Knowing what to do when there’s something wrong with your baby is the hardest part of being a parent – it’s what I’ve found the hardest so far, anyway. But knowing which advice to listen to and take on board isn’t far behind.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the first time I felt like a useless Dad and crying as a result. At that point, Raife was a couple of weeks into sleep regression, a spell where his sleep is really disturbed and disrupted because of the rate at which his brain is developing. The sleep deprivation, coupled with struggling to comfort my son, left me upset and feeling like I couldn’t do anything.
Fast-forward another week or so and we had the worst night so far. Before this sleep regression period, Raife would normally sleep from about 7:30 until at least midnight, but sometimes as late as 2/3/4am. That first stint of sleep gradually got shorter and shorter, to the point where the first wake would be as early as 9:30. Then the night of Thursday 8th March happened. It was one of those nights where Em and I will always remember it as ‘that night’.
9:10pm – crying over the monitor. Raife awake. To help Emma get a bit more sleep ahead of what looked like it would be a really tough night, I took Raife downstairs to sleep in my arms for a bit, and then on the sofa. Shortly before midnight, I returned Raife to his cot and went to bed myself. Next thing I know, it’s 3:30am. I wake to Raife wailing and kicking his arms about, and a Mummy visibly sleep deprived, stressed and upset. She told me she had been trying to get him to sleep for near enough three hours. We’re both too selfless for our own bloody good – running ourselves into the ground so the other can get some sleep.
Em needed both a reassuring, comforting arm around the shoulder from her husband and a stern word to wake me long before she got to this level of stress again. As I rocked Raife to sleep, I did some reading, finding conflicting articles and research and opinions about what to do. If I wasn’t exhausted already, trying to process and remember the different methods would’ve done the trick just fine, even without trying to choose one.
Do this, do that. No don’t do this, don’t do that.
I was already well aware of how hard it is to know what the right thing is as a parent, but it got me thinking about how hard it is to know which advice to take on board. Do you listen to your parents? They raised you and you turned out alright, so do you take everything they say and gospel and follow suit? Or do you listen to professionals at the local baby clinic? They are professionals after all. Or do you take the advice of endless stream of parents on online forums?
This confusion was brought to the fore a couple of weeks ago when Emma went to baby clinic and had Raife weighed. His growth had dipped. We were advised to give him some baby rice alongside Emma’s breastmilk. Now, that goes against widespread NHS advice that babies’ digestive systems aren’t developed enough to digest solid foods until 6 months. But it was really common to give babies solid foods around the 3-4 month mark in previous generations.
Emma wants to breastfeed until at least 6 months before introducing solids. With Raife’s growth slowing and being advised to give him a bit of rice, we went with it. It wasn’t what we wanted, but you have to do what’s best for you baby.
Around the same time, Em was concerned that her supply was drying up. Raife appeared hungry far more often than the 2-3 hours you’d expect from a 4 month old. It was draining her. On further advice, I reluctantly trudged to Tesco to buy formula. Again, we didn’t want to give Raife formula. But he was hungry. It was affecting his mood, his sleep, our mood and our sleep. Something had to give.
I thought it was really important for Emma to give Raife his first bottle of formula. I remember watching her giving it to him, trying to be positive and encouraging through the tears.
With a few well-placed connections, Em bagged a meeting with one of the top breastfeeding experts in South Wales. She was furious with the advice we’d been given so far. She worked with Emma on a new feeding position that would help Raife to feed better and get more milk. Em’s supply wasn’t dwindling. She told us to ditch the formula and rice immediately (which Raife wasn’t too happy about, he loved having the rice!).
She also asked about a few patches of irritated skin. We’d asked health visitors and professionals at baby clinic about it a few times. “It’s just dry skin” was the reply every time. We weren’t convinced. It looked more like eczema to us. The breastfeeding expert took one look at Raife’s skin and asked if we’d had it looked at. Furious again. “That’s not just dry skin!”. She said it could be dairy-intolerance related eczema and recommended cutting dairy from Emma’s diet. It’s been a week or so since that meeting, and we’re still in the ‘seeing how things go’ stage to see whether Raife’s skin improves. His feeding has been much better, though.
But this whole episode surrounding Raife’s weight, his feeding and his skin really riled me. We had one set of professionals dismissing our concerns and giving one set of recommendations. Then another professional telling us that they were completely wrong and we need to do something completely different.
I’m not saying you should ignore health and medical professionals. They play a crucial role. But being a new parent is confusing enough as it is, let alone when you’re being told different things by different people. It’s impossible to know who to listen to.
Actually, it’s not. The one you should listen to is yourselves. I’m sure every other parent has experienced the parenting instinct that appears from nowhere when you have a baby. It’s random and you have no idea where it comes from, but it works. Take on board advice from professionals and combine it with your instinct to make your decision. You know your baby better than anyone.