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What she said: Local moms offer up the best and worst new parent advice they've received

Photo: Bridget Coila/Flickr


We can’t help ourselves, we seasoned parents, childbirth professionals and child development experts. We see a pregnant belly or a couple in the throes of new parenthood and out it flies: Advice.

Thankfully, a lot of it is helpful — if it worked for us, it may just work for another parent. But for all the great bits of wisdom we pass along about how to get through labor, feed a baby, get sleep or get a newborn to sleep, or otherwise deal with the challenges of bringing baby home, there’s just as much hooey.

“Man, I wish I could wipe clean all the bad advice my clients have received over the years,” says Sarina Natkin, a Seattle mother of two and parent educator at Grow Parenting. “The trouble is, it starts long before we have kids, particularly in the messages women get from childhood about what it means to be a mom. That sets us up for putting tremendous pressure on ourselves, which leads to a lot of anxiety and willingness to do whatever someone tells us — no matter their credentials!”

We asked Natkin and other local parents to share some of the pearls that were shared with them as new parents — that is, the best and the worst advice they received.  Here’s what they said.

Advice on getting through labor

The best

“Close the baby books and listen to your baby and your instinct.”  — Suzanne Womble, Redmond mom


“Hire a doula.”  — Lisa Odegard, Mercer Island mother of two


“Work with a doula and educate yourself about natural approaches to labor.”  — Erin MacDougall, Seattle mother now expecting her second baby


“My mother-in-law told me that I own my body, and to make sure to request something if I needed it.”  — Hannah Geasey, mother of one, city withheld


“Use a TENS unit for labor pain management; it was amazing at decreasing my labor pains!”  — Loriann Caldwell, Issaquah mother


“Our doula suggested that we ask the obstetrician to try the least invasive methods to get labor started. I went into labor with one capsule of cervical thinner instead of the far more invasive Pitocin IV that the doctor wanted to put me on first.”  — Loriann Caldwell, Issaquah mother


“Trust your body and yourself. Get clear about what you want and need for the experience-to-be, and what will feel most supportive to you. Articulate that simply and clearly to those who will be with you in the process. And don't be shy about asking for what you need to stay close to that as you go through the experience. But more than anything: trust your body and yourself to do exactly what you need to have a healthy baby safely.”  — C.R., Seattle mom


“Spend time on your birth plan; type it up, have it in your chart. Understand your options, discuss them with your provider, ask lots of questions, and have an idea of things that you do and do not want. Then know that labor will go how it goes, and the more you can be flexible, the better you can adapt because things don’t go according to plan.”  — Sarina Natkin, Seattle mother of two


“Never say never!”  — Susie Fritzky, Seattle mom


“The best advice I got came from multiple sources in my circle who admonished me to be flexible with my birth plan. I was initially set on having a natural birth and my friends encouraged me to move forward with that plan, but also be able to give myself permission to have an epidural if I needed one for whatever reasons. I ended up doing 18 hours without an epidural. I gave ‘natural’ my best shot, and then surrendered to an epidural. It was the right decision, as I had nine more hours to go and my baby's head got stuck under my pubic bone!”  — Hope Hundley, Seattle mother


“Vocalizations help you get through contractions as well as counting. Don't worry about being self-conscious, do what you need to do. Drop the pitch in your vocalizations when it gets really hard.”  — Ann Ishimaru, Seattle mother of three


“Try the hot tub. That made a huge difference in baby number two!”  — Ann Ishimaru, Seattle mother of three


The worst

“Get a C-section, it is so easy.”  — Lisa Odegard, Mercer Island mother of two


“I was told to inhale in quickly twice and exhale quickly twice. This suggestion was from birthing class that my husband and I took. I instead took deep inhales and exhales, which was very regulating for me. If I took quick breaths I felt anxious, not regulated and tense.”  — Hannah Geasey, mother of one, city withheld


“Take a lot of food to the hospital. I couldn't even think about food in labor. We ended up schlepping home much of what I'd brought for labor.”  — C.R., Seattle mom


“When I was in transition, I had this incredible urge to arch my back. I actually couldn’t not arch my back, even though the midwife was yelling at me to stop. Turned out my tailbone snapped after that and (my daughter’s) clavicle broke. I think there was something about that arched back position that needed to happen, and the midwife pushing me out of where my body wanted to go actually was pretty unhelpful.”  — Sarina Natkin, Seattle mother of two


“Don't eat or drink once you start labor. I got way too dehydrated and it made my blood pressure go way up. Not good. It was dumb advice that almost triggered a whole cascade of medical interventions.”  — Ann Ishimaru, Seattle mother of three


“Worst advice: Get an epidural right away.”  — Erin MacDougall, Seattle mother now expecting her second baby


“Bad advice: ‘You don't need a doula, you've got a midwife and your husband.’ Except that my first labor went super long and the midwives happened to have a conference that day, and I had four different midwives popping in and out and the story kept changing from one to the next. That ended in a C-section. The next two births were with doulas — one with a midwife and one with an ob/gyn. Both were successful vaginal births after C-sections (VBACs) and night-and-day better experiences. My husband was awesome — and very appreciative of the doulas! Yes, it's expensive, but how many times in your life are you planning on giving birth?”  — Ann Ishimaru, Seattle mother of three

Advice on the early postpartum transition

The best

“The best advice I got was from our midwife, Bev Schubert of Little Mountain Midwifery. She gently suggested that we wait for a week after our daughter’s birth to invite out-of-town family to come and stay with us. This would give a bit of time for my husband and I to connect with Lola and acclimate to life as a family of three privately. We asked friends to come by with meals and fresh salads, and we let the dishes pile up. While in that week I had moments of wishing my mother was by my side, it plunged Seth and I headfirst into parenting. It was sink or swim, so to speak! I wouldn’t give that precious, private week back for anything.”  — Sarah Orza, Seattle mom


The worst

“I’d say that the worst advice I received was rather a lack of advice before my daughter Lola was born. Nobody told me just how hard becoming a mama was going to be! I was under the impression that I was going to lounge in bed for 3 weeks and dote on my sweet, slumbering newborn. Instead, I bled heavily, and was terrified to poop. My milk came in heavy and leaking everywhere. My hormones surged and I wept deeply for no seeming reason. My nipples hurt terribly and I was exhausted to my bones. I’ve since heard other mothers mention the ‘pregnancy code’: you do not tell a happy pregnant woman about the hardness of what’s to come. This lack of discussion made me feel that perhaps it was just me — it was just hard for me, but not for others. I know now that this is not the case. It is hard! I wish those mamas already ‘in the know’ had given me the heads-up.”  — Sarah Orza, Seattle mom


“You shouldn’t need to take more than one week off (work).”  — Michael Morita, Seattle dad


“Give the baby sugar water (for soothing).”  — Brooke Leary, Seattle mom

Advice on feeding your baby

The best

“Someone let me know that it was OK to quit (breastfeeding) after two and a half months of trying.”  — Lisa Odegard, Mercer Island mother of two


“Put the phone number for the 24-hour lactation hotline on your refrigerator before baby comes.”  — Erin MacDougall, Seattle mother now expecting her second baby


“For the breastfeeding, I was told to relax and go at my own pace. If I was feeling pressured to breastfeed, then tell whomever it was to leave me alone. This advice came from my mother and that's exactly what I did.”– Hannah Geasey, mother of one, city withheld


“I did not produce much milk (after having had breast cancer). I felt so guilty about it and spent precious time early on pumping around the clock when I should have been resting and recovering after a 27-hour labor. It was my second lactation consultant who encouraged me to let go. She said, ‘You've worked so hard to get this baby here; maybe it’s time to just relax and enjoy her.  She'll be fine with formula and a mother who isn't exhausted.’”  — Hope Hundley, Seattle mom


“Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are lots of resources out there to help new mothers who are struggling with breastfeeding.”  — Brooke Leary, Seattle mom


“If you are pumping breast milk, make sure you are using the right size shield. It helps with both comfort and yield.”  — Brooke Leary, Seattle mom


“There is no one right way to feed your baby. You have to get to know each other and how you both work. Be patient while you figure out the best way for your baby to latch, and be positioned and how she wants to be held and feed.”  — C.R., Seattle mom


“Research lactation consultants before your child is born, and have a number handy in case problems arise. A good one can work wonders and make nursing an enjoyable experience for both mom and baby.”  — Karyn Abraham, former Seattle mom recently transplanted to Chicago


“Get help with breastfeeding, but only help that makes you feel positive and supported. Not all lactation consultants are created equally. If they make you feel like crap about yourself, move on.”  — Ann Ishimaru, Seattle mother of three 


“If you happen to have low production (my perpetual issue), don't beat yourself up or get convinced that supplementing with formula is tantamount to poisoning your child. It's not. Some of us can't produce enough milk. As great as the breastfeeding benefits are, don't internalize the superiority of breast milk to the point of feeling like you're a failure as a mother.”  — Ann Ishimaru, Seattle mother of three 


“The best advice I got for breastfeeding was to do it as long as I could for the benefit of the baby. I had this idea that I was only going to do it for the first few months, out of fear of my breasts stretching and the inconvenience of having to breastfeed. The more I did it, the more I loved the special bond with my baby, and breastfed for 12 months. My breasts seem the same as before breastfeeding. Hallelujah.”  — Loriann Caldwell, Issaquah mom 


“The doctor advised me that weaning was not the right thing for baby, and I shouldn’t do it. (But) while breastfeeding has many benefits and can be a wonderful experience, the health, safety and emotional well-being of parents must come first. If breastfeeding hurts mom, it ultimately hurts baby too. When my second was born, I had undiagnosed thyroid disease, which was masked as postpartum depression. As a social worker and parent educator, I was deeply knowledgeable about postpartum mood disorders. I got on medication, I had a therapist, a psychiatrist, an amazingly supporting partner, family to help, was exercising, pumping so my partner could do one feeding a night and I could get a longer chunk of sleep. Nothing was helping, and we decided a change in medication was needed. Problem was, the new medication was not safe for breastfeeding. When the doctor indicated that weaning was not the right thing for baby and I shouldn’t do it, I was furious.”  — Sarina Natkin, mother of two


The worst

“It always hurts but you have to push through it, even if you are raw.”  — Lisa Odegard, Mercer Island


“The worst advice I was to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula for the added iron,” – Susie Fritzky, Seattle mom

Advice on sleep

The best

“Someone telling me it was really OK that my baby's sleep schedule was different than everyone else's children. Just make sure they are getting enough sleep.”  — Lisa Odegard, Mercer Island


“Trust that your baby will learn how to sleep eventually, and to be patient.”  — Erin MacDougall, Seattle mother now expecting her second baby


“I actually consulted a few people about co-sleeping versus self-soothing. I mainly listened to what my mother said, because she said that all of her children (including me) started self-soothing at about 2 months old. I did that and it has been the best decision ever, because my daughter sleeps through the night and enjoys playing by herself in the crib. My husband and I aren't as exhausted to go to work or get through the day.” – Hannah Geasey, mother of one, city withheld


“Sleep-train the baby at 4 months. We tried the progressive ‘cry it out’ method and she has been an incredible nighttime sleeper since. While we sometimes wish she were in bed with us, having her in her crib has allowed the whole family to get deep rest, making for a happier bunch.”  — Loriann Caldwell, Issaquah mom


“My girlfriend Kirdis, who told me to get a baby nurse at night during the first few weeks after delivery. It was the one thing I didn't follow that I wish I had. I didn't have any friends or family around and after a long labor, and I could've really used the rest at night until I recovered.”  — Hope Hundley, Seattle mom 


“Consistency is the key: whatever you do, be consistent. Geez, that's so freaking hard!!!”  — Ann Ishimaru, Seattle mother of three


The worst

“The worst advice we got was not to sleep-train. We are in favor of teaching a 7-month-old how to sleep through the night. After waking hourly for seven months, sleep deprivation had taken a serious toll, and telling us not to sleep-train was not helpful advice and really offensive, honestly.” — Erin MacDougall, Seattle mother now expecting her second baby


“At some point you have to let them cry it out.”  — C.R., Seattle mom


“Letting your little one cry is a form of child abuse. Sure, it's sometimes a form of torture for the parents, but babies do cry sometimes, and the goal of never letting them cry is a setup for everyone.”  — Ann Ishimaru, Seattle mother of three


“‘Sleep when the baby sleeps’ was the advice that played over and over in my head.  Who sleeps when the baby sleeps? There are a million different things that one has to do when the baby is sleeping. I think better advice is, ‘Have enough help around the house in the beginning, so that all you have to do is sleep when the baby sleeps.’  I think that would've been far more useful.”  — Hope Hundley, Seattle mom

Advice on infant and toddler development

The best

“The best advice I read about toddlers is to think of them as miniature cavemen. It helped me realize that the inability to communicate effectively, barbaric behavior (smacking the baby on the head with a truck), gigantic tantrums — especially for something minor, like wiping his face after a meal — and inability to share are all completely normal for 1- to 3-year-olds. Once I looked at my little guy as a caveman, his behavior was more funny than irritating.”  — Katie Biron, Redmond mother of three


The worst

“I was advised that buying a lot of toys for my toddler would help preoccupy her. Most of the toys she has, she barely plays with. I received this advice from an online website. I learned that if I rotate toys every two weeks, my daughter thinks the toys are new!”  — Hannah Geasey, mother of one, city withheld

Advice on important newborn decisions

The worst

“Circumcise your child so he will look like his dad.”  — Lisa Odegard, Mercer Island

Books suggested by local parents for getting through pregnancy, birth and the first year

  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

  • Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn: The Complete Guide by Penny Simkin, April Bolding, Ann Keppler, Janelle Durham and Janet Whalley

  • Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy: From Doctors Who Are Parents, Too!

  • HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method: A natural approach to a safe, easier, more comfortable birthing (3rd edition) by Marie F. Mongan

  • The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate The Major Developmental Milestones by Tanya Remer Altmann

  • The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.

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