Instead as well as looking to those close to us, we often turn to books, magazines, websites and health professionals - who all seemingly have different opinions, but who nonetheless may plant new little seeds of expectation.
Before baby arrives it's common to believe your baby will be the happiest baby around; you will change their nappy when it's soiled, feed them when hungry, provide a nice bed for sleep times and so your baby wont need to cry, his needs will be met. You and perhaps a partner snuggled on the sofa, baby sleeping quietly in the basket next to you. Sure you know babies need feeding at night, but you will have him there right next to you so you can tend to him quickly, fill his little tum before slumber re-ensues.
And for some this may be true.
The reality? Many are not like this, especially in the early weeks - and even then it may require veering from "biological norms" (eg feeding method, sleep training, pacifiers etc) to achieve these expectations based on "society's current perception of the norm".
The one thing I hear over and over from new parents is they had no idea just how hard it would be, why didn't anyone spell out just how challenging being a new parent can be - so for all those parents this blog entry is for you.
Being a parent of a newborn baby can be really, really, insanity inducingly HARD.
No really, harder than that.
From the moment that precious new bundle is placed in your arms, life will never be the same again. It now, at least for a while, revolves around this dinky new being, who co-incidentally didn't read any books, nor pay heed at classes - so doesn't understand any related expectations.
You feed them, change their nappy, wind them, check they're not too hot or cold - yet still they may cry! The comfy bed you lovingly prepared might as well be covered in 9" nails, as they flail and wail every time you try and gently lower them in. Instead of snuggled on the sofa, you are taking it in turns to pace and jiggle the baby, before one of you tries to eat one handed so the other can have a powernap before shift change.
And the nights, who knew they could be so long? Even when you have everything "perfect" still baby squirms, grunts and wants to feed again; how can this be when it was only two hours since we just did all this?
"What do you want from me?" one mum confessed she had asked her baby at 3am after a rather rough night - desperate to sleep, yet desperately trying to stay awake whilst feeding. Whilst everyone had warned her not to bedshare, nobody had mentioned falling asleep upright or on a sofa was more risky, nor that baby naturally may want to feed quite frequently and having to sit up and do this every time was shattering, which made staying awake sitting up nearly impossible. Nobody had even asked if mum knew she could breastfeed laying down. I don't know what else she could want? What do I do?
One mum recently described the sleep deprivation as akin to mind altering drugs, that she dreamt (metaphorically) of a night of unbroken sleep, that she had never realised it would be so hard.
The only point I want to stress more than just how hard having a newborn can be (did I say that already?) is that it is nothing you as parents are doing wrong, let me repeat that a little louder: it is nothing you as parents are doing wrong.
It can be easy to feel that you are the only parent who has an unsettled baby. That given the books didn't describe this, it can't be common - because if you meet every need baby is settled, right? But that's simply not true. Some babies take a little longer than others to transition to life "Earth side" - even. If you've had a long birth, a long pushing stage, a speedy or difficult delivery - so did they. Some may be a little uncomfortable or windy, and don't forget nobody gave them the books. This piece talks about what a normal newborn expects, then compare that to what most parents in current society typically have in mind.. Whilst I don't feel long spells of crying should be just accepted as "colic", and it's always worth seeking help to explore why baby is crying if you're concerned - the point is that it isn't because you've held them too much/not put them in a routine early enough, not ignored their cries etc
The question also has to be - are your expectations realistic? If not adapting your expectations, can be a whole lot easier than trying to change those of a newborn - and given you have the cognitive ability to adapt, would also seem to be the fairer option. Expectations can play a part in how you perceive your baby's behaviour.
Parents A & B expect their baby to wake and feed frequently day and night, understand their baby had no concept of time in the womb, and is used to receiving nourishment from an umbilical cord, rather than at spaced intervals via a breast or bottle. They know breastmilk changes composition so that at night it includes more "sleepy hormones" and helps to create circadian rhythms (sleep patterns).
"RESULTS: The tryptophan in the breast milk presented a circadian rhythm with acrophase at around 03:00. This affected the 6-sulfatoxymelatonin circadian rhythm with acrophase at 06:00 in the breast-fed infants, and also promoted nocturnal sleep. Assumed sleep, actual sleep, and sleep efficiency were significantly increased in the breast fed infants with respect the formula fed infants."
They've been told how to check output and signs baby is transferring milk well - so they can identify normal from a "needs more help" situation - and they've been shown how to recognise baby's earliest cues of hunger, so there's time to work on getting baby to the breast and comfortable before she becomes really hungry and frantic!
In the evening dad/partner (if applicable) hops in the bath for some skin to skin time with baby, and mum builds a nest of pillows, snacks, books, drinks, music/TV remote as desired, ready to settle down for a longer feeding session.
A & B have also been told it's normal for a newborn to want lots of contact and cuddles from parents, when transitioning from a place with constant movement, sounds and security - familiar voices, smells, touch helps ease this. They've read about the theory of the fourth trimester, and it makes sense to them.
To make this work for all of them, they have a wrap which holds baby to them hands free, which they've found also helps if baby is a little windy or unsettled - on really tough days they head off out for a walk with it. They've discovered it's fab for holding the baby when they want to eat, even if at times this means eating whilst wiggling to settle baby, or taking turns wearing baby in the wrap whilst the other eats.
Although baby wakes every few hours as expected, mum doesn't feel completely exhausted as when she does sleep she hits more restful sleep levels due to having her baby right next to her. If people offer to help the parents gladly accept offers of practical help, perhaps some meals cooked for them or an ironing pile tackled!
In contrast parents X&Y picked up a very different set of books when shopping. They expect that baby will slot around them, that they need to do so early to learn to settle themselves and become independent - quickly developing a reliable pattern.
They feed the baby and then place her in the crib, ready to sit and enjoy a meal together. No sooner is the food on the plate than baby wakes and also wants feeding, two hours earlier than expected. After a nappy change they gently place baby in her Moses basket - but she squirms and wakes, like a Jack in the Box every time she's placed back down. When baby wants to cluster feed from 7-10pm, the parents are tired and confused, why is she wanting to feed so frequently? On the one hand they reason, she can't be hungry as she only fed 45 minutes ago, so at first they try dancing, jiggling and rocking to help baby sleep. But when baby continues to cry for a feed, the doubts can start; she must be hungry? What if mum isn't producing enough milk, that must be the case because the book says she should only feed every 3-4 hours? Is it wind? Colic? How do we work out what's wrong? What if she isn't taking enough? You can't see with a breast to check...
During the night, baby sleeps in a separate crib - when she wakes frequently someone has to sit up, retrieve and feed her(staying awake) before putting her back in the basket. As mum tentatively gets back bed, baby cries again - trapped burp this time. After a few minutes wandering round the bedroom baby settles but as mum places her down she startles and cries again. More pacing ensues and dad takes over for a turn. He manages to get baby into the basket, by swaddling to mask her reflexes and gets back into bed, but by now everyone is wide awake. Just as the parents start to fall asleep - you guessed it baby wakes again. After another 20 minutes trying to get baby into the basket, she's used enough energy that she's ready for feeding again thank you.
The next evening events repeat, and then a few more after that - the parents become more dismayed that baby wakes every time food is served, and they feel resentful they've not managed to have a meal alone together since she arrived. They expected something very different.
They decide if they can get baby to wait four hours for her feed, this will stop the habit of frequent feeding, and encourage the routine of long sleeps with infrequent waking they read about - and so introduce a pacifier which at least gives them chance to eat that meal. Over the next few days baby becomes more unsettled, wants to feed more frequently - and mum becomes more convinced there is an issue with her milk supply. The forums mum goes on related to the books she bought, only compound her feelings - parents are congratulated with a "Great Parenting!!" when someone declares their baby has slept a 9-12 hour plus stretch; which of course infers you're clearly not a great parent if you're baby isn't doing the same.
Partner looks at the exhausted mum and says something has to give, they cannot continue as they are - they need sleep and "me time".
When help is offered, the parents encourage family to hold the baby whilst they complete household tasks, trying to keep the house tidy for visitors as though a baby hasn't landed and thrown chaos where there was previously order.
OK so these are extremes, reality is more often various hues of grey - but you can see how mentally parents X & Y have a much harder time than the first set of parents when baby arrived. It can be at times hard to pick "instinct" apart from "social expectations" - ie is the instinct founded on something we already fundamentally believe to be true and thus expect or is there really an issue. It's always worth remembering that a baby simply does not have sufficient neurological pathways developed to manipulate, control, plan or "scheme" - meeting the needs of an infant leads to long term security compared to the potentially negative implications of trying to train behaviour to suit. Babies don't even develop mature sleep rhythms until the they're several months old, they're not developing habits at the newborn stage, they're purely focussed on survival!
Even with the most realistic expectation, some babies will still be much more intense than others - parents can still be exhausted and overwhelmed. Ditch anything non essential and go wit the flow. Some babies may just need time, others may have an underlying issue they need understanding to help resolve - either way, I hope knowing it is normal and you're not alone or at fault may help, even just a little bit.