Friday, September 23, 2011

Please do not scare the parents

Working, as I do, with new mums and dads is such a blessing - to spend time with them as they become parents is to see magic happen.

But gee I wish everyone would stop scaring the sh!t out of them about every little thing!

It goes without saying that we need to educate people about risky behaviours, safe practices and public health. But the concentration of warnings, prohibitions, rules and regulations is terrifying people. And that is spoiling their enjoyment of the most magical time of their lives.

The majority of babies we see at the Breastfeeding Centre are aged from just a few days to just a few weeks. We see babies in their pram for the first time, in the car carrier for the first time, ... babies whose parents are in terror they are secured too tightly, too loosely; are getting too much sunlight, not enough sunlight; are too cold, too hot ... and this is just getting in and out of the door!

Some of the things parents admit to being fearful of are the result of concentrated input of dire warnings from books and internet over a period of time leading up to the birth. (I was as guilty of this as any, working my way - twice - through every book on the pregnancy/childbirth and baby/child-care sections of the local library before the birth of my first child!) and there is not much to be done to prevent this, nor really, to  discourage it. This wealth of knowledge is then topped up with reams of handouts at the doctor's office, the hospital classes, the discharge packs, the maternal and child health centre and backed up by posters on the walls of each.

However, there is a difference between informing and scaring people. There needs to be some common sense applied to the education: "Most babies do NOT die of SIDS and here are some ways you can further reduce the risk." rather than strict directives which are destined to be erred on occasionally - the two-week-old baby is probably NOT going to fall from the pram if not tightly strapped in, but it is good practice to make this routine, because the six-month-old baby might.

Some things I have observed:

  • Mothers straining necks and shoulders endeavoring to gaze into the newborn baby's eyes (most likely to be closed anyway) throughout every feed, lest the baby is emotionally neglected and fails to develop normally - as seen by the Romanian orphans raised in institutions without loving care.
  • Parents frightened to drive anywhere unnecessary with their newborn baby, worried the vibration of the car could cause the same brain damage as shaking a baby.
  • Fathers reluctant to let their partner try baby-led attachment or skin-to-skin contact with their newborn, as the recommended room temperature  (18 degrees Celcius) is for clothed babies and they don't know what is recommended for naked babies. 
and on and on I could go.

There are people in our world who, through ignorance or indifference, neglect, maltreat or otherwise fail to care for their babies safely. Health professionals are mandated to do all they can to avoid this and can be held legally accountable for failing to do so. However, the vast majority of people will NOT harm their child and the irony is, those least likely to do so (parents who access regular health care prior to, during and after pregnancy and attend every postnatal and child health appointment offered) are those most exposed to dire warnings, while those most in need of the warnings are the least likely to be exposed to them!

Babies are pretty tough and can withstand the unpracticed care of the average parent and survive. Parents, on the other hand, are pretty fragile and can tip over the brink so easily into anxiety and depression. We should do all we can to reassure them what a great job they are doing and gently point out the common sense factors without frightening them into cotton-wool parenthood, where they are too scared to relax and follow their instincts.

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