Advice Overload

The world is full of self-appointed baby experts. Do they really know what'’s best for you and your child?


When my daughter Annabelle was born, I had never changed a diaper. Even my childhood dolls were potty trained. I thought Pat the Bunny was about a bunny named Pat, and I'm embarrassed to admit how old Annabelle was before I finally figured out that the nipple comes out of the screw-on top so you can clean it.

Somehow, we made it through the first two weeks, all the way to the first visit to the pediatrician. The doctor patiently answered my long list of questions, pronounced Annabelle perfectly healthy and sent us home. "See you back in six weeks," he said, closing the chart.

Six weeks?! An eternity. "Are you sure you want to wait that long?" I asked. He laughed. I cried. Couldn't he see that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing?

I realized I needed help. So I did what many new mothers do: I started looking for a guru. You know, the quintessential baby expert. That one person who will tell you just what to do all the time. Follow the instructions and the dough will rise. The baby will grow. But whose recipe do you follow?

I chose the flavor of the month, a book called Secrets of the Baby Whisperer (Ballantine Books) by the late Tracy Hogg, a nurse and mother who looked very kind and understanding in her picture on the book cover. But when I got to the part where she advocated putting the baby on a schedule from Day 1, I knew she wasn't for me. Annabelle was 4 weeks old and nowhere close to a schedule. So I did the only thing I could do: I put the book on a high shelf where I'd never see it again. The Real Baby Guru: YOU T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., a longtime pediatrician and an author of many child-care books, says that today's flood of advice from baby gurus—and the frustration it causes—is nothing new. Mothers have always had to struggle against feeling ignorant when it comes to raising their babies. "I think moms feel like the experts know so much that they must be very stupid not to know it," Brazelton says.

But mothers are inherently smarter than they realize, he adds. "It seems like you're making up your mind in a vacuum, but you're not. The truth is that you've got your own reasons for doing things—and they're not just instincts, but reasons." In the end, Brazelton says, all that advice can be a help. But you just have to try your own thing.

Ultimately, that's what I did. It's taking a village to raise Annabelle, thanks to helpful advice from her pediatrician, friends and family—and, yes, even a little from the gurus.

Other Experts? Other Moms So whom do you call on if you need support or advice? Many moms say that for general reassurance, there's no substitute for a pediatrician you like and trust. Others find that mothers are the best experts. But what if you don't know any other new moms? Erica Herman Baylor of San Jose, Calif., recommends mommy groups. She joined Las Madres Neighborhood Playgroups, a Northern California organization that matches up moms according to each baby's age and geographic location. And Ruthie Jones swears by the mommy group at her synagogue in Los Angeles.

If you'd prefer a book, try Vicki Iovine's The Girlfriends' Guide series, a witty collection that takes you from conception to past the toddler years. The Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood (Perigee Books) is a we've-all-been-there, laugh-at-yourself look at early motherhood. Another favorite is Anne Lamott, whose Operating Instructions (Ballantine Books) is a journal of her son's first year. (Also see "Experts We Love," opposite.)

But in the end, there's no substitute for practice, says Susan Higgins, a mother of three in Lewisville, Texas. "Time and experience have been the best thing for motherhood," she says, "as well as learning to listen to everyone and take a little bit of what they say and apply it—or not!"

I couldn't agree more. Every night I tiptoe into Annabelle's room and lean over her crib, where she's been sleeping for several hours. It takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the dark, so I stand there, blind, listening to her breathe. Slowly, a baby comes into view and I smile, knowing we've made it through another day. Then I can sleep.