For many couples, a positive pregnancy test brings about excitement and pure joy. It’s confirmation they’re expanding their family and transitioning from couple to parents.
But bringing baby home can be just as exhausting as it is exhilarating. A new baby will turn your lives upside down — and not just for weeks, but for months to come. If you’re not prepared for this major life change, the stress of those first few weeks can quickly become overwhelming.
“New parents often find it’s difficult to figure out how to balance the needs of themselves and their babies,” said Dr. Laura Hlavaty, a pediatric psychologist in Akron Children’s Maternal Fetal Medicine Center. “Some parents wind up in survival mode and go without sleep, proper nutrition, general hygiene and more. But, if you’re not at your best, how can you take the very best care of your newborn?”
Planning ahead and enlisting support are essential to making a smoother transition from pregnancy to parenthood. Dr. Hlavaty offers 5 ways parents can take on their new roles with less stress and worry — beyond the necessities of preparing the nursery and stocking up on baby essentials. So once baby arrives, more time will be spent on the important things, like giggling and playing with your newest family addition.
Choose your roles
It’s not unusual for mom to take charge of most, if not all, of the responsibilities when it comes to baby, especially if you’re breastfeeding. But, it’s important your partner shares in the duties so he can bond with baby, too — and you can get a well-deserved break.
Prior to baby’s arrival, think through the added responsibilities that come with baby and decide with your partner what each of your roles is going to be. Remember to divide up chores that go beyond caring for baby, too. The laundry, house cleaning, cooking, pet care and the like will still need to get done.
“It can be hard to think clearly and make these decisions when you’re stressed, especially if you’re sleep deprived,” said Dr. Hlavaty. “So, having this conversation before delivery can be helpful.”
Build a support system now
Extra help and support is essential to surviving those first few weeks after baby is born. If you don’t have a strong support system in place — physically and mentally — build one now.
“Social help is one of the biggest ways parents get through this challenging, overwhelming time,” said Dr. Hlavaty. “The saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is so true and will help the transition go much smoother.”
Line up loved ones ahead of time to help you care for your newborn in the early days. Just be sure to discuss what that looks like and the duration of their stay. Also, don’t be afraid to accept help from family and friends with errands, grocery shopping and household chores once baby is born.
In addition, find a lactation consultant if you plan to breastfeed and a pediatrician that offers an after-hours nurse line for pertinent questions.
For mental support, look into infant classes, breastfeeding groups and other support programs to attend once baby is born. Building a connection with others going through a similar situation or having a place to answer your questions not only is a great way to ease stress, but it also offers you a social outlet.
Don’t forget to line up postpartum care, too
Once baby is born, you’ll have many appointments with a pediatrician to ensure baby is eating, diapering and sleeping well for optimal growth. But, it’s important you don’t forget about your physical and mental self, too. You’re still recovering from delivery and adapting to changing hormones, all the while learning to feed and care for your baby — around the clock.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends moms get their first evaluation within 3 weeks of giving birth to ensure they are healing both physically and mentally postpartum.
Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are one of the most common complications of childbearing. Listen to yourself and know the signs so you can get help if you think you’re suffering from something more serious than the baby blues.
Schedule time for your partner
Babies tend to take up 100 percent of our energy, and sometimes as parents we tend to lose ourselves in our newborns.
After a month or two, plan a lunch or date night so you can reconnect with yourself and your partner. Even though it may be hard to leave baby behind, it’s important to restore balance in your life. That way, you’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle baby’s daily challenges.
First and foremost, you have to take care of the caretaker — yourself. Things like getting proper nutrition, enough rest, drinking water, moving and general hygiene can all get put on the backburner, but without self-care you’ll be more vulnerable to feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
After your baby is born, it’s completely normal for self-care to look a little different. Maybe you’re not sleeping a full stretch of 8 hours and showering every day, but prioritizing these things is still important. Fit in naps and eat several healthy snacks throughout the day if you’re not sitting down to meals.
“When you’re doing things to help you recharge, you’ll be better able to manage the challenges that inevitably will come your way,” said Dr. Hlavaty. “Taking a few minutes for yourself will allow you to be your very best to care for your baby. It’s like the saying goes: ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup.’”