Preparing to Be New Parents

The biggest decision in your life is choosing to be a parent. It is a miracle, because you are providing the continuity of life. During this impressive process, new parents need to prepare themselves for huge changes in their lives.

The birth of a baby will bring about many changes in the lives of new parents. Many of these changes are ones that you are more than willing to make. Many will be easy to adjust to. However, the your life will often change in ways that neither of you anticipated. This blog post will give you tips about how to adjust to parenthood successfully.

Pregnancy is the first step of changes for new parents. It is an amazing process, but for some new mothers it can be stressful period filled with anxiety and emotional and physical changes as a result of all the hormones in woman’s body. During this time, an expectant mother’s relationships with key people such as their partners, family and friends are also altered.

According to Dr. Sofia Rallis, it is common for expectant and new parents to experience a complex array of thoughts and feelings, in response to these changes, including a sense of loss for their ‘old’ self or life.

A significant number of parents find that pregnancy and parenthood is more challenging than they expected and requires a considerable level of adjustment. They may feel disappointment or shame because they are not coping as well as they thought they would, or guilt because they feel frustrated and resentful. It is important that parents recognize and acknowledge both the joyous and distressing emotions that can be experienced as they adjust to their new life, and to be mindful of when additional support may be needed to help manage the more difficult emotions.

Some of the most common challenges experienced by new parents include:

Recovering from birth while also caring for a newborn (and possibly other children) 
Recovering from birth while also meeting the demands of a newborn can be particularly challenging. Recovery may also be affected by a caesarean or complicated delivery, if the birth experience was traumatic, or if you were dissatisfied with the quality of care you received.

Feeding difficulties
For some women, breastfeeding comes easily and may be a relatively straightforward process. However, for a significant number of women breastfeeding can be difficult to establish for various reasons, and may be a rather different experience than what they expected or hoped for.

Painful problems such as difficulties with latching on, cracked nipples and mastitis may be experienced throughout the breastfeeding period, adding to the physical and emotional distress. Some women may not be able to establish breastfeeding, which can also be a source of stress if there was a strong desire to do so.

Preparing to Be New Parents

Lack of sleep
Every new parent experiences a degree of fatigue and lack of sleep. This can impact on your mood, energy, motivation, patience and ability to think clearly and make decisions. The exhaustion experienced as a result of prolonged lack of sleep can also make it difficult to adapt to what is usually a very demanding infant feeding and settling schedule.

Feeling overly emotional
Most new parents will have some days or periods where they feel more emotional than usual. This is often exacerbated by a lack of sleep and/or a sense of being overwhelmed or not in control of things.

Coping with an unsettled baby—every baby brings with it its own unique temperament, with some being more unsettled than others—can place additional demands on your patience and coping resources and may affect your feelings towards your baby.

Bonding with your baby and understanding your baby’s cues
There are lots of reasons why it may take longer than you expected to develop a strong connection with your baby. It is important to remember that the parent-infant bond can take time to establish and it is not always “love at first sight.” Most parents need some time to get to know their baby. This will often include getting to know their temperament, their likes and dislikes and how they communicate their needs to others.

Babies don’t come with a manual (as nice as that would be sometimes!) so it is not uncommon for new parents to feel unsure or confused about what their baby needs or wants and how to best respond. Effective parenting involves learning a new set of skills; just like any other skill in life, time and practice is one of the few things that helps it get easier.

Body image disturbances
Pregnancy and birth are associated with many physical changes. It can take time to adjust to the way you look and feel, particularly as you recover from the birth experience. This may impact on your self-esteem and body image, particularly if you are finding it difficult to find time to focus on your own health and fitness.

Managing priorities
Trying to find time to do all the household chores, meet the needs of your baby, the needs other children you may have, as well as your own can seem like an impossible task. You may need to accept that you need to let go of some things for a while and instead prioritize the most important tasks/demands each day.

Preparing to Be New Parents

Managing expectations and advice from others
It is almost a certainty that endless advice will come your way as you try to navigate through the early days of parenthood. This can leave you feeling overwhelmed and confused and at times you may question yourself and your decisions. As hard as it might be, trust yourself and your instincts, even when you’re feeling unsure about how to handle a situation. Remember that you are the expert on your baby and that sometimes the only way to work out what works best is by trial and error.

Changes to your sense of self
New parents often struggle with the changes to their personal identity. This is often due to a number of factors such as ‘losing’ your work role and status, even if only for a short period of time, loss of your social life as you knew it as well as a loss of independence and sense of freedom.

Changes in the relationship with your partner
The partner/couple relationship changes considerably as you go through the process of adjusting from being partners to parents. Common areas of tension often include different ideas on how to care for the baby, managing familial expectations, the division of labour and changes in attitude and needs towards physical intimacy.

Changes in family dynamics
Changes in family dynamics, both immediate and extended, are extremely common. When present, new parents often have to navigate through a change in the dynamic in the relationship with their own parents, as the “child” has now become the “parent.”

You may hold different beliefs about parenting approaches, health beliefs and priorities in general. You may spend more or less time with family, depending on your circumstances, with each situation posing different challenges. It may take some time to get a good sense of where and how everyone fits into the new picture.

Most new parents feel total exhaustion after their baby arrives, but few of them are prepared for just how tired they will really be. They feel exhausted due to not only hard work of childbirth, but they may also find that because of their baby’s schedule, they rarely get to sleep more than a few hours at a time. This is why it is important for both parents to get all the rest that they can.

Unpredictable emotions are very common during the first months after a baby arrives.  According to Daniel S Stern (2014) and other parenting studies, it is estimated that 50% of all new mothers experience postpartum depression to some degree. It most commonly occurs around the third day after delivery, but it cans strike at any time during the first year. It is commonly believed that dropping levels of estrogen and progesterone trigger the depression that many new mothers feel.

After that, most of you will be faced with a variety of parenting advice from your close family members and friends. Some well-meaning friends or family members may even tell you what are you doing “well” and what you are doing “wrong.” Most parenting experts suggest you to tune out most of the advice that relatives and friends give about child care and the parenting process.

Preparing to Be New Parents

Of course, having a baby will lead to major changes in your everyday life, routines and in your relationship too. First of all, the change from two people in your family to three is a pretty big one. New parents may notice big changes in themselves and in their partner.

During this stage, it is very important to acknowledge that it is a transitional phase, and that things will get easer as they adjust to the role of being a parent. Most of you will experience feelings of doubt and ambivalence, but these feelings are normal. Parenting is a big responsibility, and many new parents find themselves wondering if they can handle it and questioning if they made the right decision in having a baby.

As new parents, you need to:

  • Have lower expectations of yourself and your partner when it comes to expecting perfection.
  • Take special care to nurture your relationship with your partner—if you want to have a solid family, you need to have solid relationship.
  • Have lower housekeeping standards.
  • Create a stimulating environment in which to interact with your baby.
  • Provide love for your baby—a close relationship with parents or caregivers is necessary for normal development.
  • Interact with your baby—parents should take every opportunity to talk and sing to their babies.
  • Get to know your baby—parents should discover what their babies like and dislike. In this way, parents can learn what their babies need and want in the form of interaction.
  • Enjoy your baby—parents should not worry about their babies’ development; they need to relax and enjoy the time with their babies.
  • Give your baby space—although it is important that parents pay attention to their infants, they should know when to leave the baby alone because if the parents solve every problem for their children, they won’t learn how to solve problems on their own.
  • Let your baby lead—parents who let their baby take the lead are letting their babies know that their interests are important.
  • Interact with your baby at the right time—parents should remember that infants have very short attention spans so the best time for parents to stimulate and play with their babies is during active wakefulness for physical activities and during quiet wakefulness for other types of learning.

A parent-provided experience can influence your infant in many ways, and the consequences of those interactions can have a major impact on the development of the infant. Theoreticians and researchers have long supposed that the child’s earliest experiences affect the course of their later development (Plato, ca. 355 B.C.).

This “early experience” model is consonant with a sensitive period interpretation of parenting effects (e.g., Bornstein, 1989b), and uses data derived from ethology, psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and neuropsychology.

Further information:

  • Stern, Daniel N ; Rizzolatti, Giacomo, ISSN: 1749-5016;  Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2014, Vol. 9(7), pp.951-960
  • Okagaki, L., & Bingham, G. E. (2006). Parents’ social cognitions and their parenting behaviors. In L. O.
  • Tom Luster (Ed.), Parenting: An ecological perspective (Vol. 2, pp. 3-34). New York: Routledge.
  • Dawson-McClure, S., Calzada, E., Huang, K.-Y., Kamboukos, D., Rhule, D., Kolawole, B., et al.
  • (2015). A population-level approach to promoting healthy child development and school success in lowincome, urban neighborhoods: impact on parenting and child conduct problems. Prevention Science, 16(2), 279-290.
  • Rowe, M. L., Denmark, N., Harden, B. J., & Stapleton, L. M. (2016). The role of parent education and parenting knowledge in children’s language and literacy skills among White, Black, and Latino families. Infant and Child Development.
  • Dichtelmiller, M., Meisels, S. J., Plunkett, J. W., Bozytnski, M. E. A., Claflin, C., & Mangelsdorf, S. C. (1992). The relationship of parental knowledge to the development of extremely low birth weight infants. Journal of Early Intervention, 16(3), 210-220.
  • Bowlby, J. (2008). A secure base: Parent-child attachment and healthy human development. New York: Basic Books.
  • Chung-Park, M. S. (2012). Knowledge, opinions, and practices of infant sleep position among parents. Military medicine, 177(2), 235.

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