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.
Simplify Your Housework
Try to get household assistance for your first 1 to 2 weeks at home to help ease you through the adjustment period. A relative with whom you feel truly comfortable is a joy. She can prepare the meals, wash the dishes, do the laundry and cleaning, and care for your older children. This will allow you to better care for yourself and your baby.
Make sure your helper understands her role. These first weeks will be essential to help you bond with your baby and to become confident in baby care. She can provide you with her expertise as she watches you care for your new infant. But, if she becomes the “baby nurse,” you will not become proficient in baby-related skills and you will overtire yourself with hostess duties. Once your assistant goes home, you may feel inadequate to care for your new baby. It is extremely important for the breastfeeding mother to have a supportive atmosphere for success. If your helper has not breastfed, have her read Chapter 11 prior to the baby’s arrival so that she will become familiar with ways to help you. Family members who offer to feed the baby so that you can rest may sabotage your breastfeeding efforts. If you are concerned that your visitors will bring more stress than assistance, you can ask them to come over for just short visits. You may find it most beneficial if these well-intentioned friends and relatives simply provide nutritious meals and help with some light housekeeping chores.
Occasionally, couples find that it is better for out-of-town visitors to wait a few weeks before coming. Your partner can take off a week or two as you settle into your new roles as parents. You may appreciate this opportunity to be alone as you help each other learn new responsibilities. Then, after you begin to feel better physically and are more comfortable with baby care, you may be ready to handle visitors.
Organize your priorities together, as a couple, and agree to do only those things that both of you feel are important and necessary. The new baby, who will need almost constant physical care, will be most demanding on your time during the first few weeks. In addition, your body will undergo tremendous physical changes, which will affect your energy level. Many people find that to-do lists are helpful. You could include things that you must do, things that you can do if time permits (things that are nice, but not essential), and things that can wait until the baby is older. You could also make a list of substitutes that could save you work. Besides listing all the jobs and their importance, you should also note who will do each job. You may find that temporarily paying for some of the jobs to be done is well worth the money. Consider hiring a housecleaning service or lawn care company, or paying a teenager to do those jobs or to help with the other children, the meals, or the laundry.
Although your baby may want to nurse nearly every 2 to 3 hours around the clock during the first weeks, you will find more and more time elapsing between feedings as he grows older. You will be able to catch up on your housework later. Donna Ewy, a noted childbirth educator and author, suggests that the best gift you can give your baby is you for the first 6 weeks of his life.
Stretch Your Limited Time
You need to become aware of the things in your current lifestyle that are important to you individually and as a couple. Try to find ways to maintain some of these activities after the baby arrives, since it will be impossible to continue them all. A simple exercise will help you clarify what these important things are.
You and your husband should sit down together and, on separate sheets of paper, complete the phrases, “Three things that I like to do alone are .. .” and “Three things that I like to do with my mate are . . Then, answer the question, “How will the baby change these activities?” When you both have finished writing your answers, trade lists with each other. You may find items missing from your partner’s list that you thought were important, as well as things on his list that you did not realize were important. Decide together which activities are most important, which ones you can give up for a time, and how to maintain the important activities. For example, if you enjoy going to the movies but do not want to leave the baby, go to an early show or rent a video. (Nursing babies do very well in theaters.) Entertain friends at home for dinner, rather than going out with them to a restaurant. Order take-out food from your favorite restaurant and set the table with flowers, candles, and your best china. Take turns watching the baby for a few hours so that each of you can do something alone. Find chunks of time to spend alone together that may be different from the time blocks you currently share. Take advantage of the baby’s naptimes for conversation and shared activity, rather than using them to rush to the supermarket or do yard work.
You can accomplish many things while you nurse your baby—make a list, read a book, listen to music, eat a snack, or lie down and rest. Learn to utilize nursing time in whatever ways you find most satisfying. Do not feel guilty, however, if you just want to relax and enjoy these quiet moments.
Use Your Resources
Parenthood is one of life’s most thrilling adventures, and yet, you may be entering it feeling an array of fears, anxieties, and doubts. Be assured that you both will bring many strengths to your new roles as parents.
Spend time talking about the special qualities that each of you will be bringing to parenthood. Take turns discussing your own strengths and then those of your partner. You will probably find that your positive attributes complement each other’s to make you well-rounded parents. Qualities like a good sense of humor, self-confidence, flexibility, organizational ability, compassion, and an affectionate nature will go a long way to get you over the rough spots during the early weeks and all the years of parenthood. Build on these strengths to become the kind of parents you want to be.
Analyzing what you liked and disliked about the parenting you received as a child can also be helpful. Try to remember the things your parents did that you would like to copy. Also, try to recall the weaknesses in your parents’ methods. In this way, you can avoid becoming trapped in the same negative patterns that you disliked as a child.
You may also want to talk about your concerns and perceived weaknesses. Many young couples feel unprepared for the immense job of parenting. You have many resources available to help you in this task. Included are your pediatrician, friends, relatives, books, and classes. Talk with others about your new roles as parents. Share your feelings with friends. Compare notes with other parents, and spend time with them and their babies. A new parents’ group or class may be available in your area and can provide wonderful opportunities for sharing concerns and helpful hints, and for acting as a support group for you. If not, you can start one. Place a notice in your church bulletin or in your community newsletter.
Hang a flyer in the grocery store or the neighborhood park. Set a day and time, and encourage new mothers to meet at the designated location and to bring a bag lunch, their baby, their concerns, and advice. You may be surprised at the response you receive. New mothers, especially, benefit from time out with their babies in an atmosphere of acceptance and common experience.
Make the Most of Those Special Times
Make the most of all the precious, close, happy times you share with each other and your baby. Feelings are very catching, and the baby who is surrounded by loving feelings in the early years is able to give them back later. Most of all, however, remember your sense of humor!