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You have a closet full of cute clothes, a short-list of names and a birth plan in place. But, after the safe arrival of your first child and a few days’ rest in hospital, are you really ready to bring your baby home? The reality is most first-time parents aren’t prepared for the huge emotional and physical changes a baby brings, and they also underestimate the impact on their relationship. Here’s our best newborn advice to give you and your family the best start.
Your newborn is home. Now what?
Considering how micro-managed pregnancy and birth is, it’s not surprising that we’re lulled into a false sense of security. Because, once at home, there’s no-one but equally anxious moms and dads struggling with breastfeeding issues, sleep deprivation, a queue of visitors and, perhaps, an unsettled baby.
Especially when you’re a first time parent you experience a huge range of emotions, particularly in the first few weeks of your baby’s life. There’s excitement, confusion, exhaustion and a sense of ‘Omigod, what have we done?’ Reality check much? Then come the hoards of questions you ask yourself; Am I being a good parent? Is there a better way to do this? Will they like me? The thing is, baby doesn’t actually process any of those things, rather they are amazingly good at picking up stress and tension. Try to work on keeping yourself calm, and being yourself.
The best newborn advice for new parents:
■ Get enough rest. Sleep when the baby sleeps, even if it’s 10am. Yes it sounds silly. No it won’t always work. Can’t hurt to give it a try, though.
■ Be with the baby. The sooner you understand your baby’s cries and signals, the easier it will be. It turns out there are actually differences in your baby’s cries – check out Dunstan Baby Language; they even have an app!
■ Limit visitors. Having too many people around can interrupt bonding. Set up visiting hours, or ask friends and family to call before they come over. Don’t worry about the state of the house (spoiler alert, it’ll likely be a shambles!) or hosting a banquet – you’re new parents and your job is to be a parent, not a party host and chef.
■ Have a support network ready. Before leaving hospital, ensure you have the phone numbers for health care professionals and 24 hour helplines. Your local council or community group likely have resources for parents in the area too, which are often free.
■ Make sure you look after yourself. Eat well. (Well, as well as you can! Healthy pre-purchased frozen meal?) You could consider consulting a naturopath for supplements if you’ve had more than a normal bleed post-birth. It may also be worthwhile visiting an osteopath or chiropractor for a post-birth adjustment or a massage therapist for a post-birth massage.
■ Join a postnatal support group or visit online pregnancy forums, but don’t be afraid to leave groups if they are ‘not your people’. Hormones and sleep deprivation combined with the ‘security’ of being behind a keyboard can, unfortunately, make some people come across as being a bit nasty. Alternatively get some social runs on the board by seeking out friends who have babies or toddlers- sometimes the best newborn advice comes from friends going through the same things at the same time as you.
■ Go with the flow. Seek help immediately for breastfeeding and sleep and settle issues, but babies grow fast so don’t miss this precious phase by worrying about everything. Take photos, write things down, and just spend time looking at this life you’ve welcomed in to the world. This time is precious.
Just remind me again. Who am I?
Despite fiercely loving your child, there can also be a certain feeling of grief for the life you’ve left behind. Often, this feeling is exacerbated when you find yourself predominantly housebound. Older mothers who may have already forged a substantial career can be particularly vulnerable. Independent, career-driven women, accustomed to being good at what they do, are often sent into a spin when they can’t understand or control their newborn.
A woman’s unfamiliar role as mom can also see them struggle with self-esteem and identity issues. Women tend to withdraw from the world after having a baby, so things that once gave them power, like their career, no longer apply. Men, on the other hand, often feel an internal pressure to work harder when they become dads, and can be rewarded with more power.
Sometimes the best newborn advice feels like a criticism of your ability to parent; listen to what friends and family offer you, but remember no one knows your new family like you do – so don’t be afraid to do things your way.
And baby makes three
This change of dynamics is only one of many challenges faced by first-time parents. Many expectant parents believe starting a family will bring them closer, but it’s actually common for couples to feel less satisfied with their relationship. It’s totally normal for you and your partner to experience more conflict and disagreements than before having a child.
It’s easy to see why. You don’t have the same time or opportunities for shared interests and activities; the physical and emotional fatigue that comes with new parenting makes you more irritable and impatient with each other; and your sex life can be impacted for as long as 12 months – or longer.
If you both know how to manage these changes, they can be changes for the better. Try to maintain a positive, supportive attitude towards each other, be patient and accepting of mistakes, and know that it will get easier. Parenthood is an adventure and you’re both along for the ride.
How can new dads support moms?
■ Give positive feedback. A new mom is highly sensitive to her partner’s attitude towards her, particularly in those first few months, and it affects how she responds to the baby. Give her constant encouragement and positive feedback and she’ll be more satisfied by basic baby tasks.
■ Simple things make a difference. Help around the house, take care of baby to ease her load so she can rest, and support her breastfeeding efforts by creating a calm atmosphere.
■ Provide support. Help her back into the world by going to appointments with her, whenever possible.
How can new moms help dads?
■ Keep him involved. Some moms want to show how well they are coping by doing it all themselves, and they can inadvertently exclude their partner.
■ Foster connection time. Make bath time dad’s time with the baby, or if you’re bottle-feeding, let him give the night-time bottle.
■ Accept that your partner might not put the nappies on the same way you do, but that’s okay. Remember, he loves the baby just as much as you do.
Baby Blues or Post Natal Depression? (PND)
Baby blues – that is, feeling gloomy, irritable or crying for no reason – is experienced by up to 75 percent of women and is mainly hormonal. It usually passes of its own accord and can last up to three weeks.
PND usually develops within four weeks of giving birth and worsens if it’s not treated. Symptoms include feeling hopeless, worthless, anxious, or like you’re not enjoying motherhood or your baby; not sleeping well, and fearing for, or obsessing about, the baby. If symptoms persist for over a month, see your GP, early childhood center nurse or midwife.
Even fathers get the baby blues
Research out of the UK suggests 10 percent of dads suffer postnatal depression, even if mum is coping. Unfortunately, it often goes undiagnosed. Symptoms include irritability, agitation, withdrawal into work or TV, feeling overwhelmed or inadequate, feeling resentment towards the baby, or being aggressive towards their partner or baby.
You’ve got this.
Having a baby changes almost every aspect of your life. It is very normal, and okay to feel overwhelmed and stressed. Do what you can to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and care for your own wellbeing. As a new parent, you don’t have to be perfect. Being a parent is hard. All you can do is your best.