Now that there is a baby in the picture, your life will never be the same. The freedom and carefree days of youth are behind and the days of responsibility have taken their place. No matter how eager one has been to start a family or how mature or ready one is for this happy time, there will still be many challenging adjustments. Understanding and accepting the challenges of new parenting can make the adjustment to parenthood easier and less stressful.
Sleep, Mood and Functioning
Part of what makes new parenthood difficult is sleep deprivation and/or interruption. A baby needs 24 hour care; it does not “shut down” for the night – at least not at first. Parents may have their sleep interrupted every couple of hours. What is the result of this on mood and functioning? Sleep research indicates that insufficient or poor quality sleep can lower mood, increase irritability and lead to making more errors. Bleary-eyed parents have increased feelings of stress along with their exhaustion. While this is all so normal, it is not so pleasant.
Some couples find helpful solutions for this sleep crunch. For instance, in some homes, only the mother handles night-time parenting while the father gets uninterrupted sleep. The mother then takes one or more naps in the daytime while Dad is at work. This can work out well as long as the baby is a good daytime sleeper and Mom is willing to use daytime hours for sleeping or as long as their is a good babysitter available and Mom is willing to use daytime hours for sleeping. Some moms seem to think that they should get all their errands and household tasks done while a baby sleeps. This is fine as long as the mother has slept well in the evening; it is not fine if she only had a few hours of nightime sleep or constantly interrupted sleep.
Some couples hire a baby nurse for the evening care of the infant for a few weeks after birth. Of course, this doesn’t work well if the mother wants to nurse the infant. Some couples supplement nursing with bottle-feeding during the night so that Mom and Dad can give each other relief as one sleeps and the other does baby care.
Any system is fine as long as both mother and father end up having a decent amount of rest. Realistically, sleep will not look much like pre-baby sleep for weeks, often months and sometimes years after a baby is born. However, minimizing sleep loss is a reasonable goal.
Another change that occurs is that a young couple cannot as easily and spontaneously go out and have fun. A babysitter must be arranged or the baby and all its paraphernalia (diaper bag, stroller, car seat and so on) must be packed. This slows things down, sometimes to a halt. It is important not to allow the baby to make a parent housebound. This can increase isolation and depressed mood. Although it is necessary to plan better and take longer, being active is better for everyone’s mental health.
New Marital Challenges
Division of labor normally has to be renegotiated after the birth of a baby. Finding a respectful way to divide tasks is essential. Husband and wife have to reduce self-centered ways of functioning and be prepared to give to each other and their baby. Both mothers and fathers have a lot to learn in the first year of childcare. They must be supportive of each other as this learning occurs and trust each other’s love for their child. When the marital adjustment to life with a baby doesn’t go smoothly, accessing professional help early can prevent suffering and marital trauma (unhappy periods that haunt the rest of the marriage). Usually a professional counselor can help young couples find healthy ways to take care of themselves, each other and their infant.
Coming Out Happier and Stronger
Parenthood can enhance a marriage when it is done consciously with a focus on increasing love all around. Reading parenting books, joining online communities, taking parenting classes and so on can help provide more options than one would have thought of on one’s own. Other people have gone down this road before – tap their collective wisdom to make your own parenting journey as healthy and happy as it can be.