Becoming a dad

I just become a dad and writing down my things that helped me prepare and overcome stress. I hope you find them valuable.

Taking advice from the Internet

15 Nov 2019 ~7 minutes read » wellbeing, parenting

The eighth week was challenging. Couple of things we weren’t ready for happened and amplified each other, making us exhausted, overwhelmed and anxious.

According to several development theories, the eighth week marks a development milestone. It is also a peak of when babies cry the most according to the pattern called a crying curve - Of course, every theory or model that explains how babies should behave or develop shows only a tendency and each baby is different. Still, now I think we really fell into the middle of a bell curve. We experienced both - our baby developing new skills rapidly over just a couple of days while becoming more cranky than usual.

A week earlier, our baby was kind of aware what’s going on but generally staring at random things that stand out of a blurry background. Few days later - bang! He can move his eyes from his mum’s to my face and back when we had a conversation with each other while looking at him. He also started to smile at us purposefully, which is a profoundly gratifying experience.

That leap didn’t come easily, though. For a couple of days, our boy wasn’t his usual self. He was less playful and more irritable.

This is where “taking advice from the Internet” part begins because quite possibly, we added to his stress. We were concerned about his day sleep patterns and little rest he was getting before going to bed for his night sleep. So we thought it would be a good idea to fix it early.

Once again - lessons learned, lessons forgotten - searching for answers on the Internet gives three bits of anxiety for every bit of help. Going by the advice of a random person on the Internet who never saw our baby, we decided to introduce a sleep routine. And he didn’t like it. He didn’t like a “dark, quiet place to calm him down”. He didn’t like the idea of “don’t let your baby fall asleep at you because they will develop a habit”, and we felt like we’re doing more harm than good. After several days of grievous attempts of putting him to sleep, we were convinced there must be something going on. Either it’s because of us doing it incorrectly or him having some problems we miss, he couldn’t get his day naps.

Fortunately, it was the eighth week, and we had a check-up booked, so we decided to use this opportunity to get some answers about what we are doing wrong.

Ultimately, a friendly nurse calmed us down during the check. It turned out, the thing we did wrong was trying too hard to develop habits at this stage. She reassured us he’s growing and developing beautifully, and explained we shouldn’t stress too much about day naps routine. For two reasons - first of all, it looks like at this stage, he is a decent night sleeper. Secondly, eight-week babies are simply too young to learn any routines. So we decided to go easier on him. Instead of coercing him to sleep, we followed our nurse advice. We decided to give him space and opportunity to relax.

The nurse also gave me the best parenting advice till date: “Pick a parenting style you’re comfortable with”. Reflecting on that, we picked a style that is supported by reasonable and safe practices we’ve read and learnt about but leaving us a room to consider and adjust to what our baby prefers.

We went through our own experiences and looked into successful and unsuccessful attempts of putting him for a day nap (still we don’t want our baby to get overstimulated). We found the space for his day naps was too dark for his liking, so we played with reducing contrasts and introducing something familiar. We also settled on organising a space in a way he feels secure enough to take a nap by himself. On the settling side, we started to spend some more time to prepare him to sleep. Nothing spectacular, just our attention and spending some quiet time together in the corner of the room where we put him to rest. That effectively takes less time compared to fighting him to have a nap. We’ve noticed the change almost immediately.

In hindsight, we didn’t have as big problem as we initially thought we had. There was little to fix in the first place. Our boy gets a lot of sleep during the night, and we shouldn’t expect him to sleep longer during the day. But that didn’t stop us from looking for a solution to a problem that didn’t exist. Or at least not as severe as we thought.

I wouldn’t dismiss every advice from the Internet straight away. There are plenty of useful tips and tricks coming from experienced parents and researchers there. I just don’t trust our own Google skills when we are under stress. What we put into search queries, already forms part of the answer. And when we are under pressure, we might exaggerate our problems. Yes, we might get an excellent solution for “my baby doesn’t get enough sleep”, but the truth might be, our baby gets enough sleep. Under stress, we might fail to acknowledge the fact… and jump to early conclusions.

The other problem with taking parenting advice from the Internet is quite similar to taking any advice from the Internet. Internet resources are ranked based on how POPULAR they are, not how effective or safe they are. Watching a YouTube video with 100k likes of a power-mum who tells how she settles her baby in 3 easy steps might be a great idea. But when those 3 easy steps fail for us, quite quickly we start thinking there is something wrong with either us or our little one. Also, those resources are often advertised in a click-baity way. “Does your baby have problem with getting to sleep?”, “Does your baby feed too often?”, “Are you concerned about your baby poo?” - Put those in front of sleep-deprived, first-time parents, and you will get yes to any of those questions. Making us feel there is something we have to worry about.

Are we really expecting there is a magic trick that will apply to all babies without fail? Figuring out what works for us and our little one is… parenting. With all fun, challenge, stress but also gratification included.

Lessons learned

  • Before you try a solution, step back and check if there is a problem. Sometimes it will take some time off, or talking to a person who is not as involved as you are and will help reassess the situation.
  • If you’re concerned about your baby, go and see your care provider or someone who can listen to you and offer some insights about what to expect from babies. Stress affects our own assessments and can make them very inaccurate. Also, some advice applies only to babies at a certain age or development stage.
  • Observe your baby and look into your personal experience. You most likely have some wins and fails. Take a step back, look at them and try to understand what your baby likes, what makes her excited or relaxed.
  • There are not universally working methods or silver-bullets. Simply imagine what parenting would look like if they were…