One of the questions people seem to ask a lot after you have a baby is, “Is s/he a good baby?” Obviously this question isn’t intended to be rude, and I’m 90% tongue in cheek with the following, but really? A good baby? What does that even mean? I always feel like replying, “No, she’s evil and terrible. We’re thinking of having her exorcised, just in case she is, in fact, the spawn of Satan”.
So what exactly are the criteria a good baby? Is there a score out of 10? As a baby, Munchkin cried, fed and dirtied her nappy with great efficiency, and even slept sometimes, so as far as being a baby goes I think she pretty much got it down. Attagirl! Gold star for you!
But what people really seem to mean when they talk about a good baby is one that doesn’t cry much and sleeps a lot. (Parents everywhere just burst out laughing reading that. Seriously, does any baby fit that profile?).
The problem with the question is the implication that if a baby doesn’t sleep well, or cries a lot, they must be bad (or, at the very least, not good). But babies don’t cry because they’re being bad, or naughty. They cry for a reason, even if that reason isn’t always apparent to others. Likewise with not sleeping – there is a reason for it. In fact, babies aren’t even expected to sleep through the night for quite some time, and for breastfed babies five hours is considered sleeping through.
That doesn’t mean that crying and not sleeping isn’t hard on the parents/carers. It can be incredibly hard! But suggesting (or implying) that their baby is bad for not meeting some arbitrary criteria for “good” isn’t really all that helpful.
A friend of mine had a baby who screamed for hours on end. Multiple trips to multiple doctors proved fruitless, until one finally looked closer and found that the poor little mite had gastroesophageal reflux. She wasn’t crying all the time because she was bad or naughty, she was crying because she was in pain. (This story is also a good example of why it’s important to keep pushing for an answer when you know something is wrong with your bub. No matter how many times she was told it was “normal for babies to cry a lot”, my friend knew there was more to it)
I guess my real problem with the “good baby” question is that it’s really not helpful. So what can you ask a new parent? How about, “How is s/he going?” and “How are you coping?”. That second one is particularly important. After all, one person may be just fine with 4-5 hours broken sleep a night, while another could be utterly exhausted. It’s so important to give new parents the opportunity to talk about themselves and how they’re going – asking the question can make all the difference.