In the case of well-intentioned family members, take time to share the reasons behind your parenting choices. Many new grandparents, unaware of how much child-rearing practices have changed since they were raising their own children, offer outdated advice simply because they haven't had opportunity to learn about the most current medical recommendations.
While you can afford to be gentle with most differences of opinions, make certain to establish that any rules relating to safety are non-negotiable and must be followed consistently. For instance, a 2003 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study found babies accustomed to sleeping on their backs, as recommended, and who were occasionally placed to sleep on their stomachs, had a seven- to eight-times greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) than babies who slept on their stomachs all the time. Study co-author Dr. Marian Willinger remarks, "The message here is 'every night and nap time count.'"
Since family members are almost always motivated by genuine concern for your baby's well-being, they are likely to be responsive to new ideas if they understand why they're in your child's best interest. Leave a few parenting books around to be picked up, or give a gift subscription to a magazine that supports your parenting philosophies.
Yet, there are other members of the parenting police who may not be so well-intentioned.
"When Morgan was 6 weeks old she developed an infection and was running a 103-degree temperature," says mom Kelly Selesky. "We were scared to death and rushed her to the ER wrapped in only a thin blanket, despite the cool weather outside. Sitting in the waiting room, we overheard an older woman say, 'no wonder that baby is sick—look how they dress her.' I was furious."
While it's frustrating, know that you're not alone when on the receiving end of unsolicited parenting advice. Almost every mother has a story to share. As tempting as it may be to fire back with a remark of your own, it's usually better to simply rise above it. If appropriate, try to defuse the situation with humor. If the situation is upsetting to you, just walk away.
Although most people who give unsolicited advice mean well, the real danger behind parenting police lies in their potential for undermining the confidence of a new mom who may already be feeling more than a little unsure of herself.
But new moms—take heart. No matter what anyone else says, even if you're not an expert about babies in general, you are the expert on your particular baby. You know what is best for him or her and what's right for your family. Trust your instincts—that's why you have them. You're doing a better job than you probably even realize.