on your lifestyle and the temperament of your baby. My eldest child responded to ZERO sleep training methods, even Cry-It Out. Trust me, we bought all the books and tried all the methods; he didn’t read the books, and insisted on being put to sleep in the Ergo for every nap and nighttime sleep. Our second child slept so well we didn’t have to sleep train him at all.

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Two kids. Two very different personalities. Two very different parenting methods.

So what do you do when you have to make a decision about how to parent your child? Here are my tips (and don’t worry–your baby won’t read these either):

  1. Trust your gut. There is something to be said for parenting instincts. Ours told us not to put our oldest child down, and he turned out to have some pretty serious special needs that were mitigated by our early attachment parenting. Our gut told us to let our second figure it out on his own, and he was happier with the extra independence.
  2. Take care of yourself first. You can’t be a good parent if you are tired, depressed, or hungry. If breastfeeding is killing you, or sleep training is killing you, or YOU need a time out, take care of yourself.
  3. Do what works for you. There is no one right way to parent. Attachment Parent, Bring up Bebe, Tiger Mom, Soccer Mom–whatever works for you and your family. Just ditch the stuff that doesn’t work and don’t look back, and don’t let other people make you feel guilty for choosing the path that is right for your family.
  4. Don’t preach to or judge other parents. When you find what works for you, celebrate. But remember that your way isn’t the only way, and reserve judgment on other parents for doing it differently from you. I remember how it felt to be shamed for breastfeeding, and how it felt to be told we were doing sleep wrong for our first, and even how it feels when I get the side-eye for being strict with my extremely strong-willed toddler now. I don’t want to make another person feel that way, so I try to avoid it.

Because the truth is that all parents are flying by the seat of their pants, doing the best they can with the information they have applied to the individual traits of their children. Cut yourself some slack and take it one day at a time. You’ve got this!

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