Robin Barker: 5 things new mums can stop worrying about

Baby Love author Robin Barker is one of Australia's most trusted parenting experts. The registered nurse, midwife and parentcraft nurse with 30 years experience with families and babies, gives her advice on the 5 biggest concerns new mums have and why they should can stop worrying.

1. Am I failing at breastfeeding?

There are many complex reasons why breastfeeding is abandoned as often as it is, reasons which are usually out of the control of the women involved. Subsequently many women worry themselves silly over their 'breastfeeding failure' and feel intensely guilty.

There are many times during parenthood when things don't go as planned and there's a discrepancy between what we aim for and what we do.

Pep talk

Few women make a conscious choice to go for formula over breast, rather they turn to formula when their breastfeeding doesn't work out; babies have to be fed after all.

Many women need to mourn when their breastfeeding is abandoned. If necessary find the right person to help you through then try to forget about it. It is extremely unlikely in the context of a loving home that there is going to be a negative outcome based solely on whether your baby was breastfed or not.  I very much doubt you will still be worrying about the breastfeeding when your baby graduates from university.

2. Is my baby getting enough sleep?

The intensity and anxiety surrounding baby and toddler sleep has increased exponentially in the last 20 years.

Pep talk


Owing to a range of growth and developmental factors - and childhood illnesses in the toddler years - babies do not, in general, sleep the way adults sleep.

This is not a recent phenomenon of the last 20 years. It has been ever thus. After ruling out hunger and illness how much your baby sleeps/doesn't sleep is largely down to luck. Healthy babies in loving homes who are given the opportunity to sleep do not suffer developmentally because of 'lack of sleep.'

Older babies' and toddlers' brains don't shrink if they are left to their own devices in order to teach them to sleep - in other words the dreaded controlled-crying - for a couple of nights (nor does it make them grow up into maladjusted adolescents).

Sharing beds (safely) with older babies and toddlers as a means of living with their chaotic sleep is fine and doesn't 'spoil' them (nor does it make them grow up to be smarter, more caring adolescents). No one - including me - has the definitive word on getting babies/toddlers to sleep how we'd like them to. If some guru's method doesn't work for you it's their fault, not yours. Try someone else or learn to live with what's happening. Above all don't take it as a personal failure.

3. Is my baby is a risk of SIDS?

I doubt there's a mother with a small baby for whom the chance of this happening hasn't crossed her mind at least once.

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Without wishing to minimise the devastation to the parents and family following the unexpected death of a baby, the number of unexpected deaths with or without any apparent cause is thankfully small.  And, thanks to twenty plus years of excellent research and the recommendations for safe sleeping based on that research, the numbers continue to decline.


Nevertheless it is normal to think about the possibility of the worst happening from time to time during the first year or two.

It seems at every age and stage of our children's lives there is something to cast a shadow over the joy they bring. Accepting that they exist, taking whatever sensible precautions you can and getting on with your life is also part of learning to be a parent.

4. Is childcare damaging for my child? 

More under-threes than ever are in group childcare. Group childcare remains the main component of our attempts to provide for families where both parents work outside the home.

Group childcare is also the main way we provide for women to have what men have always had, a family and a career. No doubt I, and others who think along the same lines as me, contribute to the worry about childcare and I am deeply sorry for that. It is never my intention to cause mothers grief, however I do think the under threes are better off at home with a parent most of the time when this is possible. I am making this clear as being honest has always been my policy but having declared where I stand, I'm now going to do what I can to allay the worries surrounding childcare.

Pep talk

The main reason for my ambivalence about group care for the under-threes is more to do with their quality of life at that time in their lives than fear of it creating serious problems. Having trawled through a lot of commentary and research on childcare I have never been convinced that group care causes the long list of ongoing problems some psychologists and researchers claim. For every negative outcome claimed, there is a corresponding positive.


This has to be weighed up against the parent's interests, their ability to put food on the table and pay the mortgage and the million and one other things parents take into consideration.

Most women I talked to felt upset, worried and guilty about leaving their babies/toddlers in care however most also adjusted in a few weeks.  And there is no doubt a break away from the intensity of life with babies and toddlers is appealing.  And, most babies/toddlers do settle into group care with a minimum of trauma.

5. Am I a good mother?

Wow, doesn't this sound anachronistic? Do modern mothers still go down this path?

Yes, I think so for the reasons in my first four points, and for many others, and often as a result of the constant media examination and reporting of what mothers should and shouldn't be doing with their babies.

Add to that the sometimes toxic criticising that goes on between the opposing camps of baby-care philosophers, and mothers themselves; for example the furore over Chrissie Swan sneaking a fag.  As far as I can tell, doubting your mothering ability is normal and comes with the territory.

In many ways doubting yourself says you're the right mother for your child/children. I imagine the true mothers-from-hell - and they do exist even outside of Hollywood - don't give their mothering ability a second's thought. Babies and toddlers are not looking for the perfect mother, they've got the one they want.


First published in 1994, Baby Love has now sold over 250,000 copies in Australia. Australia’s bestselling baby care book is loved by thousands of new parents every year. With expert advice for the first twelve months of every baby’s life and full of Robin Barker’s wisdom and humour, this classic guide has been fully revised, including new material on car safety and updates on circumcision, safe sleeping and controlled crying. The newly revised edition is on sale now.