Are certain baby books causing depression in new parents?

Parenthood came to me relatively late in life (the reasons behind this would cover a whole separate blog or possibly a book). So, my closest friends and family fell pregnant, nurtured babies, raised children and in one case even waved their firstborn off to university before my son was born.

I got to see the good, the bad and the ugly of childrearing, and sometimes at closer quarters that I would care to remember. My friends discussed what was great about parenthood (the unconditional love), what they hated (lack of sleep usually) but they also talked about what worked for them. I listened to this and gave some of my own advice.

What? I hear you shout. A childless woman giving advice on parenting? Yes. I cringe at some of the things I said, but I’d watched all these programmes and even bought some books and they all seemed to have great information and strategies. Nearly all of them talked about the importance of routines so that must be true.

Then I became a parent myself and realised that things were never that simple. In particular my son was changing every single day and because of this, his needs changed every single day. I started reading a little but more and realised that many of these books and programmes were put together by people with no qualifications of their own and many of the perceived truths were myths.

Recent research has been published into how this affects new mothers and some of it is blatantly obvious. If your child suits a routine then go for it. If your baby doesn’t, no amount of you forcing it to happen will work (well, d’uh).

But here is the surprising (for me at least part), 53% of mothers felt more anxious after reading the books.

“Use of the books was associated with increased depressive symptoms and stress, alongside lower self-efficacy, although experience of using the books predicted this. Although those who found the books useful had greater well-being, the majority did not find them useful, which was associated with lower well-being.” Link to abstract

In short mums who are struggling are more likely to go to these books for guidance and on the whole will feel worse for it rather than better.

The research was carried out by Victoria Harries at the University of Swansea, under the supervision of Dr Amy Brown. You might remember we have interviewed her in the past and please forgive us a little fangirling. This is because she is first and foremost an Academic and Psychologist and through research she has explored many of the issues that are relevant to us as mums.

Check out our interview with her for the release of her book, Breastfeeding Uncovered.

So what should we take away from this research?

In her own article Dr Brown puts the research into simples words even a sleep deprived mum can understand.

To put it simply, you need to be taken care of so you can take care of your baby. A few generations ago in our culture, or right now in many others, this was the norm. Children always had an older relative with a baby to learn what was normal, and a new mum always had family (in one way or another) to give practical help and guidance. So we need to do more to support our mums, rather than offer a miracle cure that only works for some babies.

Books and “expert” advice may seem like a good idea but the fact of the matter is that little ones respond to biology, and haven’t been reading the same advice as mum or dad.

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