How to Adjust to a Newborn


 The addition of a baby to a family brings joy, wonder and delight. It also brings changes, some anticipated -- like formula and diapers -- and some completely unexpected. Even the most informed parents may be taken aback at the huge impact their tiny bundle has on their lives. Besides the profound effect a newborn can have on the parents' relationship, they have to cope with baby's feeding schedule, sleeping schedule, and often, frequent crying. In addition, they're learning or testing out new skills: diapering, bathing, swaddling, burping, mixing bottles, rocking, soothing and lullabye-singing. And with each new skill comes new and perplexing questions: Is this diaper on tight enough? What kind of wipes should I use? Do I need to use baby powder? How am I supposed to wash my hands while I'm holding my baby? And that's just diapering!

 Adjusting to life with a newborn baby can be quite challenging. But as you struggle through the early days, keep in mind that billions of parents before you have faced some of the same difficulties and prevailed. In this article, we'll impart some advice that's stood the test of time in the following sections:

  • Parenthood: Changes and Support Groups We will explain some of the differences you can expect on a day-to-day basis now that you have a newborn, including your changing relationship with your spouse. This section will explore the difficulties that face you in your role as a parent, and how these difficulties will affect the quantity and quality of time you spend with your partner. We will offer tips on dealing with your own frustrations and coming to understand your partner's. In addition, we will cover the benefits of social and/or educational groups for first-time parents will be discussed.
  • Sleep Disruptions for Parents We will review the physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that you will face as a new parent. Because sleep deprivation so often accompanies the first days and weeks of parenthood, we will provide guidelines to surviving without enough sleep and catching up on your shut-eye. We will also suggest some lifestyle adjustments that may aid you in coping with your exhaustion, such as ignoring the clock, enjoying small luxuries, and allowing housework to slide during this difficult time period.
  • Modifying Your Expectations We will help you review your priorities and rearrange them to fit your new lifestyle. We'll look at each of your roles -- parent, husband or wife, homemaker, employee – and examine the changes to each that may develop. This section recommends lightening your usual housework load, and suggests methods for maintaining your home and serving nutritious meals. We'll also discuss time-saving tips to help you optimize the day's activities with your baby. Plus, we'll talk about your social life and how to continue friendships while adjusting to your new schedule.
  • New Roles for Fathers We transport dads to the 21st century with a look at the evolution of fatherhood in recent generations. This section contains guidelines for both parents on including dad once the baby is born, and recognizing the feelings of apprehension and exclusion he may experience. There are ideas for alleviating dad's anxieties and pointers for moms who need to give more encouragement. In addition, you will find valuable suggestions for fathers who want to be more involved in their child's care, including tips from real fathers on efficient, productive parenting.

Adjusting to life with a newborn takes time and patience. Keep reading to learn about the new challenges you and your spouse will face.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Adjusting to Parenthood

Your new role as a parent often means a lot of work and very little time for relaxation or play. Both are essential to maintaining a healthy outlook and relationship with your partner. As you and your partner experience the growing pains that accompany your new life with baby, you will have to allow room for your interactions with one another to stretch and change as well. Many parents join social and/or educational groups whose focus is on life with a newborn. By interacting with adults in similar situations and exchanging anecdotes and information, you will learn how others have adapted to the changes in their lives.

A New Dimension to the Relationship

The parents of this wonderful new human being will never again return to their old relationship, even when the child has grown and left home and they are alone again as they were before they had children. They will move on to a new relationship -- a broader, more satisfying one. They are no longer a couple; they have become a family. The baby has added a new dimension to their marriage and a new reason for each of them to exist. Even if they have initial problems adjusting to the changes, even if they feel out of touch with each other for a short time, their common love for and enchantment with their child will bring them together again. No one in the world cares as much about their baby as they do; no one else can share their particular, unique experience of parenthood.

The period immediately after the birth of the first child can be one of the most difficult in the best of relationships. It seems to the parents they have no time for fun anymore, no place in their lives for the pleasures they used to enjoy. Impossible now are an impromptu meal at a favorite restaurant, a movie on the spur of the moment, or even a quiet evening at home with a well-prepared and nicely served dinner, followed by a few hours of uninterrupted talk or reading. The new parents are too tired for love. Worse, even after the recommended time of abstinence from sexual activity has passed, some women find themselves so preoccupied with their new roles as mothers that sex holds no interest for them. They are still out of touch with their former physical desires. Others say the process of bonding with their infants makes strong or passionate feelings for anyone else, including their partners, impossible. Such a woman finds it possible to willingly give herself only to her baby.

The demands of the baby drain the energy and dull the perceptions of both parents, leaving them often too fatigued to consider each other's feelings, desires, and needs. They're apt to be cranky and short-tempered with each other, quick to take offense and to feel slighted. Unconsciously, the father may resent the baby for taking so much of his partner's attention and energy, and the mother in turn resents his resentment. Their expectations of each other are too high. Their self-images may be undergoing a change in which, temporarily, they no longer perceive themselves as persons but only as parents, caretakers, and suppliers to this new baby and important only as they relate to her.

A couple who has had time to get adjusted to each other and a life together before having a child are perhaps the most likely to sail smoothly through the early weeks of the baby's life. Others who are quite young and have not known each other for long, or who are divided by religious or cultural differences, may be better off waiting a few years before having a baby.

On the days when nothing seems to be going right and life has lost its charm, every couple will be wise to remember the reasons they became partners in the first place: They loved each other, desired each other's companionship, and wanted to share both the everyday aspects and the exciting parts of their lives with each other. They enjoyed being together, either because of the comfortable pleasures of similar tastes and backgrounds or the stimulations and attractions of different ones. All that remains the same. They must recognize the source of whatever problems they have -- and the main problem is not the baby but their own fatigue, confusing emotions, and inexperience -- and somehow take advantage of short respites to concentrate their thoughts and feelings on each other as they used to do.

Praise and appreciation are essential; the parents' efforts at their new job of child care are as commendable as any achievements in the outside world of work, and positive and consistent support of each other are very important. Both need the comfort of touch -- a warm hug or caress can change the whole complexion of a stressful, exhausting day. New mothers and fathers need extra love and attention occasionally, and they can provide it for each other.

Parent Support Groups

New parents should begin again to share outside interests as soon as they possibly can. Because of their mutual absorption in their infant, many couples choose to become involved in parent support groups. As they take a break from home responsibilities and enjoy the company of others in similar situations, they learn the skills of parenting. Local service organizations such as the YWCA sometimes offer seminars or workshops at little or no cost. Parents who have taken childbirth education courses together often continue to meet on an informal basis after their babies are born to reinforce friendships begun and to trade childcare and parenting hints and tips. Still others form their own groups and meet informally with friends and neighbors. Local hospitals may also offer lectures, workshops, and discussion groups for parents, as well as more structured classes dealing with various aspects of effective parenting. Often, when the courses are over, some or all of the parents continue to meet, both for socializing and for sharing with one another what they are learning about their growing children.

As you experience the changes and setbacks of caring for your baby, you will develop an awareness of how frustrating this time period can be. It's beneficial to your marital relationship if you can remind yourself to offer support and positive feedback to your partner -- and, hopefully, he can offer the same. Joining a local support group should provide both parents with an outlet and also be a valuable source of information.

One challenge that new parents might overlook at first is the difficulty getting a good night's sleep. In the next section, we'll explore sleep disruptions and offer some survival suggestions.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Newborns and Sleep Disruptions

A generation or so ago, young mothers were told to put their new babies on a strict four-hour feeding schedule and leave them in their cribs between feedings. We know better now. Babies don't tell time with clocks; they're governed solely by their needs to be fed, changed, and comforted. They are far too young to be trained or taught to adapt to the schedule you might prefer to set up, and for about the first three months of your new baby's life, you will both be better off if you adjust to his schedule, haphazard as it may be.

This isn't easy. Day and night may blend for you into an endless round of feedings, diaper changes, laundry, and rocking or pacing the floor with a crying infant. It may seem all the good care you gave yourself when you were pregnant -- the rest, the nutritious diet, the healthful exercise, the mental stimulation, and the social activity -- is impossible to maintain. But this is the worst time for you to ignore all of your needs and operate in a state of exhaustion. You need to be at your best to care for your new baby properly.

In this section, we'll deal with sleeplessness and offer some tips on compensating for your lack of rest.

Coping with Loss of Sleep

Interrupted sleep at night is perhaps the most difficult change to which you must become accustomed. Sharing night duty with your partner helps. A father can handle a bottle-fed baby very well and can give a bottle of expressed milk to a breast-fed baby. Many fathers look forward to and enjoy the quiet times alone with their infants. At the very least, a father can deliver the baby, changed and ready for nursing, to a breast-feeding mother in her bed. Sometimes the best way to share the night awakenings is to alternate feedings, but at other times a whole night of sleep for one parent while the other takes over completely is better. A grandmother or another person who has come to help can assume responsibility for a night now and then, too, even if your agreement is that she does the housework and you care for the baby.

However you arrange things, the fact remains you are not getting enough sleep, and you're not getting it in the time period you're used to. You need every nap you can possibly take to make up for some of the lost night hours and to restore your energy. You may feel you should catch up on the housework or the laundry when the baby sleeps, but you should resist this temptation. You need to sleep, or at least rest, whenever your baby sleeps, whatever the time of day. Go to bed, or settle into a comfortable chair with your feet up. Close your eyes, breathe deeply to release the tension you feel, and clear your mind of every thought except peace and relaxation.

Try to ignore the clock at night; it doesn't matter to the baby whether it's 2 A.M. or 4 A.M., and it won't do you any good to know. And don't keep track of the number of hours of sleep you get; knowing it was only three, and divided at that, won't make you less tired. Reward yourself with small luxuries or conveniences to make night feeding more pleasant: a thermos of hot cocoa, a good book to read, an old movie on television, soothing music on radio or tape. Remind yourself often that sleep experts say you do not need to replace lost sleep hour for hour. What you need is deep sleep, technically called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This is the stage during which you dream and which you slip into easily when you are very tired.

Remember, too, this period in your life will come to an end, and during those long, wakeful nights you are not alone. Thousands of other parents are struggling with exhaustion as they feed or comfort their babies in the middle of the night, just as you are doing.

One of the most physically demanding changes that you deal with as a new parent is the sudden disruption to your sleep patterns. On the following page, we'll deal with the mental and emotional trauma new parents often experience, and provide some guidelines to modifying your expectations.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Setting Realistic Goals for Parenthood

One of the first decisions you may have to make to adjust your own life to your baby's schedule is to modify your expectations of yourself, especially if you are something of a perfectionist. The Super-mom who runs a home with consummate efficiency, serves gourmet meals every day, gives skilled care to a brand-new infant, and is always perfectly groomed is a myth. Trying to make that myth a reality has caused many a mother serious trouble.

If you are new parents who do not have a full-time housekeeper, an immaculate house must take second place to a lovingly cared-for baby and to parents rested enough to handle their daily responsibilities. A quick pickup every day keeps your home tidy enough to be comfortable. Postpone heavier household jobs, skim over them until there's more time, or delegate them to someone else. If this is not possible, try to arrange for some extra help, either by hiring someone to come in for a few hours a day or a week, or accepting offers of friends and family members to clean and do laundry.

Cut down your expectations of the way family meals are prepared and served, too, but do not skimp on nutrition. You need a well-balanced diet of wholesome foods to supply the energy your new responsibility requires, but you can do without fanciness and formality. Enjoy the casseroles and baked goods thoughtful people supply and don't feel guilty about occasionally bringing in a fast-food meal. When you must cook, choose simple basic foods you can prepare quickly and easily.

Time-savers for New Parents

Many of the ways you can save time center around good organization. Of course, definite scheduling of your time is impossible now; you can't be sure exactly when or how often your baby is going to need you. Every plan you make that involves other people or a specific time must be expendable or have an alternative. This way, you, can shift gears at a moment's notice when your baby requires an extra feeding or when some other normal but unanticipated incident takes place. At the very least, consistently allow yourself more time than you think you'll need for everything. Experienced parents have found many ways to save themselves time and confusion as they go about the business of life with a new baby.

Your Social Life

Recognize that you do not have to uphold your former standards of hospitality for friends and relatives who drop in to see your new baby, unexpectedly or by appointment. It's not necessary for you to provide refreshments or even to offer a cup of coffee. Let visitors see the baby (asleep or awake), chat with them for a few moments, and let them go on their way. Discourage their handling and passing the baby around. Refuse to let anyone who has a cold or other illness into the same room as the baby. The parents among your visitors will understand all this perfectly, and if others do not, don't worry. Your baby's health and well-being, and your own, are of primary importance right now.

You may find, during the first months of your baby's life, that every aspect of your social life changes. If you've always loved to entertain at home, you may find it more enjoyable to save time and energy by meeting friends at a restaurant for dinner -- and it is good for you to get out of the house occasionally. If you are accustomed to going out a great deal, rarely spending a weekend evening at home, you may now prefer to spend quiet evenings by the fire.

This certainly does not mean you must -- or should -- give up seeing friends and going out altogether or never do the things you enjoy. It only means your priorities will probably change when you have an infant in your household, and you're not required to continue any old habits you've outgrown or you wish to put aside for a time.

Time for Yourself

As you reorganize your life to adjust to having a baby, do not forget your own requirement for some time for yourself, however difficult it may be to schedule. You need private time to be a person in your own right and not only a parent, a homemaker, a spouse, and perhaps an employee. You need the time to build and maintain the self-esteem that makes you effective in all those roles. You need time to exercise, to groom yourself, to read or work on a hobby...or to look at the sky or water and let your mind wander. Finding this time will probably never be easy for you again, but it will continue to be very important that you do find it. Always look on time you take for yourself not as a luxury or a reward, but as an obligation to yourself. You won't always be able to have the hour or more that would do you the most good and be the most enjoyable, but you'll find even a few minutes snatched from a busy day will refresh you.

If you are an early riser, at your best in the morning, you may enjoy a few minutes of peace and privacy over a cup of coffee before the rest of the family is awake. Your baby's daytime naps may give you some precious time. Even later, when you may not feel the need to sleep every time your baby does, nap time should be for you, not for housework. Evening is a wonderful time for a leisurely bath, even for a good read in a warm tub.

And evening is probably also the best time for a quiet hour or two for partners. As important as it is for each to have some solitary time, it is equally necessary for a couple to spend at least some time together, alone.

There are many ways you can reorganize your schedule to allow time for yourself, your partner and your social life, even if the time allotted is much less than it was pre-baby. By making a conscious effort to schedule these periods, you're giving yourself much-needed respite. Caring for yourself is just as important as caring for your baby -- like they say, if mommy's happy, baby's happy.

For fathers, adjusting to the newborn brings special challenges that the mother may not even be aware of. On the following page, we'll discuss the new roles fathers take on and provide some great tips from expert dads.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

What Fatherhood Means

Men who participate as fully as they can in the births of their babies and who continue to share the responsibilities of home and children find the rewards are great.
Men who participate as fully as they can in the births of their babies and who continue to share the responsibilities of home and children find the rewards are great.
Jupiterimages/Creatas/Thinkstock

Family life has undergone many changes in recent decades, and the responsibilities once assigned specifically to one or the other of a pair of parents have shifted and become somewhat blurred. There are more single parents today and more never-married parents shouldering responsibility for their families. When both parents work outside the home, they learn to share responsibilities for housework and child care as they share the responsibility of bread-winning. Nearly 2 million men in the United States today are raising their children alone. A divorced father awarded sole custody of his children is no longer cause for raised eyebrows. And joint-custody provisions in divorce -- described as "equal opportunity in parenting" -- have been adopted by a majority of states. Some men assume the major part of the nurturing of their children while their wives work.

In many homes the familiar structure of the mother as full-time homemaker and the father as financial provider continues. But even in these households, we find fathers taking more interest, helping more often with household chores, and involving themselves more fully in the lives of their children than their own fathers did. They are no longer strict and unapproachable beings the children see for only a few minutes a day who demand peace and quiet when they are home. Their relationships with their children are personal and openly loving; they talk about feelings, they show they care.

There are also other, more public indications today that men no longer measure their worth only by their achievements outside their homes, as their fathers perhaps did before them. Child-care literature and advertising now direct information to "parents," instead of only to mothers; childbirth education courses require the participation of fathers. Parental leave of absence, extended to males in Sweden in 1979, is becoming more common among companies in this country, and recent federal legislation guarantees men as well as women 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave from their jobs in any 12-month period, offering protection for both the employees' jobs and their benefits during their absences.

Including the Father

A new father may find himself feeling left out if the mother is the main caregiver for their baby. He's also apt to undergo the emotional upheaval his change of role brings on, even if he thought he was well prepared for the adjustments he would have to make in his life. He may worry about finances, especially if the couple will now depend upon only one salary instead of two. He may be apprehensive about his increased responsibilities and the changes he already sees in his relationship with his partner. And he may be jealous of the bond so clearly forming between mother and child, especially if the baby is breast-fed. He is called upon to do more household chores and to take over care of the baby occasionally when his partner is exhausted, but it seems to him he is only doing more work and not getting the fun and joy he had expected the new baby to bring.

It's wise for him to acknowledge these feelings, to realize they are no more abnormal than his partner's preoccupation with the baby, and to bring them out in the open for discussion. The mother's attitude is the key to the solution of his problems. She should recognize his uncertainty about his fathering ability and be careful not to deride his initial efforts. She should treat him as her partner, not as her assistant, in their new joint venture of parenthood.

Besides expressing her appreciation for his help with more of the household drudgery, the new mother can find ways to include the father in the satisfying aspects of baby care as well. A father can bathe a baby and rock a contented one as well as one who is crying and in need of soothing; he can feed a bottle-fed baby. If the mother breast-feeds, he can bring the baby to the bed or a comfortable chair to be nursed. Some parents like to give their babies one or more relief bottles a day of either formula or the mother's expressed breast milk. While the main reason for this simply may be to allow the father the pleasure of feeding the baby, a side benefit is the baby becomes accustomed to the occasional bottle that will be necessary if the mother will be absent at some feeding times because of her return to work or for other reasons.

Men often are not able to choose between their children and their work, and many have not had the role model of a nurturing father to emulate. However, a father today is apt to involve himself as much as he possibly can from the very beginning of his partner's pregnancy, sharing the important decisions about the doctor or midwife she will see and the birthing environment. He may accompany the baby's mother on some of her prenatal care visits. He participates in childbirth classes, in which he learns to coach his partner during the birth of their child, then supports and aids her throughout her labor and delivery. Various studies indicate that delivery times are shorter, anesthetics are used less frequently, mothers and babies are calmer, and infants' feeding problems are less likely when fathers are present in delivery rooms. After their babies are born, fathers often accompany mothers on visits to the child's doctor, and some take their babies for checkups alone.

In the early weeks of the new baby's life especially, a father can take over household responsibilities; he can be supportive and perceptive about what needs to be done and pitch in to do it. By exercising some control over the number of visitors and the time they are allowed to stay, taking over household errands, and performing routine tasks and chores, including, at least, getting some meals and cleaning up after them, doing the laundry, and running the vacuum cleaner, he can help provide the serenity and order that will give the family's home life a semblance of normality in a time of stress. However inexperienced he is in child care, he can learn within a very short time to be skilled at and to enjoy changing, bathing, and comforting the baby, and, if not feeding her, performing the important after-feeding task of burping.

Though your child will react to her father differently as she grows -- your 18 month old, for example, will enjoy roughhousing with Daddy, but when in trouble will likely turn to Mommy -- the effect of a close relationship with a male figure is good for boys and girls.

Besides lending a hand around the house and accepting some of the responsibility for the care of his child, the new father often takes the traditionally male responsibilities very seriously. He may feel the financial burden of a third member of the family very strongly, especially if the mother's income has been important and she does not plan to return to work in the near future. And he may envy his wife her opportunity to stay home with the baby as much as she envies that he is able to get out every day.

Men who participate as fully as they can in the births of their babies and who continue to share the responsibilities of home and children find the rewards are great. Their lives take on a new dimension; their marriages are strengthened and become more meaningful. Fathers can provide the care a baby needs, too, and those who choose to accept that responsibility are today the norm, not the exception. Reports of surveys bulge with statistics. Here are just a few: Eighty-five percent of fathers are present during their wives' labor, 50 percent during delivery. Ninety-six percent help with baby and child care; 80 percent change diapers.

Here are some of their ideas:

  • Keep lists: shopping lists, lists of chores you must absolutely do, and lists of thank-you notes to be written for baby presents. When you write everything down, you free yourself of having to remember details at a time when you are most apt to be forgetful and preoccupied.
  • At night, do as much as you can to get ready for the next day. Set the table for breakfast, lay out clothes for yourself and the baby, pick up the newspaper. Any nuisance chores and decisions you can handle ahead of time make the day start that much better.
  • Cut down on time-consuming trips around town by banking by mail and shopping by phone, internet, or through catalogs whenever you can. Try to do several errands whenever you are out, and plan them so you waste the least possible amount of time driving around.
  • Practice doing two things at the same time: for example, make out a grocery list or do your stretching exercises while you talk on the phone; fold the laundry as you watch television; or clean the bathroom while the tub fills.
  • Above all, do not rush. "Haste makes waste" is a cliche, but it is as true today as it was when it was first uttered by someone who knew the faster he or she tried to do something, the more likely it was an accident would occur.

Whether or not dad is the primary caregiver, his participation in caring for your newborn is essential. It's true that there will be differences in the method mothers and fathers employ in a given situation and in the ways they show affection. But, with a little ingenuity, dad can hone his child-rearing skills to become a lean, mean, fathering machine. He just might have a thing or two he can teach mom! And, as adjusting to a newborn is a difficult proposition to begin with, mom will no doubt appreciate the help.

All parents must suspect that the arrival of their child will change their lives, but many new parents underestimate how radically their lives will change or the physical and emotional toll that change can take. Of course these are adjustments that parents have been making for centuries, and you can make them, too. With the right amount of planning and patience you can whether the storm that accompanies the arrival of a newborn.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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