Never feed your baby to sleep, say the ‘sleep experts’. And don’t start solids before six months. These are blanket rules, for all parents to follow. But shouldn’t there be some flexibility? Annie Ridout thinks so. Here are five parenting rules that are made to be broken…
As a new parent – particularly a first time one – you’ll receive unsolicited advice wherever you go. You don’t even have to leave the house; it will come to you. It will turn up in text messages, targeted Google ads, letters from the NHS, comments from friends and family. The health visitor will have one idea about sleep and feeding/holding the baby – while the midwife will have a different opinion.
Welcome to parenthood. A world of wild contradictions, annoying advice and judgey people thinking they know what’s best for your baby.
Of course, the only advice you need is that you know best. Sometimes you will feel you have no clue about what to do – and that’s when it’s great to turn to family/friends/health visitor/midwife. But often, you may have an instinct that something will work, or that you’d like to try it, and the likelihood is that as your baby’s primary carer, you’ll know the intricacies of their body, mind and behaviour better than anyone.
With my firstborn, I mostly stuck to ‘the rules’. By that, I mean the NHS guidelines for what to do when – and how to do it. I’d try to stay awake while breastfeeding, put her back in the cot when she was done and didn’t co-sleep (except maybe a tiny bit in the mornings, but it was more snoozy cuddles). I put her in her own room around six months, she started on solids around then, I fed her the foods they advised.
But with baby two, I threw out the rule book. I decided to use my instinct, and to learn from both my successes and failures with my firstborn. That’s how I discovered that there are 5 things we’re told you should never do with a baby – by the ‘experts’ – that actually work quite well. If you’re doing them too, with your first, it might be reassuring to hear that there’s no need to fret.
5 things you should never do with a baby (that maybe you actually should/could do)
While in the hospital with my son, born earlier this year, I was feeding him and shutting my eyes for a few minutes. I’d laboured overnight, hadn’t slept, had been rushed to theatre, drugged up to the eyeballs, prepped for a c-section and then we forcepped/pushed him out just before the incision was made. I was exhausted.
As I dozed with my beautiful newborn, a trainee midwife appeared at my side, saying loudly: “WAKE UP. You mustn’t sleep with your baby on your chest – you might suffocate him!” I know that there are risks involved with falling asleep with a baby but I also know that I had positioned him – and the pillows – in such a way that I couldn’t roll on to him, he couldn’t roll off and we were safe.
When we arrived home, he had reflux and didn’t want to lie on his back so I had him sleep with me in the bed. On my chest, or nestled in my bosom. All night. (For the first eight or so weeks). It wasn’t ideal; I didn’t sleep amazingly. But I wanted his transition from womb to world to be lighter, and less traumatic – and co-sleeping helped with this. I then began introducing the Sleepyhead – and soon he was snoozing on his own. He now sleeps through the night, on his own, in his own cot (and room. See next point).
2. Put your baby in their own room
Again, this apparently can cause SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) – so it’s not something that I’d recommend – but in my experience, moving the baby to their own room earlier than the advised six months is not an issue. While still in my room, every time I turned in bed, the baby stirred. In fact, every time I inhaled he seemed to wake up. I then realised that the end of my bed – where his cot was positioned – was in fact equidistant from the head of my bed to his nursery next door.
I moved the cot into the next room when he was about 12 weeks old. That way, he couldn’t hear every fluff of the pillow or creak as we rolled over in bed – but we were close enough to hear him if he woke up. Which he started doing less, when he wasn’t so close to us.
3. Feed the baby to sleep
If you’re breastfeeding and have googled ‘how to get my baby to sleep’ you’ll have read advice from the ‘sleep experts’ that you should never, EVER feed the baby to sleep. Because it will mean they’ll need your breast to help them get to sleep until they’re 82 years old.
Instead, you should feed them, then put them down while they’re awake but dozey. So, if my baby falls asleep on the boob, I should unlatch him, unDRESS him to wake him up and then put him down in his cot – disorientated and confused? YEAH RIGHT.
I fed my daughter to sleep for six months, or until it stopped working, then did some sleep training and soon she was getting herself off. With my son, he stopped falling asleep while feeding around eight weeks so I started putting him down awake then. Sometimes he feeds to sleep now (aged five and a half months), sometimes he doesn’t. He can get himself to sleep and sleep through.
4. Rock the baby to sleep (in your arms or the pram/car)
See above. Did all these things. Still do. With both children. Both can sleep through the night, neither rely on these things – it’s just nice to be lulled to sleep by the vibrations of a moving car. My mum still falls asleep as soon as she gets in the car. Likewise the pram (not my mum – she doesn’t sleep in the pram, just the car).
5. Start them on solids before six months
My daughter started having epic middle-of-the-night feeds when she was around five months old. By epic, I mean three-hours-long, non stop. I continued this for two weeks before realising that not only were my iron levels becoming dangerously low but I was just So. Damn. Tired.
A careful suggestion from my mum that perhaps she was ready for solids was gratefully received. I eked out the mammoth feeds for another two weeks, then gave her some pureed veg. She loved it, and as soon as I introduced carbs (creamy mashed potato), she started sleeping through. I’ve recently started feeding #2 food, aged five and a half months, and he also seems more satisfied and is now sleeping through most of the time.
It turns out loads of parents start weaning their babes early.
So there you have it: five parenting rules debunked. I’d love to hear about your experiences – have you stuck to the rule book or made up your own? How’s it going/gone?
Disclaimer: this is all my experience. I’m not advising anyone to do these things – I’m not a doctor, or sleep expert or parenting guru of any kind. I’m just a mum who’s tried different things and found that ignoring professional advice is sometimes ok.
Main image by Emily Gray Photography