Tuesday, February 25, 2014

For the parents-to-be....the best and the worst advice out there

In one month Charlotte will be a year old. I can hardly believe that this time last year I was finishing up flying, teaching as many classes as I possibly could and getting ready for my baby shower. No book, documentary, Internet library, friend or family could possibly prepare me for the adventure that lay ahead. I spent so much time preparing for my birth and labor that I didn't give a second thought as to what I would actually DO when the baby arrived. "It will be instinct," I thought. "Instinct will take over and I'll just do what comes naturally."

Friends, I have to stay, instinct is what took over AFTER I sought out advice. Some people will tell THEIR advice is for you not to listen to other's advice. To me, advice is like learning from someone's mistakes so I don't have to make them myself. This doesn't mean all advice you receive is good although most is well intentioned. So I've compiled a list from myself and other mom's to pass on to all the parents-to-be out there of what I call, "The Good, The Bad and the WTF?" In talking to other mom's I realized that I may have been the victim of more unsolicited advice than most. I attribute this to the fact that my job as a flight attendant and fitness instructor put me in contact with more people on a daily basis than some see in a year. I fly with a different flight attendant and pilots almost daily and so from the time I was visibly pregnant until now (The question, "So do you have kids?" is always a standard) I have received many an ear full of suggestions, comments, and words of wisdom. Here's some of the best advice my friends and I have received:

The Good:

1. "Don't wish away their lives"

2. "Enjoy because it goes by quick"

3. "Parenting begins when you become pregnant" - The first decisions you make from the time you see those two pink lines on a pregnancy test are your initiation to parenthood. From picking a care provider, choosing your birth plan, registering for baby gifts...all these are just the initial decisions you make that start you down the path to being a parent. When the baby arrives you'll make more decisions and change your mind 1,000 times but it's all a part of the journey.

4. "Breastmilk cures almost anything" - This from my doula who suggested I put a dab in Charlotte's eye when I called her wondering why does Charlotte have a goopy eye when she was a baby. When Charlotte caught a cold from daycare I frantically nursed her as much as I could and saw her improve drastically. That stuff is a miracle worker.

5. "Everything will pass" - the late night feedings, the crying for no reason, the teething, the gas, the vomiting, it's like a rain storm that hits you and then without warning it's over.

6. "Sometimes babies cry for no reason. Just let them cry it's ok." - this from a man at Walgreen's when Charlotte was having a meltdown just as I was printing 80 photos from the photo kiosk and couldn't escape the store. I realized her crying was louder to me than anyone else and it was OK. Sometimes your baby will be dry, fed, burped and they will still cry. Just try not to join in.

7. "Your love will grow." - This from a mom who was in agony over her second baby and wondering, "How can I love this baby more than my first?" The answer for her was that it's not about loving one child more than another or trying to balance your love it's about growing your love. Love is like a blanket that gets bigger with each member you add to your family and there is no limit to how big that blanket can grow. Your heart will always have room to grow to love more.

8. "You need date nights" - This is usually from friends who have family that live in town and can leave the house sans baby whenever they want. So seek out friends with children who are just as desperate as you to escape for the night or bite the bullet and pay a sitter. It doesn't have to be often but you really do need a night where you can sit at the bar, order food and eat it without rushing and talk uninterrupted.

9. "Never wake a sleeping baby" - Unless the house is on fire for the love of it all just let them rest! Many mom's are told to wake their baby up to feed them in order to establish a milk supply. I did this to Charlotte which resulted in an angry baby and a frustrated mom who couldn't get her baby to latch because baby was tired!

10. "It's ok to breastfeed AND use formula." -So many websites, books and fellow moms will make you believe it has to be one or the other. At six months Charlotte would nurse on both sides and still be upset. Chad would give her 4oz of formula and voila she'd drink it all and be satisfied. However you feed your baby there is nothing wrong with it! Is breast milk preferred? Of course, even the boxes of formula say on them, "Breastfeeding is best." However, never sacrifice your babies needs for your own pride.

Most of the bad advice I've personally received was when I was pregnant. Other women see your baby bump as an open invitation to tell you their birthing horror stories and toddler nightmares. The best advice to any pregnant woman seems to be, "Enjoy your sleep!" or "Sleep while you can!" which by the third trimester is pretty much impossible. Pregnancy is such a short period of time in the grand scheme of life and when the baby is inside your body takes care of everything. Pregnancy also prepares you for the influx of bad advice you'll receive from other well intentioned parties. To clarify, I consider "bad" advice to be anything that is unhelpful, unnecessary or demeaning.

1. "Take the drugs, don't be a hero" - Fun fact, I will never compete in the Olympics. I will probably never run a triathlons either. These are both events where medals are handed out at the end for all your hard work, dedication, preparation and mental focus. I get that there are no medals handed out for having a natural childbirth but that doesn't minimize the fact that a lot of women prepare for and want one. Also not helpful is telling women who express their desire to want a natural birth that, "Once in labor you'll change your mind."

2. "Giving birth is the hardest thing you'll ever do" - Labor and childbirth end but once the baby is here your life will never be the same. When someone tells you that giving birth is hard it sets you up for focusing only on what will be one day of your life. My labor was 8 hours and compared to an 8 hour day with Charlotte sometimes, that was a walk in the park.

3. "Sleep when the baby sleeps" - As one of my friends put it, "Sleeping when the baby sleeps is bullshit. Just get used to it, have a breakdown and move on." I don't know why so many people tell new parents to sleep when the baby sleeps as if you don't have a life outside of baby. I would say this instead, "Prioritize and learn to let stuff go." In the beginning you won't be able to take a shower, nap, clean your house, eat and catch up with friends all in one nap time so don't even try. Pick what you need to do most and go from there. Sometimes that may be a nap and that's OK!

4. "Breastfeeding makes you lose weight" - Let's get something straight here, breastfeeding burns approximately 500 calories a day. Have you taken a moment to look at the labels of the food you are eating? A salad with dressing has about 320 calories. Add in a piece of toast with butter or a few cookies or a latte to that salad and now you're back to square one aren't you? In the beginning your body will hold on to the baby weight so it can make enough milk for your new baby and as you breastfeed your body will continue to store extra calories. Many women don't even see a change in their bodies until AFTER they stop breast feeding a year or so later. Breastfeeding is wonderful but don't be disappointed if the weight doesn't melt off like you think it should. In fact, the opposite is likely to happen that you'll retain weight BECAUSE you are nursing.

5. "Don't read books or research, trust your gut" - If you were going into open heart surgery wouldn't you want to know everything about the procedure then make the best decision you could based on what you knew? I approach parenting the same way. I don't have all the answers and sometimes I can't trust my instinct because I don't have an instinct! When Charlotte was an infant I changed her diaper only to find out it looked like a salad. I was only feeding her breast milk so I didn't understand why her poop could possibly look like that. Instinct told me to keep feeding her and disregard but the situation wasn't getting better. Only after researching and talking to my doula did I figure out that a change in MY diet as well as making sure she fed longer when nursing would produce a healthy stool. I have a friend who could only feed her baby breast milk through exclusive pumping. She did the best she could, trusting her instincts when it came to pumping and bottle feeding but struggled a lot. She said it wasn't until further research that she found resources to help for exclusively pumping mothers. Know it's OK to read books and learn all you can because there are experts out there who can help!

6. "Don't drink caffeine!" - Telling a pregnant women or tired new mom they shouldn't have caffeine because it's bad for the baby is just asking to be slapped in the face. No one should overdose on caffeine, pregnant or not but 200-300 mg is considered acceptable and safe for pregnant women. Judging some ones choices by their baby bump (or assuming someone MUST be done nursing because after all why would you be drinking wine?) is asinine.

7. "You're holding the baby too much, you'll spoil her" - there's no such thing

8. "It gets better" - We've all been guilty of saying this and though it's the truth when you have a screaming baby who has just blown out her diaper and you are out of wipes and forgot a back up outfit and going on day 14 of no sleep...well hearing this just makes you want to kill someone

9. "You only need to breastfeed three weeks because babies get all the nutrition they need then and after that it's just extra" - Here's better advice: Breast feed as much as you can as long as you can.

10. "They grow up right before your eyes" - Children grow up behind your back not in front of your face. One minute they are playing with the water as you fill up the bathtub and the next they fall over the side and in head first to the tub. While I'm all for giving your children space to grow and learn, you realize quickly that it's the moment you stop paying attention that your baby does something (good or bad).

The WTF advice:

"Why wouldn't you just have a c-section so you don't wreck your vagina?" -from a woman who has never had a baby. NO. Just no.

Interestingly enough most of the advice I got from other moms was not to listen to anyone's advice. That each child is unique and what works for one won't work for another. Parenting is mostly baptism by fire and trial and error and you will take much advice, including what I've listed above with a grain of salt. To me, however, all the advice I've received has caused me to pause or think in some way. When someone tells me, "No THIS is how you should be holding your baby," when my daughter is crying, I just think to myself, "She's tired and needs to nap and THAT'S the cause...not how I'm holding her." The bad advice just reaffirms what I know and believe about my child and the good advice that aligns with my baby reinforces that every now and again I get it right. As someone once told me, you can't be a perfect mother every day but you can be a good one.

So what's the best and worst advice you've ever gotten?

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