When you are the proud over of a brand spanking new baby, it’s not just the night feeds and crying cycles that can become repetitive. When my eldest was born, it started to feel like I was in a Groundhog Day of the same questions about life with a newborn. Here are the six questions that I bafflingly heard again and again in the first few months of parenting.
1. Is he/she a ‘good baby’?
This is probably one of the most frustrating things to hear when you’re a new parent. What does it even mean? At the tender age of three months, have they grasped complex philosophical ideas around morals and decency? No, not quite yet. Maybe that will happen shortly after the four month sleep regression, but I doubt it.
The question basically infers that ‘good’ babies don’t cry and sleep all night, and ‘bad’ babies suffer from things like reflux and colic and cry relentlessly and never sleep. The reality is, if you have a baby that sleeps well, feeds well and is generally contented; good for you! That’s brilliant! But most babies (like most parents) struggle with their transition into the world. That doesn’t make them a ‘bad’ baby.
Unless you find your baby washing and sterilising its own bottles in the middle of the night and thoughtfully disposing of its own soiled nappies, it’s fair to say your baby isn’t good or bad, it’s just a baby – and that’s NORMAL.
2. Do they sleep through the night yet?
Hearing a well-meaning relative ask this question after you’ve spent literally every night from what feels like the dawn of time bopping a baby around the room in a desperate attempt for you both to get some shut-eye, can be a real kick-in-the-fanny-stitches.
Newsflash: babies aren’t supposed to sleep through the night. Not for ages anyway. It’s part of their survival instinct and if your baby is waking for feeds, it’s totally doing what it’s supposed to do. Some parents find their babies can string together a few hours’ sleep quicker than others – and that’s great – but these ‘super sleepers’ are few and far between.
3. Are you breastfeeding?
In my personal experience, breastfeeding was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I wanted to give up so many times but hearing people ask me this question and seeing the look of approval on their face when I said ‘yes’, made me feel incredibly guilty about wanting to quit. And that is just plain wrong. No new parent should be made to feel guilty for the method with which they feed their newborn.
Scratch the surface of the issue, and you find many women stop breastfeeding because it is sometimes downright impossible to master. Being asked this question, even though it might seem innocuous, can actually make new mums feel like they’re on trial or being judged. And at a time when you’re tired, hormonal and basically a total mess, that’s the last thing that you should be made to feel.
Breast or bottle, you’re doing the best for your baby and that’s all that should matter. The next time someone asks this question, answer, ‘you’re supposed to feed babes!?! Well bugger me! I thought they photosynthesise like plants!!’
4. When are you going back to work?
It’s amazing how quickly people can ask you this after you’ve given birth. Even when they don’t expect you to be going back straight away, there’s an assumption that there should be some sort of a plan that you have meticulously worked out and will rigidly stick to. When you can barely remember your own name because you’re so tired, the chances are you’ve not given a single solitary thought to work or your ’10 year plan’. When you have a newborn, having a ’10 minute plan’ is a huge achievement.
On the flip side though, some mums know they want to return to work straight away, and the stigma that surrounds this can be stifling. People assume you will put your whole life on hold for the foreseeable future to raise a child, and this just isn’t for everyone.
5. How are you getting on with moving the baby weight?
Believe it or not, people do ask this! Sometimes they say, ‘I’ve got a really good meal plan that helped me lose my baby weight’, or they’ll say something they think is supportive but is actually insulting, like, ‘you’re so right to not fixate on losing the baby weight – just enjoy yourself’. Why should this even be an issue we’re discussing at all with new mums?
It’s down to the fact that our society is obsessed with the idea of ‘snapping-back’ after having a child. We’re constantly bombarded with ‘before and after’ images of celebrities where we celebrate weight loss and chastise a lack of a thigh-gap on new mums.
Being a new parent turned me into a total zombie and the last thing I wanted to do with a rare 15 minute break was to lace up my running shoes. It’s OK for exercise to not be your number one priority when you’ve just had a baby; the way I see it, there will be plenty of time for running when you’re chasing a hyperactive toddler round the park in 18 months’ time!
6. Being a mum is the best feeling in the world isn’t it?
Actually, no, sometimes it really isn’t. That doesn’t mean we don’t love our new babies, but some days it can feel like being a mum is the hardest job in the world, and being reminded that we should be loving every second of it can make some new mums feel downright guilty for what are actually very common feelings of despair and desolation.
Some women take to parenthood instantly, but others need to warm to it. This journey is a complex one and there’s no shame in having to feel your way into it.
To save you a lot of time having the same exchanges with ‘well-wishers’ after the birth of your baby, just memorise the below:
"The baby is acting suspiciously baby-like and cries regularly whilst sleeping infrequently. He / she is meeting their basic survival needs by feeding when they’re hungry. Right now we’re taking each day at a time and learning to adapt to life with a baby. There are good days and bad – and that’s OK. Thank you for the casserole / cookies / flowers / stuffed toy. I’ll give you a call in a few weeks when I’m ready to see you again.”