Instincts vs Books

Instincts: Any behaviour is instinctive if it is performed without being based upon prior experience (that is, in the absence of learning), and is therefore an expression of innate biological factors. Sea turtles, newly hatched on a beach, will automatically move toward the ocean. A joey climbs into its mother’s pouch upon being born.
Manual: Manual may mean: Instructions. User guide. Owner’s manual. Instruction manual (gaming) Online help.

This morning I sat down to write a post. A post which I had been meaning to write for sometime, but had never quite plucked up the courage. For this post might just be a little bit controversial. Now, if you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that I always try to be fair and balanced, but the name of my blog itself implies where my loyalties lie in this particular piece…however I will, as always, try to look at it from every possible angle! And before we get started I’d just like to say that I am not saying don’t ask for advice. I think asking for advice and support is brilliant…I just think you should ask for it from the best possible places.

I wanted to write a post about books. Namely manuals and books all about babies. The kind of books you buy when you are pregnant with your first and then promptly ditch or use as a coaster with your second or third. You may have put your feet up on maternity leave, read these books and thought you had it sorted, that this parenting malarkey was going to be a doddle because you knew what was coming and were going to be in control. That these mums whose babies didn’t sleep through the night, were fussy eaters or had tantrums were bad parents and had done something wrong. The manuals made it all sound so easy, so simple, so straightforward.

Or were you a new parent, overwhelmed and completely sleep deprived searching for answers, seeking much needed help? Were you desperately trying to find some way of making your baby sleep because you were led to believe that a baby that doesn’t sleep is indicative of a bad parent? Were you sat on your bed in the middle of the night scouring these books to find a solution, and then did you try a gazillion different things suggested these books,that didn’t work? Whilst all the time not even looking at your baby to see what it was they actually wanted?

Now, I might have angered a few of you already. Have I made judgements? Assumed things? Or would it surprise you to know that in both of the cases above the person I have been taking about is me? I’m not ashamed to say that with my daughter, twelve years ago, even though my instincts were screaming many things and me (as was she!) I still attempted to follow the rules and listen to advice which told me what she should and ought to be doing. I still read the (often conflicting, one size fits all approach) books and believed that sleeping through the night was something that had to be achieved and then I could become part of an exclusive club. I know we all like sleep, but surely the needs of our babies are more important?

The more I read in the media and on social media the more upset and frustrated I become. I fear that parents are becoming less empowered to trust their instincts. That so called ‘experts’ are making parents believe that they are not doing the things right, and are sucking the natural parenting instincts and confidence out of new parents through feeding off their anxieties. These ‘experts’ are now, thanks to the wonder of social media, more available than ever and can even come into your house and make you believe the only reason your baby is now sleeping is because of them, and what they told you to do. That if you didn’t follow their often very strict advice and guidelines, then you’d be in a mess because you are not an expert. That if you don’t do 100% of what it says in the book that you and your baby are doomed for life. How does a mother then feel when left on their own or when what is said in the books just doesn’t happen…possibly worse than they did before?

Many of the authors of these books are not parents themselves, however, I would also argue that even if they are they would still not be the experts on my children or indeed any children but their own. They might be an expert on mixing formula, or creating a nutritious meal, but not about all of the intricacies of a baby that only a mother knows. Now I’m not saying that these manuals are the reasons for all doubt, for all anxiety and all loss of trust in our instincts, but I am saying they undoubtedly don’t help. So what would help?

I know a lot of mums I have spoken to tell me that when their baby was born they felt they had no instincts. That they didn’t know what to do. That they couldn’t read their baby who cried all of the time. And it got me thinking (yes again, sorry!) about what I could do to help. Is there a market for a book about trusting your instincts? A book that empowers parents to trust theirs? And if there were then what could I write in that book that would help, comfort, and reassure mums? (yes I do appreciate the irony of a mother who has just written a blog post about her avid dislike for baby books wanting to write one, but this book wouldn’t be a manual ok?!) It would be honest and tell of real accounts of life with babies, possibly elaborating on my previous blog posts like the one on sleep and potty training. And instead of pages and pages of instructions on what you must do it could have questions at the end of every chapter to help you read your baby and learn to trust your instincts? Your baby, your instincts, your choice.

Yes parenting is hard, yes at times it is draining, debilitating and more frustrating than anything in the whole world, but it’s still a journey I believe you and your children should undertake together. You’re not always going to get it right, but if you have the confidence to trust your instincts you’re never going to be far off the mark.

So let me know, what do you think would help mums trust their instincts more?

I wrote this post for myself and my blog, but have agreed for it to be shared on What to Expect.

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44 thoughts on “Instincts vs Books

  1. I’ve never been one for rules or schedules so I found it easy to ignore the manuals and do things my way.

    I realised early on that my kids were not behaving nor reacting to situations as the manuals had led me to believe!

    Between us we came up with what worked for us, it was messy, there were tears, but it was immense fun and we all learnt more about each other that we would have if we’d followed someone else idea of parenting.

    There needs to be less emphasis on how others parent their children and more self reflection on how we as individuals want to raise our children

    • instinctivemum says:

      I agree, there definitely needs to be less focus on others. We as parents are all different, just like each of our children are all so individual. Thee couldn’t possibly be a system that works for everyone, trusting our instincts is vital.

  2. I think more of an emphasis on individuals and helpful anecdotes are of much more use than this mythical idea that we have to all do things the same way in order to have the perfect baby/child. Perfection is nonsense, as is assuming that every child is the same. Anyone who has had their own children and talked to other parents openly will know that what might work for one won’t necessarily work for the other-and that can be in the same family.

    • instinctivemum says:

      Absolutely! Asking for advice and support from trusted sources is so important, and then we can reflect and choose what is best for us at any given time.

  3. I too am a believer of trusting your instincts. When my son was born, I read every available book going and indeed ended up convinced that I must be getting it all wrong. Then one day someone said to me “the baby didn’t read the book”. Hearing those words was enough for me to stop trying to do everything ‘by the book’ and start enjoying being a Mum. I’m glad I learnt this early on. I was much more relaxed when my twins arrived.

    • instinctivemum says:

      I love ‘the baby didn’t read the book’! I’m so pleased that you were relaxed with your twins and that this advice from a friend helped you!

  4. Very well said, I couldn’t agree more.

    I am part of a few parenting groups on Facebook and they are full of mothers asking advice on ‘how do I make my child sleep through the night?’ ‘my baby has a temperature what should I do?’. I often comment and ask a few questions, relate my own experience and then tell them to trust their instincts. It is SO true about these so called experts only being experts on their own children. No 2 babies/toddlers/children are alike, that’s what makes them so special.

    My little girl didn’t sleep through the night until she was 18 months old – and that was just a one off. She’s now nearly 3 and still doesn’t sleep through, but I have tried every method from books, friends and ‘experts’ and none so far have worked. What does work though, is trusting my own instincts that she will in fact be okay.

    Brill post.

    PS: I’d totally buy that book!

    • instinctivemum says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting, you’re right to trust those instincts…she will indeed be ok! πŸ˜‰

  5. I have twins so bought massive amounts of manuals – which on the whole I was too tired to read. I found it was important to interpret the advice and not follow them word by word because every child is different. My two had completely different sleeping and feeding patterns for a start!
    Over here from #PoCoLo

    • instinctivemum says:

      Wow, there is nothing like twins to demonstrate how different babies can be! Thank you for popping over from #PoCoLo!

  6. judithkingston says:

    So well put, very sensitively written! I am a sucker for experts, have read many baby books. And a lot of things I got from the books were in fact helpful. But like you say, there is nothing wrong with taking advice. It is when you start to see them as rules, and start to believe the message that “if you don’t do what I say and your baby doesn’t do what you want, it is your own fault and I wash my hands of you”. I have felt defeated and useless and like it was all my fault. Now, I have come to the conclusion that anything will work as long as you are being sensitive to your baby and consistent in what you do.

    Maybe your book should be called: “This Is Most Definitely Not a Baby Book”. πŸ™‚ Or “Not an Expert”. Or “You are the Expert”. (Sorry, I love naming things. I may be coming back to you for weeks with title ideas…)

    On the one hand I think it is an important book to write and to have out there. On the other hand it could very easily be or be seen to be a cynical way of buying into exactly the market you revile. You might almost want to do some kind of viral/poster/postcard campaign and leave messages all over the country and the Interwebz saying: Mothers! Trust your instincts!

    That said, I would buy the book. But I’d buy it because I am a sucker for baby books. Perhaps that is good, though, because you would reach exactly your intended audience, which is the parents who are addicted to baby books. πŸ™‚

    Sorry, I am thinking out loud, can you tell??

    • instinctivemum says:

      Lol I love your ‘out loud’ thinking! And the book names! I guess I want to write the book because the blog doesn’t seem enough, whilst it’s getting the message out there, there is still a massive market for baby manuals and people relying heavily on them! I need to reach more people!

  7. I was so like you – the overwhelmed new parent. I read the first chapter of GIna Ford and hated it. The person who helped me find my instincts? My Mum. She had seven kids and just told me to forget all the rules. She was my manual and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I can’t stand the so-called experts when my Mum knew far more and far better than they ever will. A great post πŸ™‚ Thank you for linking to PoCoLo x

  8. What a wonderful post and spot on. I had a few books when I was pregnant. None of them helped aside from What to Expect which helped me understand what I was feeling was alright. I guess understanding your baby ensures you trust your instincts. I’ve not read any baby books since not long after she was born, I’d trust my instincts over everything now.

  9. I think it’s crucial to learn to stop comparing your baby with any other one. I remember feeling pressurised to do things with my first because other mums I knew were doing it. With my second I chilled out and, yes, followed my instincts. I also wish I had thrown out a book from a certain Ms Ford that someone ‘kindly’ gave me when pregnant with my first!

    • instinctivemum says:

      Lol why do people give others these books?! It’s so hard not to compare your baby or your parenting to others…we mums need to be more empowered and confident about what we do!

  10. The best experts are those who are expert in helping new mothers find confidence in themselves and their own instincts.

    A very good friend of mine, a mum of two young boys, who sadly passed away when they were still young, gave me the perfect advice when I was pregnant with my first: she said that with any problems, I should ask three other mothers I respected for their opinions, and then go with my gut as to which one’s advice sat best with me at that moment.

    She also said that I could phone her at any point, 3am if necessary, if I was struggling, and crucially, reassured me that struggling was completely normal and ‘what to expect’.

    I never did call her at 3am but I called her and my own mum and other friends lots of times during the day! Simply knowing that I had wise and kind mothers in my life who would share their wisdom, support me to make my own decisions, and love me, failings and all, eventually got me to the point of trusting my instincts. I wish those friends for every mum xx

    • instinctivemum says:

      Such wonderful, wise advice. I’m so sorry you lost such a dear friend. I too wish those friends for every mum xx

  11. I soooo agree with you. It’s the thing I always tell new and expectant parents – trust your instincts and get to know your baby rather than relying on other people to tell you what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. I hide Gina Ford books when I see them in shops.

  12. I do agree with you in the most part. I’ve always followed my instincts but I guess part of me has questioned whether I should have been using more of the ‘routine’ that ‘experts’ claim babies like. My eldest is nearly 3 and my youngest is 6 months and we seem to be suffering with exactly the same issue with him that we did with my eldest which is a major lack of sleep. I have NO problem with night feedings, I breastfeed and am happy to do frequent night feeds but the problem is not being able to put him down after or put him down to bed in the evenings without him waking straight back up. It’s so hard as I know he just wants me to hold him and feed him but the other part of me knows that it’s starting to effect everything else in my life because I’m so exhausted all the time. It was at this point first time round that I spoke to a sleep expert who helped me come up with a plan to help my eldest fall asleep without me. It was sleep training but I sat next to her cot instead of leaving her alone so I felt a bit better about doing so. I know it needs to be done this time but I’m dreading it. But the lack of sleep is affecting everything even down to it being unsafe for me to drive around. So I guess my point is that we should follow our instincts but sometimes the advice of experts can be life-changing. I don’t think anyone should follow it completely though as every baby is so different. Sorry for this essay!! x

    • instinctivemum says:

      Asking someone in person for advice and support is very different to reading a one size fits all approach in a book. Your instincts were telling you that you needed help. And you sought it from what you considered a trusted source. I’m all for seeking advice from the right places, trusting our instincts isn’t about knowing everything! I hope you find a way to get some more sleep soon x

  13. I only had the book that I was given by the midwife to go by.I did go on a parenting course and three breastfeeding courses but I never read a parenting book until someone gave me a copy of a Gina Ford book.It wasn’t for us, and I never read anther parenting book since.I get more from talking parents in the flesh or online than just a book.You can’t ask a book questions.

      • I really agree with this – you absolutely trusted your instincts to know that things were not right and you sought some advice.. I think it’s so important to be able to interact with people who can support you. This post has obviously struck a chord with so many people and just shows that the opportunity for parents to interact and get support with their instincts would be really helpful. Could i really encourage you to look at our community – we are all about understanding your instinct, informing it, and using the community for support. I’d really like to get word out to support parents to build their confidence

        (i’m a mum of three, and a child clinical psychologist. I’m on a mission to support parents so that they don’t feel undermined by manuals!)

  14. Great post! I’ll admit that I have a couple of books to refer to but that it has usually been a case of “this is what I think is wrong and what I think I need to do” and if that hasn’t worked, looking at them to see what else could be done. I would much rather trust my own instincts but sometimes you need another perspective.

  15. Love your post!!! We agree!
    Every baby is different and no one knows the baby as well as the parents. There is no substitute for a mother following her instincts.
    Sign us up to buy the first copy of your book.

  16. Thank you so much for blogging about this! I think it’s a really important area, and having worked in the NHS for 10 years, with children and families, i have always felt really disappointed that there hasn’t been enough of a culture to support families to find their own way.

    Yes sometimes, we may feel as though our instincts let us down – particularly if we have had difficult experiences of relationships with our own parents. But that does not mean that you don’t also have fantastic strengths to use and build on. For the challenges, we all just need a bit of support and extra resources. That’s what we are trying to do with parent-perspectives.com

    I really hope that our children – when they become parents – find a different parenting culture to support them!

    I’d buy a book too!

    Best wishes

    Dr. Fin

  17. After my first son was born almost 10 years ago I felt quite inadequate because my antenatal friends all had the books and the routines and it just hadn’t occurred to me to buy one. I read a couple of books after that but they weren’t right for me. Some non dictatorial guidance might have been very helpful.

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