Bringing home a brand new baby can be the most exciting time in your life – and also one of the most stressful. It’s one of the most significant life changes that you and your family can experience and comes with a wide range of expectations and hopes. Knowing a few of the unexpected difficulties experienced by other new parents beforehand can help you navigate some of the low points a little better.
1. Sleep deprivation will be worse than you think. Other parents have told you already that you won’t get much sleep – but you don’t really know how difficult this can be. New parent exhaustion is a real thing and the main cause of stress for parents of newborns. In fact, it’s not really something to joke about or take lightly—it can lead to difficult problems such as stress with your partner, problems with breastfeeding and bonding, increased chance of postpartum depression and even infant deaths when exhausted parents try sleeping with the baby in their bed, causing suffocation.
Smart baby sleepers that create a quieter, more secure sleep environment for your infant can help, as can reaching out to family and friends for baby care to help offer a break. New parents also should keep in touch with their health care provider concerning serious sleep issues, and to discuss any feelings of depression or unresolved stress with partners.
2. Your baby will dictate your schedule. The days of spontaneous outings with friends will largely become a thing of the past, and even carefully planned meetups may not work out – colic and blowouts inevitably will take precedence. Even establishing a daily routine with your baby won’t always be easy, but evidence shows creating routines and rituals is important to your baby’s brain development. It helps your baby to understand patterns, which helps lead to higher thought processes such as reasoning.
It’s easy even in the middle of the chaos to help your infant begin learning predictable patterns, and you can do this by gently talking through what will happen during your daily activities such as getting into the car, giving a bath, changing a diaper or getting dressed.
3. A new baby can take a toll on your partnership. Even with the joy of bringing a new baby into your home, your relationship with your partner can suffer. Between sleep deprivation, a lack of intimacy, a great change in routine and lifestyle, your partnership in the first few months of parenthood may need a little TLC. Your nerves may be frayed by a screaming baby, lack of shut-eye and endless poop cleanup, but it’s important to remember that you’re both in the same boat and to try not to take frustrations out on each other.
One thing that can help is a little bit of tag-teaming – giving each other some alone time away from the baby can do wonders. Let your partner take a walk or run, go to a yoga class or grab a bite to eat with a friend. Get a grandparent to babysit for a couple of hours to get some time where the two of you can go somewhere together (and not talk about the baby). And always talk about ways you can divvy up responsibilities to best help the other parent. Remember that ensuring you’re both happy ultimately will help the baby be happier, too.
4. Breastfeeding might not be as easy as you think. You may be excited to start breastfeeding, which experts say can provide the best nourishment to your infant and can increase your feelings of physical and emotional connection with your baby. But many mothers experience some difficulty getting started.
Problems with latching, breast pain or the baby’s mouth can all cause trouble with the natural activity. Try not to get frustrated—it’s common for new mothers to experience some difficulty. Lactation specialists at your hospital can help offer advice, and your health care provider can help clear up any related medical issues that may be preventing you from breastfeeding as planned.
5. Parenthood is really scary. Nobody sends you home from the hospital with a new-baby manual. The reality of your responsibility begins to set in when you go home and realize you have a brand new human being in your hands that you alone are responsible for. It’s up to you to keep this little person alive and healthy, and to ultimately to raise into a healthy, happy human being. The responsibility can be crushing, and you may feel fear about your baby’s safety.
You might think you’ll do everything wrong, and hormones can make this fear more intense. But know that as a worried new parent, you’ll be arming yourself with all the right information about ensuring your baby is safe during activities such as bathtime, driving, and caring for wounds such as umbilical cord scabs. Your fear may carry over to visitors, where you may be concerned about letting other people hold or care for your baby. Letting go can be one of the hardest things to do, but it’s important for your well-being (and your baby’s socialization) to hand off your little one now and then.
6. It’s harder to take care of yourself. It’s easy to let self-care go out the window when your newborn needs so much. You may lose control of tidying up your house, washing clothes, or even showering and changing your outfit each day. You may think you’re being selfish by wanting a few minutes to yourself, but it’s absolutely essential to care for yourself as well as your baby.
Carving out time and space whenever possible to ensure you’re well-rested, eating right and getting exercise can help prevent postpartum depression, for one thing. Turn to your partner to team up on baby care, or reach out to your support system to allow yourself breaks from your newborn. Even the easiest babies can take a toll on tired parents simply because they need to have every need met. Find ways to experience something positive daily, whether it’s enjoying a favorite streaming program or talking with a favorite friend. Try not to make other major life changes at this time, like taking a new job or moving.
While you may encounter other unexpected difficulties of becoming a new parent, reaching out to others in the same situation and building a good network of others who have ‘been there’ can help you to find your way through the first challenging months – which can also be filled with amazing moments as your new baby grows and experiences life at home with you.