Parenting a newborn is incredibly hard work. It will challenge you in ways you’ve never been challenged before. Taking care of a baby can be so all-encompassing that you have very little time to take care of yourself. Even simple tasks like eating and showering can get neglected; simple errands become infinitely more complicated, and getting out on a date with your partner may seem an insurmountable challenge. And, on top of it all, you’re usually sleep-deprived. And lack of sleep makes everything harder: your problem-solving ability plummets, your memory fails you, your emotions see-saw all over the place, and patience is a rare commodity.
What can you do:
· Sleep whenever the baby sleeps. If you have friends or family come to visit, ask them to hold the baby while you take a nap.
· Make sure you have nutritious food in the house that doesn’t need to be cooked, and that you can hold in one hand while you hold the baby in the other. If friends or co-workers offer to help after the baby’s born, ask them to bring you foods that you enjoy eating.
· Bring a bouncer seat or a carseat into the bathroom with you so you can still get a shower, with the baby nearby (often the sound of the water will lull a baby to sleep.)
· Be gentle with yourself: if the house isn’t as clean as you normally keep it, try not to stress about it; if you’re not making progress on any of the projects you had planned for “quiet times” at home, stay relaxed.
· Try to let go of “rules”: shoulds, always, and nevers. For example, “she can’t possibly be hungry again, I just nursed her” or “I’ll never get any time to myself again” or “I should be getting more done, or I’ll always feel out of control.” Stay in the moment: what can you do to make things better right now?
· Find peer support: There’s nothing quite like being around other people who are experiencing some of the same challenges you’re facing. Seek out other new parents. The resource list includes support groups, postnatal exercise groups, and parent education groups; there are also things like Gymboree, Kindermusik, baby swim classes, etc. Hanging out at playgrounds and chatting with other parents also helps. Being around other parents helps lighten the sense of isolation and overwhelming change for the parents. It also allows you to see lots of different babies and lots of different parenting styles, and come up with new ideas that may work for you and for your family.
· Call on friends or family before it gets bad. A friend of mine once told me: “after I had children, I could not imagine how anyone would ever want to abuse or hurt their child. I wanted to protect my child, I wanted to protect everyone’s children from harm. And yet… there were other moments when I totally understood why people abuse their children. When I was sleep-deprived, and hadn’t had a break to eat or to shower all day, and I felt like I had no resources left, and my baby was screaming and screaming and I had no idea what to do, I would sit and rock back and forth crying, not able to come up with any solutions. Somehow hitting the baby almost seemed like a reasonable action… nothing else I had tried had worked, in those moments of desperation, it almost seemed worth seeing if maybe hitting would.” She didn’t hit her child. She called friends and asked for help. When she first called, she wasn’t able to tell her friends how she was feeling. All she did was invite them over to visit her and the baby, and just having them around helped. Later on, she was able to talk more about her feelings.
· Try it. If there’s something that you enjoyed doing before baby was born, and you don’t know if you can do it with baby, just give it a try to see what happens. The worst that happens is it fails… and you try again some other time. For example, if you love movies, try going in the middle of the day when it’s cheap and there’s not many people to disturb. If you’re lucky, baby will sleep right through. If you’re not quite so lucky, you may just have to leave the theater once or twice. And if it’s just disastrous, accept that it didn’t work out that day, and you can always try again some other time.
· Find quality time with your partner. New babies put a lot of strain on marriages and relationships. When the baby has so many immediate needs, it’s often easy to put off meeting your own needs, and meeting the needs of your partner. It’s important not to let this develop into a long-term pattern. Try to find quality time with your partner each week, whether that’s a “date” or just a few minutes of snuggling and conversation at some point in each day.