Like pretty much every pregnant mama ever, I spent a huge chunk of my pregnancy bouncing back and forth between impatience and worry. Then, as I was sitting in our childbirth class, a guest speaker and midwife said, "It's sadly true that things sometimes go wrong during pregnancies and births. But if making people was as impossible as we make it seem sometimes, then why is it so damn hard to find a parking space?" Suddenly, it clicked for me: unless something is clearly wrong, I can trust my body and my baby. After that, my mantra for the rest of my pregnancy became ,"My baby knows how to baby, and my body knows how to birth."
Moms worry for good reasons because, hey, the world isn't as perfect as we'd like and things really can and do go wrong. However, the overwhelming majority of the time, everything is fine. Babies seem quite helpless when they're first born, but they're wired to survive. As long as we feed them when they're hungry, keep them clean and dry, and create safe surroundings for them to learn and explore, they usually turn out pretty well.
Babies may not know all the things we've studied and learned in life, but they're experts in being babies, and we should trust them to do it. Though we might be anxious for them to maximize their potential or whatever else, if they're taking their time to roll over or sit up, they probably have their reasons. Besides, no future employer is ever going to ask how old they were when they rolled over. They're not going to get extra credit in school for crawling before their classmates. Unless a medical professional has said, "This isn't OK," you can trust that your baby knows how to baby, especially in situations like these:
When You're Having A Healthy Pregnancy
For all the "glowing" and magic we're supposed to experience during gestation, for many of us, pregnancy is more like an ongoing exercise in anxiety. During every moment that we're not able to watch our babies via ultrasound, there's a lingering question: is the baby OK in there?
But unless there's really some specific indication that something might be wrong — sudden pain, bleeding, a lack of movement during times you'd expect to feel it, etc. — chances are the baby is doing their thing, and we just need to trust that our bodies know more about this whole stitching-babies-together-from-scratch thing than our worry-wracked brains do.
When You're Waiting For Labor To Start
I know, 39-week-pregnant mama. You're so over it already. Labor takes nine entire forevers to start, and once you're close to (or just past) your estimated due date (EDD), the temptation to just get this show on the road can become unbearable.
The thing is, there's a reason why labor starts when it starts. If your baby is showing no signs of distress and you're still within two weeks of your EDD, chances are your baby isn't trying to drive you nuts by chilling in your belly as long as they are. They're just trying to make sure they'll be able to breathe once they're out here on dry land.
When Your Breastfed Newborn Wants To Eat All The Time
"But you just ate!" cried every sore-nippled mama of a newborn ever. Yeah, it seems totally unfair and ridiculous for a new baby to be eating as often as they do, but they have really good reasons: their tummies are tiny, breast milk is really easily digested, and the more they nurse, the more robust your milk supply will be. They know what they're doing on this one, so do what you have to do to fix that latch if it hurts, soothe yourself between feedings, and remember that this, too, shall pass.
When Your Baby Is Making Seemingly "Weird" Motions
When my son was around five months old, he suddenly started making these odd gestures in his pack and play. First he started rolling over in a weird way, and then he started doing what looked like a variation of a Pilates side-plank. It looked weird, but he didn't seem bothered at all, so I just kept an eye on him to see what happened. Shortly thereafter, he started crawling like a little boss.
Turns out, those "weird" movements were him instinctively strengthening the muscles he needed to hold himself up and coordinate his arms and legs while moving across the floor. If a baby isn't hurt, upset, or unsafe while doing their funky little moves, just let them be. It's probably setting the stage for their next big skill.
When Another Baby You Know Meets A Milestone Before Your Baby
There is a huge range for what's considered "normal" for babies and young children. They all grow in slightly different ways. For example, my first nephew is very verbally precocious, and spoke words and sentences from a really young age, but was nervous about walking until well past his first birthday.
By contrast, my son didn't speak as early as he did, but he figured out how to climb the stairs at barely seven months old, and could walk by nine months. Like Magda Gerber said, "Childhood is not a race." Unless they show signs of a developmental delay, we can trust that our babies are meeting the challenges they're ready for.
When Your Baby Is Figuring Out How To Roll Over Or Sit Up
Because rolling over and sitting up are among the earlier milestones, after head and neck control, that our pediatricians and others look out for, it can be tempting to try to "teach" them how to do it as soon as we can. But sitting a baby up or putting them in a position they can't achieve on their own limits their chances to do all the little intermediate movements they need to develop their muscles. It can also be dangerous for them, because if they can't get themselves into a position, that usually means they can't get out of it without falling.
When Your Baby Is Deciding What To Play With Or Pay Attention To
Sometimes, babies get totally focused on the oddest things (or what seems odd to us, anyway). But that's how babies learn about things, and how babies learn to focus. Trusting them to pick what they play with or pay attention to instead of trying to entertain them will help them a lot down the line.
(It can also spare us some whining in the future if they don't develop the expectation that we're supposed to entertain them when they're bored.)
When Your Baby Is Trying To Reach A Toy They Want
Figuring out how to reach a thing they want isn't just more fun, it's a part of learning to problem-solve. Babies are surprisingly capable, and as long as they're in a safe environment, we can trust them to figure out a lot more than we might assume.
When Your Baby Is Learning How To Talk
Learning a new language is hard. Learning a new language while you're still developing the jaw, tongue, and breathing coordination to produce sounds on purpose is even harder. They make it look easy sometimes, but babies work hard to learn language. They know when they feel comfortable enough to try out their new language skills aloud. We don't need to nudge them to say more, or coach them or quiz them on the words they know or whatever. Talking to them and reading with them is totally enough.
When Your Baby Is Learning How To Walk
"We decided to welcome Jane Doe to the incoming first-year class of our prestigious university because she started walking before she turned a year old," said no dean of admissions ever. Babies all have different things to coordinate and negotiate in order to balance themselves and walk, and they all take slightly different amounts of time to figure those things out. If a baby has a specific physical delay, that's absolutely worth addressing. However, if a baby is totally healthy and is just doing their own thing when it comes to walking, let them. They don't need devices or lessons or pressure to start walking, and there's no special advantage to learning to walk sooner or later. (Also, baby walkers can be dangerous, so there's that.)
None of these normal developments are going on their permanent record, or ours as parents, so we can definitely afford to chill out on this front.