Becoming a parent is exciting but can also be overwhelming at times. The changes to mum, relationships and of course sleep deprivation, can all lead to emotional and mental health strains. And all of this is completely understandable. Having a baby is the biggest change that can happen in one’s life. Not only is your entire life now dedicated to caring for a new life, but all the things you may have taken for granted (such as popping out for a spontaneous dinner or having a lie-in on the weekend), have now taken a back seat. On top of that, many mums find breastfeeding challenging, they may have a baby with colic (who will no doubt need extra attention), and there is always an endless supply of washing to be done!
As if that wasn’t enough, there are the physical challenges to overcome. Mum’s body will change significantly during and post-pregnancy. Having a C-section will mean a considerable amount of recovery time, and for a while, mum may be limited in her capabilities. A natural birth may mean mum leaves hospital sooner and doesn’t need to recover from surgery, but it’s not without its challenges, and it will take several weeks for her to heal. During this time she’ll have to contend with a newborn, while not feeling her best.
Then there are the long-term challenges. One of the biggest challenges parents face, is having enough time, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle. Babies and children are a lot of work, and finding enough time to care for them while holding down a job, maintaining a home and keeping up hobbies can be very difficult. Some parents give up their hobbies or interests once they have children because they simply cannot find the time. While putting your own needs aside to care for your baby is admirable, giving up on your interests, hobbies or social life may lead to resentment in the long-term. This is also true for your relationship.
It’s no secret that new (and in many cases, not new!) parents are exhausted. In the beginning, getting through each day is an achievement. This can put a strain on relationships, particularly the relationship between mum and dad. We all know that relationships are hard work and that they require time and effort. Once baby arrives, it’s likely that there won’t be a lot of time and effort put into your relationship. While this is foreseeable in the first few weeks, it is absolutely essential that mum and dad find the time to focus on their relationship thereafter. After all, now is the time they will need each other more than ever!
Take some time out for self-care and recognise that asking for help is not a sign of failure; protecting you and your baby is part of your journey:
Accept help – as soon as baby arrives you will likely be flooded with well-wishes and offers of help from close friends and family. Take them up on their offers. Your own mum, for example, may offer to help with a couple of loads of washing per week, or a friend might offer to do a shop for you at the local grocery store. As parents we want to do it all, but there is absolutely no shame in accepting some help from time to time. After all, your loved ones would not be offering if they weren’t willing to help! And those little things, be it washing, or shopping, or cooking a meal, add up. You will put the extra time to great use.
Bonding with baby – making time amongst the chaos to share intimate moments with baby will further strengthen your bond as a parent. You may be thinking, “I spend all day with my baby, surely our bond is strong enough?” While this may be true, there is a difference between spending time together while going through the motions, and spending quality time together. Cuddle your baby, put your phone away, watch baby sleep, or play together to share memorable times. While much of the first couple of months may be about surviving, it’s important to enjoy the journey and to savour each and every moment. After all, in the blink of an eye, he or she will be off to school!
Sleep – it is important that you rest when your baby sleeps. While baby’s nap time may seem like the perfect opportunity to get through your never-ending to-do list, you can’t run on empty. Napping when you can will help you recharge your batteries too.
Ask your partner to help – thereis a common misconception that the responsibility of baby lies entirely on mum, especially while she is on maternity leave. While it’s true that your partner may likely only have a few days paternity leave and return to work soon after baby’s birth, that doesn’t mean they don’t need to take on their share of the responsibilities. In fact, many dads want to help more, but sometimes lack the confidence, or feel like they are getting in the way of mum and baby’s established routine. Encourage dad to get involved in bath time, feeding time (unless you’re exclusively breastfeeding, that is) and play time. Sometimes he may get home from work too late, but that doesn’t mean he can’t assist with other things. Ask him to pick up dinner on the way home if you’re too tired to cook, ask him to run you a bath or to make you a cup of tea after dinner. Sometimes the smallest acts of help make a major difference to your day.
Enjoy life’s small luxuries – after baby is born, it will take some time before you can indulge in luxuries like getting a massage or going out for a meal. Treat yourself at home by indulging in a few small luxuries that’ll instantly lift your spirits. Light some scented candles to add a lovely fragrance to the room, add a bath bomb, oil or bubble bath to your bath water or drink your coffee from your “special occasion” china. Spray your favourite perfume, even if you’re spending the day at home and enjoy paging through your favourite glossy magazine or watching your favourite show (even if it’s just playing in the background!). It’s the little things that make all the difference.
Get out and about in the fresh air – as soon as you feel able, pop out for some fresh air. Daylight is great for vitamin D, which makes us naturally feel good, and walking with baby is a good form of exercise to keep your mood lifted. It would be a good routine for you moving forward, providing you with important family time. This is also a great opportunity to spend time with a friend. A lovely walk together gives you time to catch up without feeling like you’re spending time you don’t have.
Have a date night – this may seem easier said than done, but it is totally possible! While your date nights may not look the way they used to, there is a lot to be said for a simple date night at home. Besides, the date night is more about the time spent together than the actual date. Set the table, order your favourite takeout, and open a bottle of wine. This simple stay-in date gives you and your partner time to talk and to enjoy each other’s company.
Most importantly, stay as calm as you can, and be kind to yourself. With hormones all over the place, lack of sleep and emotional and physical changes to your body, you may feel overwhelmed. Focus on the important things and let everything else go for a while. Your and your baby’s health takes priority.