When you have a new baby, suddenly everyone is an expert. Your family and friends may swoop in and tell you how to burp, feed, dress, and carry your baby, but here's how to deal with their sometimes questionable pearls of wisdom. 

Everyone's an Expert
Credit: Helen Dardik

Why Everyone Offers Advice

Sometimes that advice can indeed be a lifesaver. But not every suggestion is helpful. Ignoring unwanted advice is one way to keep your sanity, but if the source of that advice is someone you have to deal with continually, like the woman who gave birth to you or your husband, it can be a little trickier. It's hard to keep blowing her off (especially if she's helping out with the baby), and she may insist that she knows best because she managed to raise you without any major mishaps. "But a lot has changed in what we know about babies since Mom last changed a diaper a few decades ago," says Ari Brown, MD, a pediatrician and coauthor of Baby 411. "Patients come to see me all the time with misinformation they have heard from their parents," she says. "Here are some of my favorites: fever is dangerous; if you let your baby bear weight on his legs, he will be bowlegged; don't introduce fruits before veggies or he'll never eat vegetables -- the list goes on and on."

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that as annoying as it is, most of the advice is well intentioned. "Babies bring out everyone's compassionate side," says Jennifer Hartstein, a psychologist at the Child and Family Institute at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, in New York City. "Other people may see you struggling with certain parenting issues, and they feel it is their duty as experienced parents to help you out." To a new mom who is sleep deprived and not yet completely confident in her parenting skills, even well-meaning advice can come off as critical and irritating. So take a deep breath, relax, and follow these tried-and-true tricks to sorting out the helpful from the harmful and blowing off the bad advice with charm and style.

Keep an Open Mind

If you make a point of ignoring every piece of unsolicited advice you hear, you may miss out on the one brilliant tidbit that will help your kid give up the blankie or stop being afraid of the toilet. After all, before we had the Internet and the What to Expect books, moms learned how to care for their children by reaping the wisdom passed down through the women in their clan. And you never know when that nosy neighbor will deliver a gem. "When I was in labor and leaving for the hospital, a stranger in the elevator told me to count by threes during contractions," says Sarah, a mother of one, in New York City. "I don't know how I would have gotten through my bumpy cab ride without that!"

Consider the Source

When someone offers you advice, ask yourself: Do I trust her instincts? Is her parenting style similar to mine? Has she achieved positive results with her kids? Based on your answers, you'll know if you want to give her advice a spin.

Check with Your Doctor First

Before you act on any suggestions that have to do with the health of your child, make sure you run them by a medical professional first. While some folk remedies are harmless, others are dangerous. Dr. Brown suggests that if you choose to double-check the info on the Web, make sure the site is reliable. "There are some sites out there that sound official but are run by people with very specific agendas, so always look into who has created the site."

Disarm with Charm

When a stranger stops you on the street to say your baby needs a hat (in August!) or to inform you that a pacifier will give your baby buckteeth, just flash your biggest smile, thank her, and move on. "It's always best to take the high road," says Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies. "Why should you let a stranger ruin your day?" After you've displayed your best Southern charm, look at your watch and say, "I'd love to stay and chat, but I have to get the baby home for a nap/feeding/Mandarin class." If your interloper is geriatric, cut her a little slack, Fox advises. "Elderly people tend to offer more advice because they feel they've earned the right, as a parent and a grandparent. Most of the time, they're really just excited about seeing a baby."

After a while, you will get the hang of knowing what advice to listen to, what to blow off, and how to make everyone think you are listening to them. And then a funny thing happens: You become a parenting expert. And when your little sister or best friend has a baby, you'll know exactly what to tell her.

5 Great Lines to Blow Off Bad Advice

  • "Great, I will discuss that with my husband later tonight."
  • "Every baby and every family are different, so that might not work with mine, but thanks so much for sharing that with me."
  • "It's true that babies haven't changed much in the last 30 years, but what we know about them has."
  • "That sounds very interesting. I'll ask my pediatrician about it and get back to you."
  • "You know, I'm really tired now and can't process this, but I'll call you later if I have any questions."

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American Baby