Perfect ‘unicorn babies’ don’t exist – and occupational therapist Roxanne Atkinson thinks it’s time we ditch the pressure. By Lisa Salmon.
A unicorn baby feeds every four hours, sleeps through the night, sits at six months, pees pure gold and poops rainbows. And, like unicorns, they don’t exist.
But if parents – particularly new ones – read certain parenting books and online advice, they might get the impression other parents are raising such perfect beings, and feel they must be doing something wrong because their own child is a long way from that.
The truth is, they’re probably doing just fine, and occupational therapist Roxanne Atkinson, author of new book The Unicorn Baby, stresses: “What matters is this: you did not get this baby.
“As a parent, you’ll quickly discover each baby is different. Babies aren’t robots, or simple organisms that require a few simple ingredients to survive,” Atkinson adds. “They’re real people with real needs – only they come in much smaller packages.”
In The Unicorn Baby, Atkinson aims to debunk some of the common parenting myths that can make new parents feel like failures, by helping them understand the biological reasons why their baby may not be behaving as they were told they would. Here, she outlines 10 of the myths, and explains the reality…
Myth 1: Babies are all the same
The myth that babies are all the same is the foundation on which much bad advice is offered to parents. It’s the reason many parents feel drawn to compare their baby to other babies who are very close in age… we are not raising clones.
Reality: Every baby is unique.
Myth 2: A baby doesn’t have to change your life
‘Getting back to normal’ is a dirty lie. It’s an empty promise that’s going to rob you of the joy of having a baby. Unless you discover the trick of turning the clock back, you’re never getting back to normal. Ever. Having a baby isn’t an acquisition, it’s actually a loss, a bereavement of your pre-baby self.
Reality: Your baby will change your life.
Myth 3: You need to get your baby into the perfect routine
You don’t actually choose what your baby does, when. They do. Rather than aiming to control your baby’s feeding, sleeping and pooping (which is futile), focus on achieving these parenting goals of the first year: regular bonding, building trust, and sharing joy. If you do these three things daily, you’ve found the ‘perfect’ routine.
Reality: There’s no such thing as the perfect routine.
Myth 4: Breastfeeding comes naturally
Whichever obstacles you may encounter, remember the best way to feed your baby, is to feed your baby. Breastfeeding is a skill that’s acquired with lots of practice and may not be possible for everyone, despite how badly they want to breastfeed.
Reality: Breastfeeding is different to what you may expect.
Myth 5: You should only feed your baby every four hours
Babies end up in a feeding routine not because we design and implement a great routine from day one, but because we learn from our babies what they need – you could say they train us into implementing a routine that helps meet their needs.
Reality: You should practice responsive feeding, not scheduled feeding.
Myth 6: You must teach your baby to sleep through the night
How your baby is sleeping has more to do with their brain development, and less to do with what you are or aren’t doing as a parent. If we’re going to parent smart, the focus should be on helping your baby grow into a child who’s a healthy sleeper – a lover of sleep and someone whose sleep integrates with your family’s sleep culture.
Reality: There’s no magic formula that will make your baby sleep through the night, no matter what you do.
Myth 7: Your baby grows and develops every day
Development follows a similar pattern to growth: there are short periods of no apparent learning or skill acquisition, followed by sudden periods of immense learning and change. Viewing development as a ladder where one skill is gained before moving on to gain another can actually be a barrier to normal development.
Reality: Your baby will grow and develop in leaps and spurts.
Myth 8: Your baby needs specialised stimulation classes and educational toys to thriveParents are outsourcing to ‘experts’ what used to be left to parents. Yes, information is power. But you need to be careful what you choose to outsource, and who you choose to outsource to when it comes to parenting. Your baby will learn from you, from everyday objects and from experiences. You don’t have to rely on scheduled classes for learning to take place.
Reality: You and your baby are not always going to want to play when it’s playtime, and that’s normal.
Myth 9: Your baby must do tummy time for 20 minutes every day
To learn, babies need to feel safe, as much as they need to play in a variety of positions to develop a wide variety of movements. The goal isn’t to race through skill acquisition and be walking by one year, but rather to allow your child to discover and enjoy a wonderfully rich world of movement – firstly horizontally and later vertically.
Reality: Your baby needs more than tummy time to develop good postural control.
Myth 10: Technology gives you and your baby an advantage
We’re the first generation of parents to be co-parenting with technology. As new parents, you’ll need to learn to trust what you experience in the real world with your baby more than what technology might tell you.
Reality: Trust yourself rather than technology.
The Unicorn Baby by Roxanne Atkinson is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers, priced £12.50. Available now.