baby

What every mother needs to know about unsolicited parenting advice.

This week, an innocent photo of Jools Oliver with her youngest son, River Rocket, in a front-facing baby carrier sent the internet into a spin.

The picture, posted by her husband – celebrity chef Jamie Oliver – split fans, as some attacked the family over their choice of carrier.

Even the famous mums of suburbia know that unsolicited parenting advice begins the second you become pregnant.

“You should start doing pilates, I found it really helpful for labour,” well-wishing people might say.

“I got the best pram – it’s super light. You have to get it!” (It’s only $1000).

“Sleep now, when the baby comes you won’t not get any,” a complete stranger might say in the supermarket – when you look like you’re going to have a baby any second.

As you try and figure out how to save up sleep for a later date, the baby arrives with a tsunami of unsolicited advice – from parents, relatives, friends and strangers.

People gave me plenty of advice about how to get my child to sleep. Image supplied.

New research suggests this unwanted advice is making mums stressed and anxious.

According to baby food brand, Bellamy's Organic, some 85 per cent of Australian mothers claim too many people offer superfluous tips.

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Apparently half of Aussie mother-in-laws have offered unwanted advice and 47 per cent of strangers also like to offer up their unsolicited mentoring.

"No topic seems to be off limits when it comes to giving advice to new mums," says Dr Ginni Mansberg - who was involved in the research.

The study showed women's appearance, breastfeeding, working or staying at home and toddler's behaviour were all popular topics.

"Mums tell me that everyone has a tip for a crying baby. This usually includes ‘your baby’s starving'  - Hint hint your breast milk is rubbish," said the GP.

Dr Mansberg says tantrum-throwing toddlers, which are distressing enough for mums - are often met with advice such as: “He just needs a cuddle!” (read as –“you clearly don’t LOVE your child enough!) or “he needs a good smack” (read as - “you are a hopeless mother who has no clue how to control your brat!”).

"Toddler taming is hard...If you want to help, give a total stranger a sympathetic smile. And for a friend, give her a big hug and ask to take her toddler out for the afternoon to give her a break," she says.

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What is worrying is that this unwanted advice can be "wrong and dangerous".

"Teething brings out the bizzaro ideas. Like cutting baby’s gums to let the tooth come out, or rubbing alcohol or cut lemon on a baby’s gums," says Dr Mansberg.

Then there is a competition element about hitting milestones.

Only last week television personality, Katie Price, was shamed for having a three-year-old son "still" in nappies.

"If your baby was self-toileting and wiping his own bottom at 18-months, then you’re a hero and your child is a future Nobel Laureate," says the GP.

The self-doubt for new mums can be "catastrophic" says the doctor and that can lead to worse outcomes for mother and child.

"Whether you’re overfeeding, underfeeding, breastfeeding too long or not persisting long enough, all paths lead to a feeling of being ‘not good enough’," said Dr Mansberg.

Parenting is a huge responsibility and the pressure to be a good mum is there from the outset.

The well-wishing advice that is given from "perfect" parents could do more harm than good.

If there are real concerns, the GP says the best thing to do is see your doctor.

Dr Ginni Mansberg's handy tips for unsolicited advice:

  • “Thanks!” Most geniuses who offer their wisdom do genuinely mean well. They might sound patronising, judgemental and paternalistic, but they’re trying to be helpful and supportive. Keep that in mind. So thank them for that.

  • “Oh by the way....” Change the subject. It helps get your mind off the back-hander you just received and is more polite than telling them to stuff their advice and everything they stand for up their behind. “oh! I’ve been meaning to ask you about that amazing chicken salad recipe!”

  • “I have to go...” Being a busy new mum, you have no time to chat. Hang up, head off and hang out with some friends with a bit less advice share!

Do these fathers get the same advice?