Baby Advice Books Might Actually Be Making Moms Miserable, Says Science

pregnant woman reading on kindle
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Parenting help and baby advice books are marketed to new moms and dads as sources of helpful information. From trying to get your kids on a sleep schedule to breastfeeding woes, there's an advice book out there for every parenting issue you can think of. But if you've ever finished a parenting self-help book and felt more lost and frustrated than you were before you read it, you're not alone. A new study shows parenting advice books may actually make new moms feel less confident in their ability to parent.

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Dr. Amy Brown, a maternal and infant health researcher and associate professor at Swansea University, recently conducted a study that found 53 percent of new moms actually felt more anxious and unsure after reading parenting advice and self-help books.

Researchers surveyed 350 new moms with children aged 0–12 months about what parenting advice and self-help books they've read and gave each of the participants tests to determine their level of mental health and overall well-being. From that information, Dr. Brown and her partners found that moms who read the most books were also much more likely to show symptoms of depression and anxiety, and to lack confidence in their parenting abilities.

More from CafeMom: 10 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice New Moms Definitely Aren't Tired of Hearing

Interestingly, moms who found the books useful were unlikely to experience negative side effects. But for moms who felt overwhelmed by the advice or tried to implement it and failed, the books only made them question their parenting abilities that much more.

This information -- while new in terms of scientific findings -- has been expressed by plenty of mothers who feel that parenting books are more of a hindrance than a help. In 2014, writer Samantha Schoech wrote a piece for NPR detailing just how distressing she and her husband found the "you're doing it wrong" narrative that exists in so many parenting books. "Parents are not people machines to be tinkered with and adjusted until the product comes out right," Schoech said. "We can strive and we can make small calibrations, but really we are just ourselves using our own best instincts to try to keep our children from becoming insufferable jerks."

Dr. Brown suggests advice books have negative affects on moms because they are, from inception, written to go against the normal developmental needs of babies. "They suggest stretched out feeding routines, not picking up your baby as soon as they cry and that babies can sleep extended periods at night," Dr. Brown said. In other words, they give tips and advice that may go against a mom's natural instincts and her baby's unique needs.

Even more troubling, apparently moms who already have symptoms of anxiety and depression may be drawn to baby advice books -- only to be left even more unsure of themselves after they read them. "It is easy to understand the appeal of these books if you are exhausted and worried about how often your baby is waking up," said Victoria Harries, an MSc Child Public Health student who carried out the research, "but almost half of mothers in the study ended up feeling frustrated and misled because they were unable to make the advice work."

Both women agree that what moms really need are better support systems, rather than more demands on how they should mother. "You can see why these books become a solution but instead we should be thinking about how we can invest better in supporting mothers to have longer, better-paid maternity leave and more widely thinking about how we care for them," Dr. Brown said.

More from CafeMom: 

Parenting books certainly aren't going away any time soon, but as this research shows, it may be important for moms to trust their instincts instead, and consider keeping those books stashed away on a shelf that's too high to reach.

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