Learning to Trust Your Instincts as a New Parent

As a mother, you are the emotional thermostat of your home. When you are content, a peaceful energy flows out to your family and wraps them up in your nurturing, encouraging, unconditional love.

That energy is contagious throughout the home and it affects each member of your family.

And having a peaceful mind as a new mom starts with self care and learning to trust your instincts.

Gentle Parenting: Learning to Trust Your Instincts

Throughout my first pregnancy and into early motherhood, I read ALL the books. Everything from the mainstream What to Expect series and the entire Sears Parenting library to obscure books on midwifery to Jean Liedloff’s The Continuum Concept.

What was I looking for?

Don’t laugh, but I’m analytical (and was pretty high strung back then), so I was looking for data… proof… enough evidence to definitively show that there was a right way to give birth to and raise a child.

Did I find it?

Well, while I certainly found inspiration from each author, mostly I was left feeling that the current book’s advice contradicted the book before. I also realized some of them made me feel like I was doing it wrong.

Don’t let others make you feel like you’re doing it wrong

Then I looked back to the overly analytical approach I took with my first birth – the one where I ended up having every medical intervention except a C-section. I suddenly understood that the voices of all the “experts” had drowned out my own inner knowing. I was in a fog of stats and advice and “you’re not progressing fast enough.”

I couldn’t even hear my body’s messages. That’s when I realized that if I had been able to follow my body’s cues, I probably wouldn’t have needed all those interventions. Did I know how to listen to my body? Was I still able to trust my instincts?

Fast forward to me trying to perfectly raise a baby. Were the half dozen parenting books on my nightstand drowning out the inner voice that should have been clueing me in to what my son needed now?

In that little aha moment, I decided to slow down the external input and tune into my instincts.

What a relief that was. The frantic worries of “what does the book say?!” melted away, and I was left with a sense of calm.

It took a little while to be able to trust the hints and nudges I was getting in those quiet moments. But, like meditation, the more you do it, the clearer the messages get.

When you trust your instincts, it doesn’t mean you never seek external advice

It doesn’t mean I never seek advice anymore. There’s no place for willful ignorance in life or in parenting. But now I know to do a gut check with what I’ve read or been told. And I make sure my kids remember to connect to their own inner knowing.

As a new parent or expecting mom, what’s more overwhelming—all the baby stuff or all the new parent advice?

The swing, pack & play, and vibrating chair that plays music fill your living room. You weave through the house tripping over toys designed to make your newborn smarter.

Or maybe you actually returned a bassinet because the baby wouldn’t sleep in it—thinking it was the product’s fault that your baby wanted to be with you instead of a ruffly box.

It probably didn’t take long to figure out the baby marketing industry has fed us a line of bull. This industry tries to convince us (and we as nervous moms and dads-to-be, or sleep deprived new parents are so desperate to believe) that if we have enough stuff, we’ll be equipped to handle the challenge of a new baby.

Or that having these “things” will make us a good parent.

And if it’s not the companies that want to sell us something. It may be well-meaning family members and friends. As new parents, we were often told, “Put that baby on a feeding schedule.”  Or we’re asked, “Is he sleeping through the night?” and my favorite, “What does the doctor say about that?”

Build your support network

Generally the people giving you new parent advice mean well. But they can actually sabotage your confidence as a new parent.  By no means should you isolate yourself—that’s a whole other recipe for disaster—but you’ll want to be extremely selective about who you allow into your circle.

Finding a support network with like-minded new parents can make a real and lasting difference. If you can’t find an existing group through word or mouth or online, here’s how you can build your community. I’ve seen so many helpful, insightful posts on social media about attachment parenting, breastfeeding, non-commercialism, safe toys and organic foods.

Attachment parenting is generally instinctual

When my second son was born, I was exceptionally blessed to have a network of Green Mommy friends who supported me during the early months of breastfeeding and attachment parenting.That’s why your support group is critical.  With our second son, I was surrounded by nursing mothers, babywearing, and attachment or Continuum Concept parenting.

It still wasn’t easy.

After one of those first rough nights home with a newborn, my husband and I told my lactation consultant we were really hoping this baby would learn to sleep on his own and become independent faster than his older brother had. I can still see her face, head tilted to the side and mouth open as she considered her words carefully before responding to these two sleep-deprived people.  Then she said, “But your oldest is such a gracious and content child.  It’s no accident how he became that way.”

Hearing that from someone with an extensive background in birth, nursing, and child development—while we really wanted a magic solution—was actually an affirmation.

She told us we were instinctively raising our oldest with attachment parenting principles.  We didn’t know it had a name. She explained how he didn’t have to waste his energy crying and worrying whether his needs would be met.  He was able to go about the process of adapting and growing.  She also gave us the science and studies to back it up.

No one in my family or previous circle of friends talked about this when I’d had my first baby.

No one but my copy of The Baby Book by Dr. Sears. Otherwise, I was surrounded by the mainstream views that the baby should be put on a feeding schedule, trained to sleep in his crib alone all night, and a bunch of other rules that my baby wasn’t born knowing.

Learning to trust your instincts

Recently in a natural parenting group, a mom posted a concern about her two-year-old daughter’s lack of verbal skills. Dozens of people responded with encouraging comments about how every child develops at their own pace. One mother said, “You know your child. If you feel like something’s off, it’s best to catch it now.” She then offered advice on how to get an evaluation for a child that age.

New parents can be plugged in at all hours of the day or night… but access to ALL of that advice can sometimes lead to increased anxiety.

“The problem is that in our busy lives today, we don’t really make time to get to know the mother within,” says Yaffa Maritz, founder of The Community of Mindful Parenting. “The mother within is a wise woman. We all carry with us generations and generations of instinctive mothering.”

That’s a powerful thought, isn’t it?

You carry generations of instinctive mothering within you.  All you have to do is get quiet and tap into it.

It can take time to tune back into the inner voice we’ve drowned out over the years. But you’ll get there with practice. Sometimes it helps to read a parenting book or ask for advice from someone you respect and then contemplate:

“Does this feel true to me?”

Look into your child’s eyes or watch her play and FEEL in your body if that advice applies to her. When you’re connected, you’ll know. And over time, you’ll not only crave your own inner knowing, you’ll rely on what your gut tells you.

Make time for self-care

It starts by loving yourself and carving out little moments where you are fully present. You don’t have to drive across town for a meditation class. Just notice what’s around you as you take the baby for a walk in the carrier or stroller. Allow yourself to consciously enjoy that first sip of tea or coffee in the morning. Nurse your baby and just watch her—without interruption of TV or social media.

Take just ten minutes a few times a week to journal about your inner beliefs and your expectations as a new parent. What decisions did you make this week that felt good?  What were the ones that didn’t seem to work out, or you felt you should have handled differently? What can you do to pamper yourself and make sure you’re getting enough rest?

It all starts with loving yourself, taking the time to tune into and trust your instincts, and parenting from your heart.

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  1. Thank you for this, I really needed to hear that as I sat here reading articles after article on sleep training, becoming more anxious by the second. Thank you for the reminder to breathe and reconnect with myself, that is where the wisdom will be. It so easy to get overwhlened and second guess yourself with advice coming at you from all angles. We need more articles like this that encourage us as women to tap into the maternal instincts we ourselves were born with and have developed. I am a loving and intelligent woman, thank you for the reminder.

  2. Kelli Johnson says:

    As a new Mama-to-be, I really, really appreciate this article. My husband and I have received some interesting looks when asked if we have everything ready for the baby yet — we have the basics and a lot of love! Thank you so very much for the support, tips, and encouragement that you’ve offered here — they are priceless and music to my ears!!!

  3. Victoria Gazeley says:

    As a fellow ‘attachment’ mama, I couldn’t agree more. Your lactation consultant’s response was so brilliant… no judgement, just an observation of fact. When our guy (now 7) was little, we had none of the ‘extras’ – no crib, no jumble of plastic toys, no brain development videos – all by choice. He was carried in a sling and backpack, slept with us for a good long while, and just had a very different beginning than so many little ones I see who are completely overwhelmed with the stuff that is buzzing and flashing around them. And don’t even get me started on ‘crying it out’, which for so long was standard parenting practice and we now know does nothing but create distrust of you in your child – not a great way to start out life. This is so important – thank you so much for posting this!

    1. Victoria Gazeley says:

      Oh, and I forgot to mention – I think all our efforts with early attachment have paid off. As with your little guy, I have a happy, imaginative, creative, gracious, sensitive little boy who is an absolute joy and I love hanging out with. He’s turning out to be a fascinating person, and I’m thrilled to watch his unfolding as he steps into his life… Thanks again!

  4. jimmyhaysnelson says:

    Amity! AMAZING post! LOVE IT! As a brand new parent (going on my 3rd week)- I couldn’t agree more with what you said. It is easy to get talked into what those first few weeks will be like- and what you are ‘suppose’ to do. Glad to know we aren’t alone in wanting to be as ‘stuff free’ as possible as we get to know our new little man! 🙂