It’s well-known that becoming a parent is one of the most stressful life transitions. I work as a perinatal psychologist and have supported lots of women through this bumpy transition. Through this experience, I have learnt that, with a little bit of planning, you can feel less like you are sky-diving without a parachute and more like you are prepped, confident and prepared for the jump.
- Get your support crew ready. Looking after a new-born 24/7 is hard work, especially when you are sleep deprived. It takes a village to raise a child, so think about where you can get 3 types of support, and not just your partner:
- practical support (for help with cooking, cleaning, looking after your baby),
- social support (someone to have fun with from time to time, like going for a walk, to the movies, to the park). Apps like Meetup can help if you feel like you don’t know many people where you live.
- emotional support (someone that you can openly share your feelings with, whether they be joyful or feelings of sadness).
Before having your baby, ask your crew if they would be willing to support you over the first year and how you think they could help.
- Be aware of your emotional boundaries and be prepared to set limits. Sometimes support can overstep the line and you might wind up feeling guilty, incompetent or like you don’t have enough space. For example, the grandparent with a different parenting style and advice for you. Think about what boundaries might be crossed (who, how, when), and talk with your partner how you might deal with this, while still maintaining healthy relationships.
- Prioritise your own sleep by teaching your baby sleep and settling skills early. Read up about ideas about how to establish good sleeping habits for your baby. A comfortable cot, clothing and consistent bed time rituals and times can help your baby to learn how to sleep and to settle themselves back to sleep when they wake up.
Sleeping baby = sleeping parents = well rested family = less stress all round.
- Devise a Plan B in case your baby is not a good sleeper. If you have a baby who takes a long time to learn to sleep independently, and they wake up crying every 2 hours, it is important to call on your support crew to help you with your baby while you get a decent stretch of sleep. Long term sleep deprivation is not good for your emotional and physical health.
- Look after your relationship with your partner by negotiating roles and responsibilities. Before the baby arrives, sit down with your partner and work out how you plan to share the jobs. How can you ensure that you are both pitching in with bathing, getting up for the baby at night, reading stories, going for walks, changing nappies, cooking and cleaning. Even in 2016, women often end up doing the lion’s share of baby care and housework, which often is a cause of conflict and dissatisfaction. Planning ahead can mitigate against these potential difficulties.
- Book in pampering appointments before the baby arrives. Treat yourself and book in a babysitter every 4 weeks so you can have some alone time (hairdresser/ massage/ facial/ movie/ gym session/ netball game/ squash) during the first year of parenthood. Time for yourself is good for emotional well-being, which is good for your baby and for your relationship.
- Research child care. Wait times can be horrendous (I had to wait 18 months to get my third son into my preferred child care centre) so go and visit a few and put your name down when you find one you like. Even if you don’t end up taking a place, it’s good to have the option if you need it.
- Educate yourself about breast feeding. If you are planning to breastfeed, it can be helpful to know about how to do it. Breast feeding is a skill, which takes knowledge and practice. Find out about the rooting reflex, different positions, and contraptions to make breast feeding comfortable (e.g. bras, t-shirts, feeding pillows).
- Don’t compare yourself to others. It can be easy to feel inadequate when seeing models with bikini-bodies 6 weeks after giving birth, or when listening to a mother in mother’s group boast that her baby has ‘slept through’ since returning from the hospital. From my experience as a perinatal psychologist, many new parents put on “happy, social masks”, but face private struggles behind closed doors. The first year of parenthood is not meant to be a walk in the park.
- Plan to enjoy time with your baby and your new family. Consider your interests and think about how to involve your baby in activities with you. For example, if you like yoga – research baby yoga groups, if you like watching the football – carry your baby in a baby carrier or pram while you watch a game. Doing this will help to build your attachment to your baby, while still maintaining your identity.