Two lies I was told as a new father

Nearly three months ago, my wife gave birth to an incredible baby boy named Dilan. One of the great things about becoming a new parent is that there is an abundance of people you can turn to for advice. After all, 6+ billion children didn’t just appear out of nowhere!

Unfortunately, despite all of the tips we were equipped with, our first several weeks with Dilan turned out to be exceptionally rough. In fact, there were two key pieces of advice that I now realize sent us totally in the wrong direction. Now, it is probably a bit unfair to refer to the advice we received as “lies” because it was surely well-intended (and truth be told, we are extremely grateful for almost all of the tips and suggestions we were given!). I am calling it out, though, because it was advice that we heard very consistently and yet it was fundamentally flawed. Also, I realize that every baby is different, but hopefully this helps some other parents out there.

“You can’t overfeed your baby.”

Wrong. I can’t tell you how many people explicitly said this to us, including nurses, lactation consultants, doulas, and pediatricians. It turns out that virtually all of the advice a new mom receives in regards to breastfeeding is based on the assumption that breastfeeding will be impossible. Fortunately for us, Dilan figured out how to breastfeed rather quickly and is really darn good at it. The boy was born to eat.

The problem is that we were consistently told to keep him on the breast as long as he wanted… and he wanted to stay the entire day. As a result, he kept overeating. I can’t tell you how many times milk gushed out of his mouth. It is really hard for a baby to sleep, or be happy, when he’s constantly spitting up all over himself.  It wasn’t long before we began asking questions about his ridiculous amount of feeding, but we were always told the same thing, “Ah, let him feed when he wants to. Newborns can’t overfeed.”

It turns out that half the time he was feeding, he was just feeding to soothe. He didn’t need to eat — even if it seemed like he was “rooting” or showing some of the other typical hunger signs (I think he began to associate those behaviors with soothing). He just needed to suck on something, or simply receive some other form of comfort. It sounds obvious now, but I am surprised that nobody ever brought this up to us. We are now very careful about trying not to overfeed him, and he is a much happier baby.

“Newborns sleep almost the entire day.”

OK, this is not completely untrue, but it is misleading. It should be, “Newborns need to sleep almost the entire day.” The problem with the above statement is that it implies that the sleep will just happen on its own. Maybe it does for some babies (apparently for all of the baby girls our friends are having!), but not for our boy. For the first few weeks, we thought we would just hold him or swaddle him while going about our usual day, and that he would pass out as needed. Instead, he was wide awake most of the day and very, very unhappy. It is called being overtired. And despite all of the advice we were given, nobody ever mentioned this to us.

The solution is that we had to soothe him to sleep. And by soothe, I mean spend anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours working (not kidding!) to convince him to fall asleep. We’ve nearly perfected it to an art now — and can sometimes get him asleep in under 10 minutes — but essentially the process involves the following:

  • Monitor him closely when he has been awake between 1 – 2 hours. That seems to be his limit. He’ll stop playing as much and will start to get fussy. The sooner you detect he is tired, the easier he will be to put asleep.
  • Get him out of the noise and lights. When he is tired, it means that he is also overstimulated.
  • Swaddle so that he won’t keep driving himself crazy by flinging his own arms and legs everywhere. This was the one piece of advice we heard from the very beginning. It is a must, but not the silver bullet we thought it would be.
  • Cradle him and rock, swing, or sway. This is why Fischer Price sells a lot of swings. Again, not a silver bullet for us either.
  • Play loud white noise. This is the final ingredient, and the true secret weapon. When he is fussy, nothing other than feeding him can get him quiet like white noise. It works like pure magic 80% of the time.

Like I said, every baby is different and perhaps the above two statements actually ring true in most cases. Regardless, my wife and I are really surprised that nobody ever told us about overfeeding and overtiring. After figuring this out on our own, we have since come across some great resources online like these sleep guides: It is actually kind of funny to see our crazy routine spelled out almost exactly in these guides.

A baby that eats properly and sleeps properly, is a happy baby. For those of you still trying to find your happy baby, I really hope this helps. I’d love to hear your comments!