Are you a well-read and informed parent who believes you’re making the healthiest choices for your baby? Do you ever hear friends describe different parenting choices and think, “She’s doing it all wrong!” You want to help, but don’t know what to say? Here’s our advice, girlfriend to girlfriend!
Be a Friend First
Remember that doing things differently doesn’t mean parents don’t love their baby, or that what they’re doing is all wrong. We each make what we believe are the best parenting choices for our family. With those assumptions out of the way, don’t be afraid to talk about your experiences and share information without judgment.
Ask to Understand
We make health decisions based on our own knowledge, expectations, fears, benefits, and options. Our views are shaped by our experiences, our family and friends, the information we get from our healthcare providers, media, and other influences. So if your friend talks about a parenting choice that you believe is unhealthy, ask her why she thinks that choice is best—you might be surprised.
Consider these stories and how the experiences of the individuals and families shape these women’s less than best choices:
1. The stomach sleeper:
Aly’s baby doesn’t sleep well. When complaining to her mom about her lack of sleep, her mom tells her to put the baby to sleep on his stomach. Her mom says she put her babies on their stomachs for sleep, so did all her friends, and she never knew of a baby who died of SIDS. Sleep-deprived, Aly is willing to try this, and is happy when her son seems to sleep better. At their next well-baby visit, Aly mentions the sleep change to her pediatrician, who talks to her about SIDS and safe sleep. Aly feels that because her son doesn’t have other risk factors for SIDS like prematurity or secondhand smoke, the benefits of him sleeping on his stomach outweigh the risks.
2. The formula feeder:
Mia has never seen anyone breastfeed. Her friends feed formula to their babies, and her older sister told her that breastfeeding was really painful, and that she never had enough milk. At Mia’s prenatal appointment, her pregnancy care provider tells her that breastfeeding is the best way to feed her baby, and she is surprised. She says she is planning to formula feed. The pamphlets her care provider gives her seem to contradict everything she’s heard from friends and family. She expects that if she tries to breastfeed, her experience would be painful and she won’t have enough milk, just like her sister, so she doesn’t plan to try.
If your experiences and information are different than your friend’s, share them, offering advice and encouragement while still being understanding. For example, you could say to Aly, “It’s so hard when the baby doesn’t sleep well! I found that swaddling my baby helped her sleep much better on her back.” Or to Mia, “It can seem strange and difficult to feed our babies from our breasts, especially if you haven’t seen anyone do it, but it can be really wonderful. I love nursing my baby and I’ve found it to be easy and with plenty of milk! There are lactation consultants to help if you have trouble.”
If you’re really concerned that your friend is making an unhealthy choice, be honest! For example, if you have a friend who wants to schedule an early induction so the baby will be born when her mom can be in town, you could say, “Based on everything I’ve read and heard, early inductions can increase risks of complications to you and your baby, so that makes me worry for you. What does your healthcare provider say about wanting to schedule your baby’s birth for convenience?”
One thing all new parents need is social support. In any of the scenarios you can do more than just listen and talk. You can also offer your support. You could lend Aly your favorite swaddling blanket, or ask Mia if she wants to come to a breastfeeding support group meeting with you. And your friend desiring the scheduled induction might be terrified to take care of a newborn without help. Ask if she’d feel better if you came to her house to help until her mother can get there. Having support from friends and family can make a big difference!
When we respect each other and our differing health choices we can talk about them in a supportive and caring way. Sharing your knowledge and experience with your friends and encouraging each other to make the healthiest choices for your families is part of creating healthier communities together.