‘Happy Mummy = Happy Baby’ or ‘Happy Baby = Happy Mummy’?

Is it just me? Or does anybody else cringe when they hear the term “happy mummy = happy baby”?

Often used as a backup to a mother advising another to do something that is perhaps not in her baby’s best interests in order to make life easier for the mother. Is it really true though? I don’t think so.

I believe however that this irritating phrase is commonly used to appease guilt and to excuse selfishness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it isn’t important for mothers to be happy, of course it is. I am one of the biggest advocates for mothers taking time out to nurture themselves and realising that they NEED to take care of their own needs, physical and emotional, in order that they can even begin to think about taking care of anybody else’s needs. Doing this whilst sacrificing their baby’s needs though does not make a happy baby, no matter how happy the mother may be.

Take for instance sleep training, who is happy in the following scenario?

a mother of a 6 month old baby who wakes regularly throughout the night, she is struggling to cope and is exhausted, resentful of her baby’s frequent wakings. So, out of desperation she turns to an internet discussion forum where other mums suggest various ways they have trained their baby to sleep through the night – from witholding feeds, to refusing to pick the baby up when they cry, to just plain old leaving them to cry for a few minutes. Now, if our exhausted mother chooses any of these methods she has a fair chance of her baby’s sleep temporarily improving (yes, I did say temporarily, research suggests no long lasting effects for this type of sleep training and some even suggests that babies trained in this way will experience sleep regression in their second year of life) and supposedly (according to shared baby forum wisdom) she will be happier and (said in an artificially joyous, Pollyanna tone) “a happy mummy = a happy baby!”.

Would the baby really be happy here? the obvious answer to me is “no”. He or she will likely be confused, hungry, scared or more, but mummy is happy, isn’t that all that matters? Isn’t it meant to MAKE the baby happy too?

The less obvious answer (and I’m sure the point that will be critiqued in any replies to this post!) is “but if she is so exhausted, it’s better for her baby to experience a couple of nights of crying (aka ‘trauma’) rather than her ending up with PND or worse”. I can’t argue this point, I do agree and in extreme cases it would be less risky to the mother-infant bond to intervene in some way, ‘do the least harm’ you might say. BUT…..but, but, but…….this commonly trotted out scenario is actually pretty rare and some researchers believes that actually, particularly for breastfeeding mothers, the link between night wakings and PND isn’t what you’d expect (summed up in THIS book), so actually this isn’t that applicable to as many mothers as you might believe.

Support is of course vital, new mothers need support (whether that is in the form of family support, paid support from somebody like a postnatal Doula or free help from a charity such as Homestart in order to survive the exhaustion of new parenting, they need to ‘fill their cup’ you might say, in order that they can give of themselves to their babies.  I honestly believe though, that it’s very rare that they need to make their babies unhappy in order to make themselves happy and I strongly believe that a happy mummy DOESN’T always equal a happy baby.


Happy baby = happy mummy though is something I can really get behind. Recent research (with the snappy title “Parents Reap What They Sow: Child-Centrism and Parental Well-Being” click on the link to read it) indicates that this is a mantra we really can believe in. With a fairly decent sample size of 322 parents, the researchers were keen to study how ‘child centric’ the parents were and to evaluate whether this correlated with their happiness levels, surprise surprise – it did, which led to them quoting:

“These findings stand in contrast to claims in the popular media that prioritizing children’s well-being undermines parents’ well-being…results suggest that the more care and attention people give to others, the more happiness and meaning they experience…..From this perspective, the more invested parents are in their children’s well-being—that is, the more ‘child centric’ parents are—the more happiness and meaning they will derive from parenting.”

That doesn’t mean they’re not exhausted, that doesn’t mean they aren’t at the end of their tether with their child’s sleep (or picky eating, or tantrums), they probably are. What it does mean that is that by being respectful and empathic towards their child, even though their parenting is probably as equally knackering as the example I’ve given above they were HAPPY and you know what, I bet their babies were too……..Happy babies = Happy mums……..you betcha!


p.s:  this is the reason I subtitled all of my books “calmer children and happier parents”!

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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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