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.”
- New 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.”
- New Mom

Settling In

The 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, because it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day baby life and lose sight of the big picture: 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 childbirth. 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 teamwork 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."

- New 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.”

 - New 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. This 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 (and nothing will make you appreciate your mom like becoming one yourself).

Also, 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, too.

We're not saying having hands-on grandparents is always stress-free; it just depends on your family dynamics. But some basic, pre-childbirth conversations to set boundaries and make sure everyone is on the same page will usually get things moving in the right direction.

Just stay open to accepting help, because 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 divide 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 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 & 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.

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 it all, 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.

  • The workload of a newborn is A LOT, and intense fatigue can lead to frazzled nerves and patience in short supply.
  • With a baby on board, time alone with your partner is harder to come by meaning less time to nurture your relationship. 
  • Gatekeeping can definitely sabotage teamwork.
  • For stay-at-home moms, minimal downtime often leads to the expectation that Dad should take over the second he's home from work, which can create tension.   
  • The roles you and Dad take on may end up looking different than you expected. Many couples are surprised to discover how much of the load is assumed by Mom.

“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 women 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 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.” 

- New 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 in America, we're short on help and don’t get close to enough sleep. 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.

Today, new parents 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 disorders

And 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.

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: The key is think about this before childbirth. 

With some strategizing on how you and Dad can form a sleep plan and help your baby sleep, you’ll increase the odds for your whole   family getting more rest.

Simple conversation starters: 

  • Who can help once the baby is home?
  • Do we want to hire help (postpartum doula, friend or family)? 
  • Night feedings: both of us up or take shifts?
  • Where will Baby sleep (nursery, co-sleeping, bassinet)?
  • Where can each of us get sleep while the other has the baby?

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, which means more rest. Organizing in advance has big payoffs, and it’s definitely  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 do 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 we're “slacking off.” Or maybe we’re afraid people won’t handle things the way we want them to and think we’re the only one capable of caring for the baby.

But if you take the time to think through these fears and form a plan before the baby is born, you’ll be a more rested mom and can pay the help forward 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, let the nurses help care for the baby so so you and Dad can get some rest.
  • Once you’re home, 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.”  - New 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.” 

— New Mom

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

- New Mom

A Sleep Checklist

Our society values worker bees, and a mom's self-image is often rooted in putting her baby’s needs before her own. But if you don’t make sleep a priority, it will slip to the bottom of your list, and your baby needs you to be as rested as possible. 

The truth is, when you sleep you are putting your baby’s needs before your own, because you’re giving her a mom who feels better, functions better, makes better decisions, and is in a better overall mood: winning!

Here are some suggestions to encourage sleep…

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.

When you lay down, do your best to relax and throw to-do lists out the window. Second time moms will tell you the laundry and cleaning can wait but sleep is critical.

Teamwork will maximize the sleep you and Dad 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: When you’re done feeding, Dad can burp her and put her back to sleep. There’s no one-system-fits-all, and your routine might change as your baby grows.

Research proves longer stretches of uninterrupted sleep are much better than shorter, fragmented blocks. If you’re breastfeeding, think about pumping so Dad can take a night shift and bottle feed. Fathers describe this as a special time when they get to bond with their little one. If you’re having a hard time falling asleep, try white noise, earplugs, a sleep mask, meditation, or soothing music to lull you to sleep.

Start a savings account specifically for 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.

  • 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.
  • Set up online delivery and stock up on supplies (diapers, wipes, etc.): less stuff to do equals more time for sleep.
  • Use blackout curtains to 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 where you can actually sleep: in your car, or at a friend or family member's house (you won’t believe how common this is).
  • Try breastfeeding while lying down so you can nap when feeding.

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