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10 Things All New Parents Should Know

As parents, we've all made mistakes. We've all seen other parents make mistakes. In some cases, the mistakes are due to poor information and in other cases just poor judgement. The poor judgement part is, in my mind, just part of learning the art of parenting. It is something you learn through experience and by observing like-minded parents and hopefully your judgement improves with time.

But poor information is a problem. The science of parenting continues to evolve. We know better now about a lot of things and therefore do things differently than our parents did. However, a lot of people turn to their parents, their older siblings, friends with older children, and other trusted people in their lives for advice on raising their children. Or they just get given the advice, unsolicited.

With the intent of dispelling some of the misinformation out there, I put together a list of the things that I think all new parents should know (of course, I'll check the most recent studies before giving this same advice to my kids as they embark on parenthood in a few decades time!).

10 Things Every New Parent Should Know

1. You cannot spoil a child with love: So many new parents hear well-meaning people telling them that they are spoiling their baby by holding him and responding to his needs. But you cannot spoil a child with love. You can only spoil a child by giving the child stuff as a replacement for the time and attention that you are not able to give your child. This great article discusses the issue in more detail: Am I Spoiling My Child?

2. You should be responsive to your child's cries:Your baby does not need to exercise her lungs. She doesn't need to learn to self-soothe. What she needs are parents that understand that a baby's cry is her only way of communicating with you and she uses it to tell you that she needs something or that she needs you. It is important to respond to your baby's cries both to meet her most basic needs and to give her a sense of security that she will carry through life. Excessive crying can be harmful to babies. Another part of being responsive to your child is watching for cues (crying is the last cue - once the others have been missed!) to tell you when your baby is hungry and when she is tired. You don't need to implement a schedule for feeding and for sleep, you should watch your baby instead to determine when feeding and sleeping times should be.

3. Discipline means teach: New parents worry that they need to "discipline" their child. But often when they say discipline, they mean spanking or punishing. However, the word discipline means to teach. That is what parents need to do. They need to guide and teach their children. In the same way that we do not expect a first grader to learn calculus, it is important to understand what age appropriate behaviour is and to shape your expectations of your child and your discipline (teaching) according to what a child can reasonably be expected to understand at any given age.

4. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for 2 years or beyond: So many mothers think that they need to start weaning when their baby gets teeth. Or they need to wean when they introduce solid foods. Or they need to wean when they go back to work. This last one is the one I hear most often here in Canada where we have one year maternity leave. I hear mothers that loved breastfeeding talk about how they have to wean because they are going back to work. That is not the case. Moms can continue breastfeeding on demand when they are with the baby and just not nurse while at work during the day. They can, of course, choose to pump while at work (I still pump once per day for my daughter who is 16 months, but I stopped pumping at 1 year with my son), but they don't have to. Breastfeeding doesn't have to be all or nothing, it is possible to set limits or to partially wean, but still keep nursing in certain situations or at certain times of day. I think if more mothers knew this, more of them might be willing to nurse up to the WHO recommendation of 2 years or beyond. I recognize that not all mothers want to nurse for that long and that some babies do self-wean before that age. However, I think it is too bad when mothers that want to continue nursing feel that they have to stop earlier. Personally, I do everything in my power to keep my kids nursing until they are 2 years old and at that point, it is up to them to decide when they want to stop.

5. Solid food is not recommended before at least 6 months: Over the years, the recommendation on when to introduce solid foods has changed. I was given pablum at 6 weeks. But today, experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, followed by slow introduction of solid foods. As explained in the link, this gives babies greater protection from illness and food allergies, it gives their digestive system time to mature, helps protect from obesity, and many other benefits.

6. Your doctor is not a parenting expert and usually not a breastfeeding expert: I hear of so many new parents that feel bad after they leave their doctors office. It isn't because their baby isn't healthy. It is because the doctor was giving them advice on parenting issues like how and where they baby sleeps, how they deal with night wakings, how they discipline their children, and so on. Even on issues that are medical issues, listen to your doctor but do your own research too and don't be afraid to get a second opinion. I have heard of many doctors that express concern about any baby that is not above the 50th percentile on the growth charts and start suggesting formula supplements. Hmm...50% of all babies are below the 50th percentile. Are half of our babies really at risk of starving? Also, it sometimes takes time for recommendations to trickle down to your doctor's office. A lot of doctors still aren't aware of the recommendation that solids only be introduced at 6 months of age. A lot of them are still using the old growthcharts for formula fed babies instead of the new charts for breastfed babies. A lot of them only had very minimal training on breastfeeding to begin with.  If your doctor is raising concerns about the feeding of your baby, consider seeing an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. They are medical professionals with significant training and experience in breastfeeding.

7. You can sleep safely with your baby: There has been a lot of publicity about co-sleeping being dangerous. I addressed a lot of those myths in my post Faulty logic from the Ontario coroner regarding bed sharing. However, if you implement a few simple guidelines, then it can be safe to sleep with your baby and can even be safer than putting your baby in a crib in a separate room.

8. Obesity is going to be the biggest health problem facing our children's generation: They say fat is the new tobacco, meaning it will have the greatest negative impact on the health of the next generation. We need to give our children a good head start by making the right choices about infant feeding to avoid obesity and then continue to feed our children healthy foods that are low in sugar and low in saturated fats.

9. Children need to connect with nature: When we were kids, we roamed the neighbourhood without our parents. We climbed trees, picked berries, played in the dirt, built forts, caught frogs, and had a great time. We learned about nature by being part of nature. Today, parents are scared to let their kids go out on their own, so that means they keep them inside. They watch TV, they play on the computer, they go to organized sports or other activities. But free outdoor play time is rarer and rarer. If parents don't want to let their kids roam unsupervised (I know I don't...not yet at least!), then they need to go with them and let their child take the lead. Let them play freely in nature. Let them touch nature. Let them get exercise and fresh air at the same time. Want to read more? Get Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.

10. Keep your child rear-facing in the car for as long as possible: A lot of parents ask when they can turn their child around and then turn them around as soon as they have met the minimum guidelines for height, weight and age. However, you should keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible, i.e. at least until they reach the height and weight limit of the car seat while rear facing (but possibly considering buying a new seat if that would mean turning the baby too soon). More information here: Why rear facing is safest.

Once you've done your research and made your decisions about how you want to parent, there are always going to be people that will try to tell you what you are doing is wrong. Some of them are well meaning, some of them are not. But none of them are you. Sometimes you may welcome advice and even seek it out. Other times you may want people to leave you alone. Regardless of whether the advice is solicited or not, you need to learn to take what works for you and leave the rest. Be confident! And if someone keeps bothering you and won't let up, ask them to "pass the bean dip".

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    PhD in Parenting - PhD in Parenting - 10 Things All New Parents Should Know

Reader Comments (73)

God Bless all mothers that breast feed , During our dating phase , breast feeding came up and we decided to feed for 18 months for both my boys , God Bless my wife for all the attention and loving care given to my children , that will carry on as increased health and resistance to illnesses for a life time...

July 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCARL BAKER

Please read the Weston A Price stuff, keeping in mind that they are NOT industry-funded, but that the American Heart Association are some of the biggest industry whores around, getting much of their funding from both the pharmaceutical industry & the processed food industry. (here are a couple of links--a google search will get you more http://www.awkolaw.com/blog/avandia/american-heart-associations-defense-of-avandia-questionable-motives/ http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0876/is_2001_Wntr/ai_75705615/ ). The research on which the war against saturated fats is based is seriously flawed, in several different ways, beginning with the fact that none of that research separated saturated fats from trans fats. For another example, the original research on which the war on fat is based, conducted by Ancel Keyes, had data for 22 different countries. He only used the data from the 6 countries that had data agreeing with his premise on which to support his conclusions. It was research just as bad as the latest from AJOG.
We have been villainizing saturated fats and eliminating them from our diets for the past half a century. While all the diseases that were supposedly caused by too much saturated fat in our diets got worse, NOT better. Please, please research this from sources that do not take money from the processed food industry or from Big Pharma (which excludes the government, which gets lots of money from both, as taxes, fees, and campaign contributions. If you start checking into how such agencies as the FDA get their money, you will know that you cannot rely on their information).

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather


I don't have a lot of respect for the Weston A Price Foundation given their stance on breastfeeding.

I also don't think we should eliminate saturated fats from our diet, but I do think we need to reduce the amount of saturated fats that we consume and we need to focus on consuming healthier saturated fats. Instead of a plate that is half filled with french fries and half filled with pepperoni pizza, we should be aiming for a plate that is half filled with vegetables, a quarter filled with starch and a quarter filled with protein. I don't think that some butter on those vegetables or starches is the problem or that a good steak is the problem. I think the problem is the fact that saturated fats get consumed in excess and at the expense of things like fruits and vegetables.

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Their stance on breastfeeding is that there ARE some women who actually can't breastfeed successfully--which is true. It is even more true in our malnourished society. Remember, a lot of people who are overweight are actually malnourished, not the opposite! WAP also provides some of the best practical help out there--recipes for good, nourishing, homemade baby formulas that work. MUCH better than giving the babies soy and corn syrup (the principal ingredients in most prefab formulas).
French fries might be full of trans fats, but would have little to no saturated fats in this day and age--but the frying oils that are used for them are definitely not good for you. The oils that have replaced the trans fat oils (in places that are not still just using them) mess with one's blood sugar. What is making people fat is sugar, white flour, and industrial fats (such as the yuck restaurants fry fries in), not whole foods and real fats. The biggest problem with pizza is all that white flour in the crust. Of course, grass fed pepperoni and good quality sauce and cheese would be an improvement, too. But the things that keep people fat, as well as many of the chronic diseases of obesity, have their roots in blood sugar issues. If anything, good fats help to stabilize blood sugar.

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather


There are plenty of women who are malnourished around the world and successfully breastfeed their babies. If a mom has sufficient money to buy food (e.g. the stuff that goes into the "good, nourishing, homemade baby formulas"), then she would be better served eating that stuff herself so that it will nourish her and nourish her baby.

With regards to everything else that you said, I don't disagree entirely. I never said that white flour, sugar, trans fats or other industrial fats are healthy. Don't forget the sodium too (most fast food and processed food is excessively high in sodium). People should eat a balanced diet of whole foods, which can and should include good fats in moderation along with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I first read this when my daughter was a few weeks old, and now, at 19 months, my husband and I can say that we did (and are!) doing what is healthiest, most safest and most "instinctal" with/for our daughter. I enjoy reading all your blog entries Annie. Thank you for reposting this.

I'm very proud of these facts! But boohoo, Lily weaned at 18 months (because I was 23 weeks pregnant) I hope she re-starts when new baby arrives. (She'll be 22 months)
I'm going to share on my facebook!

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

Carl, I must write that it's nice to see a dad post! My husband reads some of the posts Annie writes and he is a strong "silent" supporter of her blog through me!

Breastfeeding is done by the mother, the caring and nurturing that is also given to baby when baby is breastfed is done by the mother AND the father. My husband is a very proud DADDY and proud of me as well for breastfeeding our daughter to 18 months and it makes me love him so much more because of the family bond that we have created through this. (I'm a sappy pregnant woman right now, haha)

Your wife and children are lucky to have you!

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

couldn't agree more!

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercarolb

This is a great list! To the point and informative.

My only complaint is that I really think there should be a #11 -- as other commenters have stated already, "car seats are for cars."

The "car seat carrier" has become so ubiquitous, that parents just seem to absorb the idea unconsciously, that babies BELONG in some kind of carrier at all times. I was at an infant baptism recently, two babies. Both started the service in their car seats. They were actually removed and held in-arms for the baptism itself. Immediately afterwards, one baby was kept in-arms in their pew while the mom fed him a bottle (sigh). Then back into the seat on the floor. The other baby went immediately back into the seat, which was held on the father's lap. Where he proceeded to just hold this big honkin' seat on his lap, smiling at his baby, gazing at her lovingly, rocking the seat on his lap... I just couldn't understand it! Why put her in the seat, to then hold the seat on your lap? The only conclusion -- the inherent belief that babies are supposed to be IN something.

I think this partly is the fault of the standard hospital policy of having to check out with your baby in its car seat. It's a good policy, in the sense that it ensures new parents have a safe car seat and know how to get baby in it properly. But I don't understand why there's usually a stipulation that you must actually carry the baby out in the seat -- not just bring it in for a check. This gives parents the STRONG message that 1) you must use a bucket seat and not a convertible, since the convertible are NOT for carrying baby in, and 2) you must carry your baby in the bucket at all times, you can't trust yourself to not drop it, or use any other kind of conveyance.

I had to actually argue with the nurses about this. We brought in our Radian convertible car seat -- perfectly safe for babies 5lbs and up. They wanted to make me carry her in it when we left. This is a 40-pound steel-framed seat! Not designed for carrying the baby in! They were just so confused, they obviously were not used to seeing anything other than buckets. I left with my daughter in a sling. In the end they couldn't stop me.

But with that as the beginning experience for 99% of parents, it's little wonder that car seats are so overused as carriers, with the medical professionals themselves giving the implicit message that that's what they're supposed to do... despite all the MEDICAL RESEARCH studies showing how dangerous it truly is.

Anyway, I'd also like to comment about the baby foods -- agreeing with a previous comment, that purees are completely unnecessary, self-feeding real food from the beginning is totally the way to go! So much easier and more developmentally appropriate.

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather D

I think your article has great information. The only thing I would change would be not to say that babies use crying as a last resort, because as the parent of an intense child/baby, I know that he would cry (scream) as a first resort. I used to feel very low self-esteem about this and thought that I was doing something wrong (for example, missing other cues), but now that I also have a very easy-going daughter who almost never cried as an infant, I see that this is a personality difference.

Thanks for making great information concisely available for more parents!

Jolene =)

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJolene

Our son became a lot happier in the car after we turned him around at about 14 months.

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJolene

#12 There is no such thing as a "good" parenting book. Every book you read will have some good points and a lot of bad. Write your own book. There is no other child like yours and no other parent like you.

July 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLea

This is a great article, with one exception. Children do NOT need a diet low in saturated fats; that's the government's "health" line (influenced by lobbyists with lots of money) and it is scientifically incorrect. Children need a diet with lots of good, healthy (grass-fed, not grain-fed) animal fats in order to grow their bodies and their brains correctly. Low-saturated-fats diets actually increase the obesity problem.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

I have 6 children under the age of 9, several of which are *very* strong-willed. I have never left a child crying for hours at night, and by responding to my children's cries efficiently and quickly, they soon became secure enough to not cry at all. No, I do not attend to their every whim, but I did attend to their every NEED----including a need for loving arms and the respect that they might know when they needed me, as opposed to what a doctor might medically ordain.
As a side note, SIDS means a child dies for no reason. Death by co-sleeping is from not doing it correctly, and the cause is known. It is not the same at all. Co-sleeping actually encourages a child to regulate both their temperature and their breathing at a time when they are still learning to do all of that.

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelly K

I agree with Jennifer about the Low-saturated fats, and I think the real emphasis should be on avoiding artificial transfats and hydrogenated oils.

July 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrittany

[...] another blurb I think that’s very relevant from PhD in Parenting’s post 10 Things All New Parents Should Know: New parents worry that they need to “discipline” their child. But often when they say [...]

I think your points are good ones, and ones I follow 99% of the time except I DO believe it is unsafe to sleep with babies. My Mom works for 9-11 call center and I couldn't even tell you how many babies have died in the last 2 years from parents suffocating them in their sleep. Makes me sick. And no, these weren't crack head drunk parents. I think its a personal choice. I personally believe the parent's bed should be their sanctuary with each other as well. There has to be boundaries. I can lay with my child in her bed (now 3 yrs old) for as long as she needs, but she's not laying in mine.
Also, the crying baby thing. I believe that of course you must respond to a baby's cries to make sure their needs are met (physically and emotionally), but once you have responded a gazillion times and every time you go back there they smile and laugh, its time to say "no more." If anyone on here thinks that kids can't manipulate, then they are fools. My kids know I have always been there for them, but they also know they when its bedtime, its bedtime. Period. And I know the difference between a "tired, whiny, I don't wanna sleep" cry and a "something is wrong, I am scared/hurt/lonely" cry. My kids never cried longer than 5 minutes and I would only wait it out if the cries were not hysterical. There is a balance. Some of the balance is made my common sense.
Yes, kids are important and we must raise them to feel safe and secure, well-adjusted individuals. But they are also individuals that will not be cradled and caudled when they are not with us, so they must learn some sort of self-assurance.
Just my opinion, and it works for my family. There is a reason that so many kids act so dang entitled all the time, and have no sense of consequence or fear. They get whatever they want and parents act afraid of THEM. Because we are so frightened of doing something wrong, screwing up our kids, b/c of all the articles and advice out there and not wanting to raise a serial killer - that we baby step around our own children and let them call the shots. Not gonna happen in this house. I am the Boss. I treat my children like people, individuals, who need to learn the rules and obey them or they will not get fun treats and toys. Life is the same way. Or should be.

September 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteranon

Yesterday I caught a ride from a woman I barely know from my church. She has a son who is roughly the same age as my second daughter (she's 11m so he's probably 9-10 months) and the subject of naptime came up. She mentioned her child didn't have a nap schedule. This is something I've been struggling with myself--I'm not a scheduler, anyway, but it's especially hard to work my baby's naps in around my preschooler's school schedule--and I thought I had found some common ground. We continued talking and she mentioned that her pediatrician had said that naps weren't a big deal and not to worry if her son didn't seem to take many, or enough naps. She said she felt relieved to have his approval. I commented that I could see why she would feel that way, and she went on to say that her pediatrician has dictated most of their parenting decisions, because who is she to say what's right and wrong, and he's the doctor, right? For example, he was a big believer in Ferber (gulp) and he was the one who insisted that they didn't need to get up several times a night at 4 months old, and it turned out to be the best thing they ever did! She said, "My best friend doesn't listen to a thing her doctor says. She thinks she knows it all, anyway."

I said, "Ha ha! Actually, I'm kind of like that. Uhhh, well, I like to read books and get a lot of different ideas and just figure out what makes the most sense for our family."

She said, "But I know I could read a bunch of different books and they would all say something different and that would just stress me out. Easier just to go to one source--my doctor. And he hasn't led me wrong yet!" Sigh.

I'm not sure why I'm telling you all of this, but the whole conversation really stood out in my mind, particularly because I know this woman is VERY INTELLIGENT and a very capable critical thinker in other areas of her life. She is a successful attorney. I know she loves her son and she has expressed many times that she simply wants to do what's best, and what's healthiest for him. How are we as a society so divorced from our instincts that we are afraid to think critically about how we raise our children? Is it fear, or is it a lack of time and energy--an attempt to outsource parenting decisions? I don't know. But I am sad for that baby. I am sad for the mama, although she may go to the grave certain she did the right thing for her child.

January 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBlair

Really great piece! Thanks for advocating exclusive breastfeeding!

February 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha Gluck

Excellent points here! Thanks for writing this. I fully agree and will be passing this on :)

March 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSonya

I just say this and wanted to say thank you. The person who wrote this article along with so many others had made me feel like the worst mother EVER cause I couldn't breastfeed. I tried with my oldest and everything stopped at 6 weeks, nothing would make the lactation come back. And with my second the milk barley came in to be enough to feed him. So when I read this stuff saying ALL women can do it makes me feel horrible.

November 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMel

Who are you to judge what's poor judgement and mistakes? I was put off by the arrogance before I even started reading points! It's up to the parent how they want to raise their child and what they think is right. To make suggestions is good but to claim that if other parents are doing things differently they are wrong or making a mistake is very ignorant and part of the problem.

March 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTanya Georges

For another view of the conflicted and unfounded basis of the AHA's diet advice as concerns saturated fat, I recommend a look at The Heart Association's Junk Science Diet.

May 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDavid R. Herz

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