If you are a parent-to-be, you will receive parenting advice at some point. This could start even before the baby is born, in the form of ‘must read’ baby books that people will hand over, and advise you to read, because they will ‘save your sanity’.
Do Baby Books Cause Post-Natal Depression? Study Says Yes
Books about sleep and feeding schedules are very popular. They can also be incredibly frustrating.
Most parents will read one, hoping it has the answers, find it doesn’t work, then move on to the next ‘must read’.
Unfortunately, many new mamas who read some of these books don’t realise the impact they can have on their parenting confidence and emotional wellbeing.
How Can Books Impact Mental Wellbeing?
A study just released from the University of Swansea has found mothers who read books encouraging them to put their babies on strict sleeping and feeding schedules are more likely to have symptoms of depression and low self-efficacy, and feel less confident as a parent.
The research involved 354 mothers with babies aged 0-12 months. The mothers reported whether they had read baby books promoting strict scheduling, and how the books made them feel. Then they completed measures of their mental health and wellbeing.
What Did The Research Find?
The research was conducted by MSc Child Public Health student Victoria Harries, and was supervised by Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor and maternal and infant health researcher.
The results showed 22% of participants found this style of book was useful and helped them feel calmer. However 53% of the mothers felt worse, and more anxious than they did before reading the book. This placed them at higher risk of depression and low confidence.
Dr Brown and Ms Harries noted while these books might help some mothers, it appears the advice works for babies who are more suited to routine. For most babies, routines don’t work and the books promote goals that go against babies’ normal developmental needs.
Advice such as stretching out feeds, delayed and restricted response to crying, and expecting babies to sleep for extended periods at night are very appealing to mothers who are exhausted and worried about their baby’s waking.
But the research showed almost half of mothers felt frustrated and misled because they were unable to make the advice work. Even worse, 20% of the mothers reported they felt they had ‘failed’ as a result.
When we asked Dr Amy Brown about this, she told us:
‘I think expectations play a big role. Mums are exhausted and are often doing this alone. A promise of a good night’s sleep sounds magical! But when it doesn’t work, they may feel worse than before. They feel let down but also in some cases like they have ‘failed’ at making this work too. But it was unlikely to work for most, as the expectations go against normal baby behaviour”.
What Does This Mean For Parents?
The researchers hope this study leads to finding better ways to look after and support new parents. They acknowledge that although we aren’t designed to look after our babies in isolation, for many mothers today that is the reality.
And that’s why books that purport to have the ‘solution’ are so popular.
The researchers suggest we should be thinking of how we can better invest in looking after new mothers. Introducing longer, paid maternity leave and having wider options to care and ‘mother the mother’ are vital.
Find out more in Why You Should Have A Post-Natal Month After The Birth.
Mothers are legitimately tired, but solutions that fail to acknowledge the normal behaviour of their infants just increase their risk of depression and anxiety.
We can and should do better than this.