Initial Challenges

“You have this idea of how you think things will be and then the baby’s born and you realize
it’s a whole new world…every single day you’re learning and figuring it all out.” - 
Veteran Mom

Initial Challenges

“You have this idea of how you think things will be and then the baby’s born and you realize
it’s a whole new world…every single day you’re learning and figuring it all out.” - 
Veteran Mom

Settling In

Those first few weeks at home, babies are mostly in a nonstop cycle of eating and sleeping, and it’s a great time for you and Dad to get some solid footing. Check in with each other and reflect on shared hopes and dreams for your family, and remember it’s easy to get so caught up in day-to-day baby care that you lose sight of the big picture and creating a happy family.

So how do new parents create a happy family?

They become partners in every sense of the word. They talk about the important issues and get on the same page before the birth. Once the baby is born, they develop systems to manage the workload. They make sure they're not getting stuck in ruts that are common for new parents. All this might sound obvious and sensible, but “sensible” can easily fly out the window when you’re overwhelmed and sleep-deprived.

Building strong communication skills and learning to constructively manage conflict from the start will keep you and Dad connected and working as a team for decades, especially through those challenging times.

READ! A Diary of the First Four Weeks

"There's this extra level of communication you have to figure out with your partner and you will, but just clearly communicate what you need. I've been practicing that a lot more, and I feel like that's been really helpful." - Veteran Mom

Gathering Your Village

For some parents-to-be, building a support system can feel really challenging, while others have a huge circle of extended family and friends. But the village approach to parenting is important and gives kids experience with different people and personalities. Not to mention it takes a lot of pressure off new moms and dads–always a plus!

Before your baby is born, think about the people in your life and who can help you and Dad get sleep, prep meals, run errands, or whatever else might be needed. If someone is a great cook, there’s your meal-prep person. You have an animal lover in the family? Hello, dog walker! You get the picture...Accept help when it’s offered and ask for it when it’s not. And know that people are usually most eager to pitch-in during that first month or so (maybe because they assume you need less help after that). And definitely avoid trying to be Supermom and do everything on your own, because that just creates unnecessary stress.

 READ! How to Build Your Village

“Take help from family and friends...let them do meals, hold the baby, do dishes. They're willing to help if you tell them what you need.”  - Veteran Mom

A Word on Grandparents

Today, grandparents are often an underappreciated resource, but in cultures where grandparents are considered a source of wisdom and support, families are less stressed overall, which makes perfect sense because more hands on deck equals less pressure for Mom and Dad. And studies show hands-on grandparents have lasting, positive effects on their grandchild’s well-being, as well as their own.

But one of the first things we tend to do is assume grandparents are kind of clueless when it comes to baby care. Just because your mom had you sleeping on your stomach as a baby doesn’t mean her input is useless: she was following her pediatrician’s advice—just like you. At the very least, keep an open mind and appreciate she raised her own babies (and nothing makes you appreciate your mom like becoming one). And don’t forget grandpa, because he’s a part of the picture, too. Over and over again we hear from proud grandfathers who are genuinely interested in how dads today are so involved with their kids: most likely, he wants to be involved as well.
This isn’t to say that having grandparents in your village is always stress-free; it depends on your family dynamics. But some basic, before-the-baby-is-born conversations to set up boundaries and make sure everyone is on the same page will usually get things moving in the right direction.

So, stay open to help from grandparents because there are lots of payoffs for all, and it’s a great way for you and Dad to strengthen family bonds and feel supported.

READ! Tips for New Grandparents of Newborns

Turn Your Differences into Strengths

Many things factor into how we parent: our childhood, culture, religion, temperament, and more. So it makes sense that you and Dad may have different parenting styles, which is actually great for raising well-rounded kids— unless you end up fighting over your differences. It’s one thing to divvy up household jobs like emptying the dishwasher or taking out the trash, but it’s another thing if you’re arguing over who should get up with the baby during the night. Instead of insisting there’s one set way of doing things, let your differences be your strengths and focus on how you balance each other out. If something is bothering you, try to hold off and discuss it when the baby is sleeping and you’re calm and not wanting to jump down your partner’s throat—often easier said than done with hormones running amok! And remember Dad’s way of doing things has as much value as yours and is just as beneficial for your baby.

“There was a lot of tension in our house. We were getting really snippy with each other, and we finally just said, ‘Here’s the deal: This is what you need from me and this is what I need from you.’ When communication breaks down, there are all kinds of problems. So if you have something to say, say it in a nice, non-threatening way. Preferably when she’s had a little bit of sleep, because teamwork really comes from communicating.”  — New Dad

Teamwork – The Key to Your Sanity & Your Relationship

Nothing builds closeness between parents like working together to create a family. It has a huge impact on how much you enjoy spending time together and improves every aspect of raising kids. And research shows teamwork has long-term benefits  for your baby: 

  • Models positive behavior.
  • Makes kids feel safe and confident.
  • Reduces behavioral issues.
  • Results in stronger pre-academic skills and greater self-reliance.

If you’re like most moms-to-be, you’re thinking: Teamwork—that’s EXACTLY what we’ll be doing! But the reality is, without some pre-baby conversations about how to handle teamwork, you’ll be headed for frustration down the road. Teamwork takes a certain skill set (communication, cooperation, organization) and parenting as a team means working together a lot more than you did as a party of two.

Common Teamwork Challenges

  • The sheer workload of a newborn is staggering, and intense sleep-deprivation can lead to frayed nerves and patience in short supply.
  • One-on-one time with your partner keeps your relationship strong, but it’s harder to get it with a Baby on board. Less time to nurture your marriage can definitely challenge teamwork.
  • Gatekeeping is a sure-fire way to sabotage teamwork, because you have to feel comfortable and confident leaving Dad in charge of the baby.
  • For many stay-at-home moms, there’s minimal down-time and an expectation that Dad should take the baby the minute he walks in the door from work, which can stir up tension.   
  • Resentment can set in. You might resent Dad because you feel his life hasn’t been changed by the baby as much as yours, and he may feel you don’t appreciate his efforts and contributions.
  • Best laid plans may need rethinking: The roles you and Dad play could end up looking different than you envisioned, and many couples are surprised to discover how much of the load is assumed by Mom.

 

Teamwork Tips from Veteran Moms

“Definitely schedule time to talk. I’m a talker, but my husband isn’t. You get frustrated about something then all of a sudden it comes out. I think I’m doing a nice thing by handing the baby off when he gets home from work, but then he’s like ‘You don’t even let me change!’…Men and woman are different. Why wouldn’t he just say, ‘Can I change first?’ So, it’s constantly a work in progress.”  

 

“Talking about expectations for each other works for us...There’s always flexibility, but just having that structure helps. When I went back to work, it was a big adjustment, so the more you can communicate about stuff ahead of time, the better

 

“I went back to work part-time at six weeks. I would say the thing that works the most is my husband and I have great communication when I’m at work and he’s home with the baby. He sends me pictures and lets me know what they’re up to. We had some issues at first where he would call me and the baby was crying in the background and I would say, ‘OK, I’m coming home.’ So we had to establish some boundaries where he would tell me certain things without me reacting. It helped me to feel connected.”

 

“Sit down and ask each other, ‘What can I do to make things easier?’ It’s been really beneficial for us, because nothing builds up. A lot of times, we’d start out the day like that and it would be like, ‘You know, this is really bothering me, so can we just work out a different way to do this?’”

 

“We break up the weekends into our own times. That works for us, because it’s really clear guidelines. Like, I know I have bedtime or he does, so I can go to the gym. Also, bath time is his thing.”

 

“For us, whenever we could sleep we relied on each other’s partnership…we’d take turns. I’d get up and take care of her, and the next time he would get up. I think that was our way of being able to catch up on sleep.”

 

We have a routine...At night, he gets home around six and he always feeds her dinner and initiates bath time, and then puts her down. Even though I’m a part of it, he really takes that on, because that’s his time with her.

 

“The other thing about teamwork is keeping that connection with Dad. It can be difficult, I'll be frank. After the baby is born, you're sleep deprived, all your attention is going to baby, Dad is worried about finances, you might be gatekeeping because you don't want to leave baby...Remember it started with the two of you, so try to keep that bond going”

 

 

Teamwork is also just having someone to talk to after a rough day. Support each other, allow each other to vent, and be a shoulder to lean on during challenging times. Sharing the highs and getting through the lows as a united front builds trust and respect for each other and brings your relationship and family to a whole new level.

“Teamwork is definitely communicating with your spouse, but it's also being flexible, because things won't always turn out the way you want them to.” - Veteran Mom

Getting Sleep

Like most new moms, you’ve probably read up on childbirth and have, at the least, a general idea of what to expect, but what about making sure you get sleep once the baby’s born? Labor and delivery will come and go, but sleep is a never-ending need, and it’s so often ignored. If you prepare now and give sleep the respect it deserves, you can majorly improve your first few months with a newborn. Don’t get us wrong, you’ll still be up for feedings or fussy nights, but you’ll be able to manage fatigue and get more rest than you thought possible.

Sleep Deprivation: Lose-Lose for All

In many cultures around the globe, families and villages make sure new moms get at least thirty days of rest, and with all that help, dads are more likely to rest, too. But many new parents are short on help and don’t get close to enough. In modern, Western cultures, studies show new parents are not only challenged in getting solid (not fragmented) sleep, but it takes a long time to regain that “normal” feeling of rested we had before becoming parents: the struggle for sleep is no small thing.

But, parents today expect to be sleep-deprived and see it as “just the way things are”—a rite of passage. But with the damage it wreaks on our well-being, we should definitely be more concerned. Research shows prolonged sleep deprivation impairs judgment, causes accidents, generates frustration, kills brain cells, and exacerbates postpartum mood disordersAnd the brain fog, frustration and stress you feel from lack of sleep is unhealthy for your baby, too: it’s hard to be at your best when you’re bone tired.

Read More

But why is getting sleep so hard to manage?

New parents will tell you they just didn’t realize how intense it would be, and once the baby was born, they didn’t have the bandwidth to put a plan together. So, the key is consider thisbefore your baby is born. With some strategizing on how you and Dad can form a sleep plan along with helping your baby slowly develop good sleeping habits (see Baby Sleep 101),you’ll set yourself up for a better quality of new-parent life.

Get the conversation started by asking each other some simple questions:

  • Who can help once the baby is home?
  • Do we want to schedule help (postpartum doula, friend or family) in advance?
  • How do we want to handle night feedings: both of us up or take shifts?
  • Where do we want the baby to sleep (our room, nursery, co-sleeping, or bassinet)?
  • Is there a room where one of us can get sound sleep while the other has the baby?
  • How will we manage household tasks so there’s more time for sleep?

Also, there are lots of ways to get organized so your home runs on auto-pilot (as much as possible) once the baby is here. Often we don’t get stuff done because our lives are already so busy, but organizing in advance has really big payoffs, and it’s definitely a lot easier to “sleep when your baby sleeps” if the phone bill is paid and meals are prepped.

Why New Moms Don’t Sleep Enough

Biology naturally makes Mom the primary caretaker: Not only are you feeding your infant every few hours, but your baby’s cries trigger a physical response that’s impossible to ignore, so it’s no surprise that lack of sleep can impact moms more deeply than dads. But for both parents, the physical and emotional demands of being responsible for keeping a human alive can drive sleep deprivation to intense levels.

When you fall into bed, your mind might spin with thoughts of everything you should be doing—laundry, dishes, shopping—and who can sleep with so much thinking going on? And then there’s just wanting some downtime to yourself or with Dad to rest and regroup. But the thing is, the less you sleep, the more your body will struggle to fall asleep. Yes: Sleep deprivation actually leads to more sleeplessness Keeping sleep hormones (melatonin and serotonin) regulated is key to making sure you’re not stuck in a cycle of sleeplessness.

READ! Why “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is so hard…

Let Others Help (You Sleep!)

Accepting help from others is a major factor in getting rest, but it can be hard to do. We might feel it means we’re not “up to the task” or “good enough” or “slacking off.” Or maybe we’re afraid people won’t handle things the way we want them to, or we think we’re the only one capable of caring for the baby. But if you take the time to think these fears through before your baby is born, you’ll be a happier and more rested mom and can pay itforward to another new mom when the time comes.

Make a list of daily things you’ll need help with (baby care, cleaning, cooking, shopping, dog-walking) so you can decide what you’re comfortable letting people do. If someone comes over and says, “How can I help?” you’ll have your go-to list ready.

At the hospital, if you’re comfortable with the nurses handling baby care in the nursery, take advantage of it so you and Dad can get some rest. Hospital staff coming in and out of your room might make sleep challenging but try anyway. Once you’re home from the hospital, feed your baby then don’t feel guilty heading straight for a nap while Dad’s on duty. If help is at the house, Dad naps too!

“Get all the help you can, because you’re definitely going to be sleep deprived. My mother in-law jumped in before I even asked her and I thought, ‘No—I don’t want you coming into my life.’ I was arrogant. But she was the biggest help, because she’s been through it and she knew how difficult it was. And my mom came too, so I was lucky.”  - Veteran Mom

 

READ! Moms, You Deserve Some Help!

“Sleep can take over everything. You can't enjoy your relationship with the baby or your husband if you're always sleep deprived…you're always just trying to get by.” — Veteran Mom

"The worst thing we can do to ourselves as women is try to do it all. If you have family, let them help."  - Veteran Mom

A Sleep Checklist

Our society values worker bees, and your self-image as a mom is often rooted in putting your baby’s needs before your own. But if you don’t make sleep a high priority, it will naturally slip to the bottom of your list. Just to be clear: When you sleep, you are putting your baby’sneeds before your own. You’re giving your baby a mom who feels better, drives better, makes better decisions, and is in a better mood.

Here are some suggestions to encourage sleep…

Develop Good Sleep Habits

To regulate sleep hormones, make sure you’re getting fresh air and exercise (walks with the baby help their sleep too!); limit sleep disrupters like caffeine and alcohol; and avoid screens and scrolling through Facebook or Instagram right before sleep.

Overcome the Urge to Do It All

First of all, let Dad help. Let others help. If the baby is fed, go to sleep; easier said than done, we know…But when you lay down to sleep, do your best to toss mental to-do lists out the window. Second time moms will tell you the laundry and cleaning can wait but sleep cannot.

Tag Team

Creating a teamwork system will maximize the sleep you and your partner get. If you’re bottle-feeding, take shifts. If you’re breastfeeding, Dad can get the baby, change her, bring her to you, and go back to bed. Or reverse it, and when you’re done feeding, he can burp her and put her back to sleep. Remember, there’s no one-system-fits-all, and your routine will likely change month to month as your baby grows.

The Holy Grail: Get Solid Sleep

Research has made it clear that longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep is much better than shorter, fragmented blocks. If you’re breastfeeding, consider pumping so Dad can take a night shift and bottle feed. Fathers describe this as a special time with their baby when they get to feed, burp, change, swaddle, and soothe their little one: great bonding. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep, try a white noise machine or app (not just for babies!), earplugs, sleep mask, or a meditation app to lull you to sleep.

Save For Sleep

Start a savings account specifically for covering help you'll need when the baby is born. If it’s earmarked for things like a postpartum doula, mother’s helper, or housecleaning help, it will make the first few months more manageable and you’ll feel more relaxed. Store-up restaurant gift cards so you can order takeout for easy, speedy meals.

More Suggestions

  • If your baby is a natural self-soother, step aside and let him sleep. If self-soothing is a challenge, slowly help him learn sleep techniques to fall asleep on his own.
  • Put Baby to sleep in an ideal spot so the whole family gets rest. Babies can be noisy sleepers, and you’ll naturally wake up when it’s a real “I’m awake” cry.
  • Set up online delivery and stock up on supplies (diapers, wipes, etc.): less stuff to do equals more time for sleep.
  • Use blackout curtainsto keep your room as dark and sleep-friendly as possible (great for the nursery, too).
  • If it’s too noisy in the house and the baby is being cared for, nap in your car (you won’t believe how common this is).
  • Try breastfeeding while lying down so you can rest when feeding the baby.

Know that parenting a newborn gives everyone a run for their money, and it’s natural that you and Dad will be tired. But putting some strategies in place will help you avoid the pitfalls of full-on sleep deprivation. Always remember that caring for yourself and each other is an important part of caring for your baby.

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