The time following the birth of your baby will be exciting, complicated, and busy. Your body will go through rapid changes, adjusting from the pregnant to the nonpregnant state. As new parents, you and your husband will have an altered relationship. Being pregnant and in love is quite different from being parents and in love. After being free and spontaneous as lovers, you will now also be parents, with new roles, new responsibilities, and a whole new life.
The muscle work involved in immediate postpartum exercise is not strenuous or harmful. It will help restore tone to your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, as well as encourage good circulation in your legs. Your caregiver may give you a list of exercises to begin after delivery. If not, show him the following exercises and get his approval, as well as any modifications that he feels may be necessary in your particular case. Start gradually, and add exercises and repetitions as your strength and comfort permit. Do not overdo!
While Mom adjusts to the major physical and emotional changes that the birth of a baby brings, you will also experience a major alteration in your life. You may find that this new addition requires your mate’s undivided attention. In addition, visitors will also concentrate on the new baby and mother. At times, you may experience feelings of jealousy toward the infant if you feel neglected and left out. To avoid these feelings, become an active participant in the baby’s care. Offer to change diapers, give baths, and take the baby for walks. Do not hesitate to perform these tasks because you fear you may not do them exactly as your mate does. The important thing is that you are bonding with your baby and developing a lasting relationship. You may even be more skilled than your mate at performing certain baby-related jobs. You can do anything Mom can do—with the exception of breastfeeding.
Just as siblings need to be prepared for the new baby’s arrival, so do pets. To many couples, their pet is their “first baby,” and they are concerned about how the pet will adapt to the new baby and even about whether the pet will endanger him. Most pets adapt very well and grow to accept and love the new addition. Some pets, though, show signs that they need more attention or even become aggressive. It is very important to remember that close supervision of all pets is required. Because a dog is a pack animal, he sees the people in his home as the members of his pack. His view of his place in the pack and of this “new” pack member will affect his response to the baby. If he believes this new addition threatens his position, he may not adapt as well.
If you have other children, you should prepare them for the new arrival and also plan ways to help them get accustomed to having a new baby in the house. Their adjustment, in fact, will probably be greater than yours, since you did most of your adjusting with your first child.
The time to start preparing your other children for the new baby depends on their ages. Toddlers have no conception of time, so talking about a new baby before your seventh or eighth month will only make the wait more difficult. You can tell a preschooler of 3 or 4 when he begins showing an interest in your growing abdomen. He may also ask questions if he hears you discussing the topic. However, preschoolers, too, have limited time conception, so the wait can seem endless if you start talking about the baby too soon. Older children can be told immediately and be involved in the preparations for the baby from the beginning.
Do not have exceedingly high expectations for yourself, your spouse, or your baby in the first months after birth. Both you and your spouse will be adjusting to tremendous changes in your lives in the forms of an altered family structure, new demands on your time, and changes in your relationship.
The early months will be the most demanding—on your time alone and on your time as a couple. Communication will be essential. Be assured that as you grow as parents and as the baby matures, your lifestyle can and will adjust to what you want it to be.
When you and your partner become new parents, you will share many positive feelings—feelings of personal gratification, challenge, and achievement; a deepened love; and a renewed appreciation of each other. You will enjoy discovering new dimensions in each other as parents and may even find the relationships with your own parents becoming closer.
The negative feelings that accompany new parenthood may come as a surprise to you, however, as may the feelings of guilt that often follow. When you have done simply everything to soothe a fussy baby and he is still crying, when you have gotten up for the third time during the night to feed him, or when the anticipated 2-hour nap lasts for only 30 minutes, you may find yourself getting upset or even hostile toward this baby who is so “ungrateful” for all that you have done for him. You are not alone! Parents are human and have feelings of anger and guilt from time to time, whether they admit it or not. The feelings are not the problem, however. Rather, the concern is over how you handle the feelings and cope with the situation at hand. Often, just talking with other new mothers who are experiencing the same feelings and difficulties will help you put the situation in perspective and arrive at a creative solution.
Imagine this scene: You are home with your new baby. You have just bathed, fed, and cuddled him, and he is now sleeping peacefully in a clean and tidy house. You are relaxing with your feet up and reading a good book, exchanging occasional fond glances with your loving, content mate. This is a wonderful picture, but is it realistic? And if you do have moments like this, how long do they last? No matter what romanticized ideas you may have developed about being a parent, you will have times (and many of them) when your reality will just not match these ideals. You cannot program yourself to have boundless energy, be relaxed and confident, be consistently loving, and meet all of your baby’s (and spouse’s) needs. You cannot be a perfect parent. Parents are human beings! The “perfect parent” image we often try to project to those around us—our parents, relatives, and friends—is plainly unrealistic. And if you take time to discuss this openly with them, you will find that they, too, have had some frenzied and anxious moments as new parents.
Your first days as a new parent will include a wide range of feelings and emotions—from relief and excitement that your baby is finally here, to fear and apprehension about the tremendous responsibility you have undertaken. Most of all will be your feelings of love for this unique little person you helped to create. Yet, at the same time, you may have unexplained feelings of sadness and a sense of being overwhelmed. Sometimes, all you may feel is total exhaustion! All of these are normal reactions to new parenthood. This chapter discusses the physical and emotional changes that are experienced by most new parents and offers suggestions for making this period of adjustment a little easier.
Your uterus will gradually return to its prepregnant size and position in a process called involution. You may notice periodic contractions as it becomes smaller. If you nurse your baby, you will feel the uterus contract each time you put your baby to your breast for the first few days. Because of this, involution of the uterus occurs faster in breastfeeding mothers. If this is your second or subsequent child, you may find these “after pains” to be painful. A mild pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen may provide some relief.