For many parents, the first few months of their baby’s life are a complete blur.
Well-meaning friends and family are often keen to provide help, support or just a bit of humour, but unfortunately for sleep deprived and exhausted parents, they can already feel frustrated and overwhelmed.
It doesn’t matter if you have good intentions or not – the wrong words can sting, leaving new parents feeling inadequate, and it may even harm your relationship with the person you’re trying to help.
If you’re not sure what to say, its best to bite your tongue to avoid slipping out one of these 10 no-nos.
#1: “You Can Say Goodbye To Sleep!”
Some parents just love sharing war stories about the horrors of parenting. But to a sleep deprived mother who may still be recovering from childbirth (and could be suffering from other things like the pain of mastitis or even surgery), statements about how she’s never going to sleep again could be enough to reduce her to tears – or even contribute to her slipping into the spiral of depression. New mothers need to hear words of hope and reassurance, not promises that it’s never going to get better. Because the truth is that it does get better.
#2: “You’re Doing It Wrong”
Most of us have enough sense to know not to directly tell a new mother that she’s doing it wrong. The words you choose, though, can leave a new mother or father with the impression that they can’t do anything right. Steer clear of giving parenting advice unless you’re asked for it, and never judge a new parent’s choices. Whether feeds with the breast or the bottle, co-sleeps or puts her baby in a crib, her parenting choices are her own to make. It’s the job of friends and family to support her in those choices. If you’re being told that you’re ‘doing it all wrong’. check out BellyBelly’s helpful article here.
#3: “My Baby Always Slept Through The Night!”
The baby who sleeps through the night from the day he’s born is something of a mythical unicorn in the world of parenting. Sure, there might be babies who are naturally good sleepers, but what does knowing this do for a new parent? It accomplishes absolutely nothing except making the mother or father feel worse about their own parenting skills. Don’t remind a new parent that some parents have it better, or they’ll end up feeling worse about their baby and their situation, when studies have shown that ‘sleeping through’ for a baby is an average of 5 hours. Frequent waking is a survival mechanism, so babies can re-fill those little tummies, and it protects against serious issues like SIDS. Remember: no two babies are the same.
#4: “You Should Enjoy It, This Is The Best Part!”
Some well-meaning parents try to reassure exhausted new parents by telling them how much they enjoyed their own children’s babyhood. When you tell a new parent that this is the best part, though, they can hear something different. They may hear you telling them that it only gets worse from here, and that is the last thing an overwhelmed new parent needs to hear.
#5: “Stop Worrying About The Little Things!”
Becoming a parent (especially for the first time) is a major life transition that can be fraught with worry and self-doubt. Telling a new parent to stop worrying is a bit like telling them to stop breathing. It’s simply not going to happen, and by diminishing a new parent’s worries as trivial or little, you’ll ensure that they won’t come to you when they need help.
#6: “Oh, You Look Tired…”
“You look tired” is the parenthood equivalent of, “You look fat.” No one wants to hear that they look bad, especially when they know that there is nothing they can do to get more sleep so that they ‘look better’. If you’re concerned that a new parent you care about is tired, offer to watch the baby for a few moments so he or she can get some shut-eye, take a shower, or even go to a spa for a well deserved massage.
#7: “Just Let Your Baby Cry It Out!”
Telling a new parent to let their baby cry it out (or co-sleep, or do anything else the they aren’t already doing) is the same as telling them that they’re doing it wrong. Moreover, it diminishes their parenting choices. Many parents oppose the cry it out method anyway, and others try it only to find out that it doesn’t work. Not only that, crying it out can be harmful to little babies developing brains. You can find out more about what stress from excessive crying does to babies brains in our article, The Con Of Controlled Crying. You can also read a statement on controlled crying/cry it out methods from the Australian Association of Infant Mental Health HERE.
#8: “Give Your Baby Formula/Solids, That’ll Make Them Sleep Through!”
Not only is this advice incorrect (some parents notice no difference, but some do) but it is also dangerous. Sids and Kids have updated their safe sleeping guidelines based on years of studies, which have repeatedly shown formula feeding to be a risk factor for SIDS. Breastfeeding babies more than halves the chances of SIDS. This has not been included to make parents feel guilty or bad; it is simply science which has been convincingly proven enough times for a significant baby safety organisation to change their guidelines. If a baby NEEDS formula, this is a different story altogether. However this is yet another reason why you should choose support and listening over giving advice which could prove harmful, not just emotionally but physically… and it may not even work. Read more from Sids and Kids here.
#9: “Just Sleep When The Baby Does, You’ll Be Right!”
Going by that logic, if a mother is home with her baby, she wont get time to eat, go to the toilet, shower do any housework (which isn’t important by any means, but many mothers feel a pull towards it so they can feel better about their living environment they are constantly in), or get anything else done for themselves or their family. Its a stressful tug of war, you desperately want sleep, but if you don’t use sleep time to take care of your needs or the family’s, people may not eat, or have any sanity from having a break from the baby. Yes, sleep is precious and important, but so are other things that need doing. Perhaps you could offer to help her with these things so she doesn’t have to worry about them.
#10: “Well, You Wanted Kids!”
Thats just like someone saying to you, ‘Well you wanted your job, so don’t even complain about your boss/that rude customer/that overtime you had to do for a week/the hour long commute which turned into two hours due to the car crash, and so on.
Would you have said this comment to your own mother when she was exhausted, taking the very best care of you? Don’t expect a call back any time soon. No-one wants to spend time with someone who doesn’t understand them, and thinks its their own fault that they wanted to have children of their own.
When you come across a new parent who’s struggling or looks like they’re not having a great time, the inclination to say something, anything can be overwhelming. No matter how many children you’ve had already or what training or learning you have done, don’t position yourself as an authority, judging their choices or telling them that they’re doing it wrong. Instead, listen to their needs, offer meaningful (i.e. practical) help, and remember, judgements help no-one.