Navigating Resources Wisely
In our culture there is so much emphasis placed on preparing for pregnancy and even for labour and delivery and perhaps not enough on preparing for parenthood. Add to that the fact that most of us are living on our own and not in multigenerational households like in other parts of the world and what you get are new parents, wide-eyed, sleep-deprived, responsible for these helpless little beings and unsure of how to handle even the smallest task. There is so much self-doubt and so many questions that need answering so where do you turn for advice?
Historically, we might have turned to our parents, siblings or friends for advice and we still do, but more and more we are turning to the internet, via our phones, computers, tablets, and even e-readers because there are infinite number of resources that can be found at our fingertips, 24/7. An infinite number of resources sounds like good news, right? Well, the problem is that literally anyone can put almost anything onto the internet so there is quite a range in quality and accuracy in the information available. This is most notably relevant when it comes to sources found on social media, in blogs, or on forums. Even in the world of research, there is a big difference between good quality studies and those whose results should never have seen the light of day. The challenge is being able to tell the difference.
In addition, 21st century parents are researching everything, not just which brand of diapers is the best or how to soothe a crying baby. They are looking to sources on the internet, both good and bad, for answers to questions like whether or not to send your child to school during a global pandemic and whether to immunize your child. I am definitely on board with parents (and adults in general) taking responsibility for their own health and having a more heightened awareness of what is going on with their bodies, including what will help, what will hurt, and what different treatments do, instead of just blindly accepting a diagnosis and treatment plan without understanding anything about it. Of course, there are exceptions to this and whatever I might think, there are some people who will just be happier not knowing or understanding too much about what is happening with their bodies. The concern I have is with people trying to get actively involved in their health and the health of their children without fully understanding all of the pieces. It’s irresponsible and it can be dangerous.
What is the happy medium? Well, I advocate for having a health care provider or team that you have a relationship with and who you trust. When you have that relationship, you will feel comfortable discussing things openly and honestly with them (even if they disagree). It can be dangerous for them to provide care to you without having all of the information. I also think it is a good idea to arm yourself with information. Talk to your doctor about resources like books, websites etc. For new parents, I really like Dr. Sears, The Baby Book because it is both comprehensive and balanced. That being said, there is no single perfect resource. They are all flawed and they all eventually become outdated. The internet is a great, ever-evolving resource but you need to be skilled at looking at a resource and determining whether or not it is valid information. Be critical and try to stick to articles and websites that don’t appear to be too passionate in one way or another but provide a more balanced view. Stay away from forums where people are asking for advice and everyone is chiming in with “well my doctor says…”. These can be great for emotional support or even advice about non-medical topics but be wary of taking medical advice from them. The same is true for blogs, which can be wonderful resources for both emotional support and to pique your interest about a topic but they are largely opinion-based. If there is something that really resonates with you on a blog and you want to know more about it, do some research. Hopefully they will have referenced an article so go straight to the source. If not, don’t take any medical advice to heart without getting some more information.
If you are keen to do your own research, it takes time (and a lot of us have studied research and statistics at length in order to be able to find the golden research articles amongst the weeds) to sift through what can be an overwhelming amount of information and data to find what you are looking for but it is possible. If I’m in a rush, I start with cochrane.org which is pretty user friendly and compiles data on one topic to give a balanced summary. Try to focus on evidence-based material and if you read an article, support your opinion by going through the references to get a little more information.
Ultimately, it is up to you to compile this information and make the best decision for you and your family. When it comes to parenting, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), there is often not just one right answer but that is how you learn to parent and trust yourself to make the best choice. You might have four different resources, all valuable, giving you different advice about how to feed your baby but it is up to you to decide which approach will work for you. Trust your gut, back it up with evidence, and keep your health care team in the loop. Education is power.