As an unsure first time parent you may find that everyone else has an opinion on how to raise your baby. Relatives, friends, medical professionals, all seem to know what you need to do. If you read some of the multitude of parenting books out there the general assumption is that there is a 'right' way to parent babies.
If you do it the 'right way', then everything will fall into place and life will be much easier. The Baby Whisperer tells you that you should be able to interpret your babies cry and understand what they need. The Save Our Sleep book gives you routines and ways you should interact with your baby, as if all parents and babies are the same. Earlier this month Dr Brian Symon was in the news for his controversial baby sleep "solution" of leaving babies to cry. The problem with all of these suggestions and opinions is that they assume that babies are all the largely the same. But what if, just like the adults they are born to, babies are widely different in temperament, sensitivity and anxiety?
In one of my Mums groups, a long time ago, someone shared with me the theory of the Baby Bell Curve and it has stayed with me over the years because I think it's actually pretty accurate (if highly simplified!). I think it should be required knowledge for new mums (no really!)
The idea is that at one end of the bell curve are a small proportion of highly sensitive babies. Babies who would be described as "high needs" by Dr Sears, or "highly sensitive". These babies may react strongly to smells, noise, light, and strong emotions. They are likely to cry a lot and be difficult to settle. They are also likely to find sleep elusive and difficult, and may find it stressful to be left with other people.
At the other end of the spectrum is a small proportion of easy going babies. These are the babies who sleep when they're tired (wherever they are), and are generally happy all of the time, regardless of who's looking after them or what they're doing.
The majority of babies fall somewhere in the middle. They have fussy periods when they're going through a developmental stage, a growth spurt or teething, but are fairly happy the rest of the time.
My friend went on to say that the parents of the easy going baby seem to be everywhere. They're out and about, getting on with life with barely a change after having a baby. On the other hand, parents of sensitive babies rarely leave the house. It is far too difficult to get out. Which means that if you're talking to other Mums, you're much more likely to be talking to Mums on the Easy Going Baby end of the spectrum... and that makes you feel as though you must be doing everything wrong.
If you're a new parent, please believe that you, and only you, know your child best. There is no right way, and every every mother-child dyad is unique and beautiful in their own way.
If you have a sensitive baby, please know that you are not doing anything wrong. Your baby is having a hard time in this scary world, and needs bucketloads of reassurance from a loving, caring guardian. The best thing you can do is trust your instincts and look after yourself. Find healthcare providers that you trust and leave the ones you don't.
If you have an easy going baby, who sleeps through the night, or who follows all of the routines to the letter, please keep your smugness to yourself, and remember that for some people, parenting is a hell of a lot harder than it is for others.
What do you think of the Baby Bell Curve? Does it fit your experience?