After a month of excitement and visitors, and almost more help than anyone could use, new parents often find a moment when they are finally on their own. With one parent back to work, and the other potentially returning to work soon, new parents must sometimes race to establish their new “normal.”
When all the helpers who performed small tasks, offered endless advice and constant support are gone, many new parents have trouble finding the new “normal.” The excitement ebbs, replaced by a continuous cycle of diaper changes, feedings and interrupted sleep. Taking care of the baby can start to feel all-consuming, with no time left for anything else. The struggle to take back control of all the things in life that used to be just part of the everyday routine – errands, work, cooking, cleaning and other household chores – seems insurmountable. Figuring out how to care for the baby and maintain the rest of life’s demands can feel a little overwhelming.
If Momma Isn’t Happy, No One Is
The first step in returning to a normal life is to take care of yourself. That goes for mommies and daddies. If you’re dragging around like a zombie, finding the energy to deal with any of life’s demands can feel impossible.
Go easy on yourself. Remember to take life slowly. If you’re tired, allow yourself to sleep. If food preparation is too time-consuming, buy ready-to-eat foods. Let the housework slide, it will be there when you’re able to tackle it. Taking care of the baby and yourself must be your priority at the beginning. Everything else can wait until you’re ready.
Get enough rest. Take naps, go to bed earlier, and establish a night time schedule with your partner. All new parents experience sleep deprivation, but the better rested you can be, the more you’ll be able to handle everything in your day.
Fuel your body with good nutrition. Eat a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated. Stock up on easy to eat healthy foods. Pre-cut fruit, veggies, cheese, crackers, cereal and protein bars are quick and nutritious snacks that will give you energy throughout the day. Don’t buy foods that require a lot of preparation because you probably won’t get around to eating them.
Move. Working out or an exercise regimen can be too ambitious at the beginning — it can be difficult to find the time and energy. But a brisk 15-minute walk promotes a sense of well-being and increases feel good hormones (endorphins) and energy. Stretching and yoga poses can build strength and ease stress. Small efforts that take only a few minutes can be enough to start you towards an exercise routine that makes you feel great and works for your schedule.
Take breaks. Try to get out every day. This can be errands, lunch with a friend, or a social outing. Give yourself permission to take a little time for yourself. Ask your partner or another family member to stay with the baby while you get away. If it’s in the budget, hire a baby nurse for a few hours or days each week. This can also get you in the habit of having someone available who can help when work, meetings or appointments demand your attention.
And Baby Makes… More
The more you can involve your baby in your daily routine, the easier it will be to feel like you have control over your life’s demands.
Trust your instincts. As a new parent, you’re going to receive a ton of advice, especially on the do’s and don’t of soothing a baby. Babies under 3 months old cannot soothe themselves and may need lots of help. The first few months are tough and if you have to give the baby a pacifier to be happy, then do it. If your baby stops crying in the swing, then use it. Do what makes sense for you and your baby and don’t worry about doing the wrong thing or creating unhealthy habits. By 4 months old, many babies have settled into a routine and can begin to self-soothe.
Take your baby out during the day. It can be scary to take your baby out for the first time. The feeling that you don’t have everything you need can make it feel too intimidating to try. Early on, just go for a little walk. When you start to feel more comfortable, take your baby to the grocery store or out for a single errand. Starting with a whole day of errands can be too exhausting for both of you, and can feel disastrous when you realize you didn’t pack enough diapers, didn’t prepare for breastfeeding out of the home, or found yourself lacking some other comfort that leaves you and the baby distressed.
Invest in a comfortable baby carrier so you can go about your day while holding your baby. This can be grocery shopping, housework or even exercise. Babies like the comfort of their parent’s heartbeat, and can be soothed while you get back to accomplishing your regular tasks.
It Takes a Village…
Raising children is difficult work, and no one should have to do it alone. Be sure to get support and talk with friends and family to enlist their help.
Talk with your partner. Voice your concerns and communicate. Don’t assume your partner knows what you are thinking. Understand that becoming a parent affects both partners differently and as a result there may be some differences in opinions on subjects relating to the roles of extended family, chores and the division of labor, money, work and even social life. The more you talk and realize each other’s perspective, the more you’ll be able to help each other.
Allow the non-primary caregiver to care for the baby so that you can get some time alone, and so your partner can bond with the baby and develop confidence in caring for him or her.
Delegate more and don’t be afraid to enlist the help of any and all visitors.
Connect with another new parent or parents in the area. Get friendly with other pregnant families in the area. Start your own playgroup with other new parents, or join a new parent group. There are chapters of the MOMs Club all over the country, and even some internationally. Look into what clubs or organizations are available in your area before your baby is born, so that you know your options.
Hire a professional. Newborn Care Specialists can give you the help you need to get on the right track. Sleep coaching, breastfeeding support, or even a few hours of infant day care can make a huge difference. If you have the means to get some help, contact a professional baby nurse service to help you with some of the baby care that is most overwhelming to you.
Adding a new, little member to your family takes quite a lot of adjustment. The good news is, little changes add up to big wins. Rediscovering a normal routine can start in small steps. Don’t try to accomplish a “perfect” life all at once. Creating one good habit at a time can build up to the “normal” life that works for your family.