Becoming a new parent can be one of the most stressful things you ever do. It’s normal to feel blindsided between what you thought it would be like, and the reality. But it can lead to all sorts of emotions from panic and anxiety, through to grief for your former existence, and even (often hidden) regret at what you’ve got yourself into.
This isn’t helped by how isolated many new parents now are. Just a few decades ago, family, friendships and networks were far more localised, but now, many new mothers have babies many miles away from family, and may not know a single person close by who is going through the same thing. These connections are important socially, but also in terms of learning from others and sharing information.
Without the advice of family and friends to hand, many new parents turn to baby books for advice. Parenting guides that suggest certain styles of caring have been around for many years. But recently there has been an explosion of these books, fuelled by the willing and waiting market of confused and isolated new parents. Although a whole range of parenting books are available, books that promote getting babies into parent-led sleep and feeding routines, along with the idea of them being settled and more “independent” in between, have become particularly popular.
We have previously shown that the more of this type of book that new mothers read, the higher their symptoms of depression and parenting stress, and lower their confidence in their own parenting abilities. Although it could be that mothers who are feeling stressed and depressed choose to try and follow the advice in these books, for this study we also asked mothers directly how the books made them feel. A minority (15–20%) did like them and felt more confident, but far more said that they felt more stressed because they didn’t work for them. Some mothers reported that they were even left feeling “like a failure”.
More recently, we have been exploring how these books are actually used and the impact they have on baby care. Speaking to 354 mothers with a baby aged 0–12 months old, we found that several pieces of advice in these books are associated with a number of behaviours that go against the UK government’s recommendations for safe infant care, and research findings too.