Adjusting to parenthood

Adjusting to parenthood and life with a newborn brings with it lots of new learning and change.

I was ill prepared emotionally to be pregnant or to be having a baby, and my husband was ill prepared too. We muddled along doing all the “right” things but we were confused and lost and it was not a joyous time.

Learning a whole lot of new skills and adjusting to a new lifestyle and routines can take lots of energy – and sometimes this will be energy that you simply don’t feel that you have.

Your baby may or may not be the baby that you expected to have. Some babies will be very settled, while others will take time to settle and may cry a lot – demanding from you both great patience and commitment. This can be especially the case if your baby has health problems like colic or reflux that can cause them to be particularly unsettled.

I knew that life had changed – but we were the first among our friends to have babies, I had no nieces or nephews – no reference point…I knew that life was going to be hard, and different and I would struggle with being in the house 24 hours a day with my new role.

It is a time when things can feel overwhelming, you may have times when things feel out of control and have fleeting doubts as you find yourselves constantly learning and adapting in the first few weeks of your baby’s life.

I thought it would be hard…but I thought, I won’t be at work – this is what I will be doingbut I thought I would cope. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be all fun and easy, but I obviously thought it would be more enjoyable, I didn’t think I would have trouble coping.

Coping with your baby

Most people find the first six to eight weeks to be the hardest with a new baby, and whilst people may not openly discuss many of the challenges in these early weeks of parenthood (if at all), there are a number of common hurdles you may face at this time.

The greatest challenges that parents commonly experience in their first weeks of parenthood include:

  • Recovering from birth ⁠— Particularly if this has been traumatic or your were highly dissatisfied with the quality of care you received.
  • Breastfeeding and bottle feeding ⁠— Feeding your baby may come easily to you or it may be yet another challenge, and different to what you expected or hoped for.
  • Lack of sleep ⁠— Which can greatly affect your mood, energy, patience and ability to think clearly.
  • Feeling highly emotional ⁠— Which can be compounded by lack of sleep and feeling that things are out of control.
  • Coping with an unsettled baby ⁠— Babies all come with their own unique temperaments which can bring additional demands on your patience and feelings towards your baby.
  • Bonding with your baby ⁠— For lots of reasons it may take longer than you expected to develop a connection with your baby.
  • Body image ⁠— With pregnancy and birth comes possible changes to the way that women may look and feel physically, and the new lifestyle as a parent can also influence our bodies. This in turn can impact on our self-esteem and body image.
  • Managing priorities ⁠— Finding time for everything whilst also meeting the needs of your baby may mean that you may need to let some things go for a while.
  • Managing advice from others ⁠— Endless advice can leave you questioning yourself and your capabilities so trust yourself as the expert on your baby.
  • Relationship dynamics with your partner ⁠— Are also constantly changing as you begin to adjust and accommodate life for the new arrival.
  • Relationship dynamics with your family ⁠— Not only are your expectations of parenthood likely to be adjusting, but so too are those of family and friends as you all begin to see where and how everyone fits into the new picture.

These are common challenges faced by many mothers and fathers, yet often new parents don’t seek practical and/or emotional help early, and hence their impact can build up over time, placing you and your partner and baby under even greater stress.

I felt like I was already a failure as breastfeeding was not working well and I didn’t want to have to admit to anyone any more failing. I was already feeling little bond with the baby, thinking that I was a horrible, useless mother.

It’s important to remember that these issues are common and with help can be mastered, or alternatives found to help you cope and reduce your level of distress.

Coping with a messy house

“Don’t worry about the mess! The dishes can wait! Enjoy them while they’re little.” 

Leaving the washing to pile up and being told not to stress about a toy-strewn living room is advice oft given to new parents.  But for many exhausted mums and dads, a messy house can be anxiety-provoking and make it difficult to enjoy your baby and other children.

Mums are told not to worry about mess but it’s easier said than done.

My brain just doesn’t relax in a messy house.

This is often compounded by the fact that a new baby coincides with visits from family and friends and having more people through the house than you usually would.

Strategies to help you cope

If being told “don’t worry about the mess!” isn’t working as a strategy (you’re not alone!) here are some other ways to cope.

  • Ask for help when visitors come over –even if it’s just getting them to pop on a load of washing.
  • Having friends or family pay for a cleaner – even just once – is a great baby shower gift. Don’t be afraid to suggest it when people ask what you need.
  • Set aside 15 minutes at the end of the day to do a pick-up of toys/clutter. It will make you feel better in the morning!
  • Break things down into smaller tasks – rather than trying to tackle everything at once, try to break things down, like tidying just one area at a time. You won’t get through it all but that’s OK. Take one step at a time.
  • Be mindful that what you see on social media doesn’t always reflect real life. It’s easy to remove clutter from the frame, to choose a place that’s tidy to snap a photo and to present the image that everything’s under control. But remember, most mums are struggling to keep things clean and tidy just like you are.
  • Try to be kind to yourself – a messy house doesn’t mean you’re a bad mum or that you’re failing at motherhood – you are likely to be directing your attention to where it matters most – the needs of your baby.

If my environment is tidy my mental state feels clear too.

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