The Dangers of the Internet: Why First-Time Mothers Should Never Google Anything

IMG_0613At this point in the year, I am well into the third trimester.  Mercifully, I have not (yet) experienced many of the symptoms that I have read about on the Internet or heard about in person.  I am not (yet) waking up twenty times a night to use the bathroom.  I am not (yet) unable to shave or see my feet.  I am not (yet) relying on fifty perfectly-placed pillows to enable me to sleep.  Yes, Baby JT is steadily growing and my maternity clothes seem to fit better now than they did a few months ago, but I can still maneuver without the characteristic “waddle” and the added baby weight has not become uncomfortable yet.  Of course I still have three weeks or so to go, and a lot can change in three weeks.

During the last few months, I have taken advantage of my newly rediscovered energy to accomplish as many of my pre-baby tasks as possible.  I researched and selected a pediatrician for John.  Andrew and I spent a long afternoon putting together a baby registry, and then another long afternoon purchasing all of the necessities that my friends and family did not present as gifts at my baby shower in November.  After several painstakingly long hours of waiting, our crib was delivered and assembled, ready for JT’s arrival.  While Andrew assembled the matching dresser, I washed and folded a full load of baby clothing, towels, and blankets (and we still have at least one more load to go).  And of course I have read.  I have read articles about labor and delivery.  I have read articles about nursing and pumping.  I have read articles about newborn sleep and eating habits.  I have read articles about the pros and cons of co-sleeping, nursery sleeping, and bedroom sharing.  I have read articles warning me about the many ways that I can kill my newborn, or at least scar him for life.  I have read articles about practices that are 100% successful 100% of the time, even though the different practices conflict with each other.  If there’s one thing that I have learned through my reading, it is this: Google can be a new mother’s worst enemy.

IMG_0616Needless to say, there are certain facts that the different articles agree on.  Caffeine should be consumed in limited quantities during pregnancy (though just how limited is still up for debate).  Women in their second or third trimester, or who are breastfeeding, need to consume extra calories per day.  Prenatal vitamins are good.  It’s safest for babies to sleep on their backs.  Breastfeeding has certain advantages that formula cannot reproduce.  Babies spend most of their time asleep, and when they are awake, most of that time is taken up with feedings and diaper changes.  I’m sure there are others, but I can guarantee that there are a lot more articles with conflicting ideas out there on the web.

I encountered many of these articles while I was putting together our registry.  There were plenty of questions that we needed to answer before making the final decisions at Babies R Us.  Where would JT sleep?  Would we swaddle him or not?  Were we going to use a pacifier?  What did we want to put in his nursery?  What about his crib?  Even when we were sure about something, there were questions that needed to be asked.  What brand of bottle would we use?  What kind of car-seat is best?  Stroller?  Burp cloths?  The questions seemed endless, and so were the proposed answers.

Over and over again, I read articles that contradicted each other.  One website suggested that babies were incapable of self-soothing, and thus should not be left to “cry it out,” while the next website proposed that even infants could learn to fall asleep on their own with practice without any negative psychological consequences.  When I started researching cribs, one article noted that children who slept with mobiles above their cribs tended to have better eye control.  The next article claimed that mobiles should be avoided at all costs because they could lead to infant death.  While reading articles about feeding, I marveled at how varied the opinions were: some people suggested that you could work with your infant’s needs and develop a feeding schedule, while others claimed that such a feat was impossible.  Some websites proposed that the only acceptable way to feed an infant was from the breast.  Others suggested that after six weeks, a baby could take breast-milk from a bottle as well.  And then there were a handful of websites that asserted that formula was the ideal solution to nourishing your infant, since breastfeeding inevitably leads to postpartum depression.

IMG_0617And so it went.  Eventually I stopped researching.  If I had a question, I asked a friend that I trusted.  I also chose someone who was a bit more open-minded about different sleeping and feeding techniques.  She had found methods that worked for her, but she also understood that all children were different, and what works for one child might not work for the next.  While she was able to testify to the techniques that worked for her children, she was also able to suggest alternative methods.  Even if they hadn’t worked for her, she knew mothers who had tried these methods and found them fruitful.  She was very knowledgeable, but she was also very humble.  Unlike many other mothers that I had encountered, both on the Internet and in person, she did not assume that there is only one way to get an infant to eat and sleep.

I know that most mothers mean well.  They want to share their own experiences, and they want to help new mothers who are struggling.  They might have struggled themselves, and they simply want to share the techniques that worked for them.  But it’s one thing to propose a solution as just that, a solution, and it’s totally different to propose a solution as the only solution.  Many websites, the majority of which have been written by women who are mothers themselves, asserted that there is only one way to raise a child.  If their proposed method doesn’t work, it’s because there’s something wrong with you, or maybe even your child.  It’s not possible that there might be something wrong with their view of the method.  The method might work just fine (in most cases), but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other techniques that also work.

By the time our registry had been assembled, I had already come to the conclusion that the Internet is not always the best place to look for answers.  While it might help in a pinch, I’ve already found that friends and family are a lot more reliable (granted, some are more reliable than others).  The Internet is filled with answers, and many websites suggest that they have the only answer.  And when ten websites offer ten different solutions, and each suggests that it’s the only answer, a stressed mother is inevitable.  Not every answer has to be the only answer.  Now I’ll just have to remember that when JT actually arrives, and I’m awake at 2AM with a fussy infant.

Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!

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