10 Tips For Surviving The First Year of Parenthood

The first year of parenthood can be a wild ride. Expectant parents are often teased with phrases like “sleep while you can!” or “say goodbye to your Friday nights out!” These off-hand comments can be hurtful and sometimes daunting. The parents-to-be start to wonder what exactly they have signed up for.
Becoming a parent is definitely a lifestyle change, and the demands of a newborn will throw you in at the deep end, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy it.

Since your child’s infancy is such a short-lived time, there’s no reason not to enjoy it as much as possible. The following tips are designed to help new parents cope and support each other through a period of their lives which they will remember with fondness… some day.
1. Learn the Art of Swaddling

A newborn comes from pretty cramped surroundings. They seem to find the openness of the world intimidating, and you may see your baby throwing out his arms as if startled sometimes – it’s easy to wonder whether he feels like he’s falling.

Your saving grace will be the swaddle. Look up videos, practice on a teddy bear. A nice tight swaddle can calm a screaming newborn surprisingly quickly, and will help your newborn sleep a little more soundly.
2. Don’t Make Sleeping Through The Night A Goal

It sounds like a depressing peace of advice, but it’s really quite liberating. It’s not that you shouldn’t sleep when you can, because you should. You should sleep whenever the baby is sleeping.

However, if you start counting your hours or start focusing on when the baby will sleep through the night, you will just make yourself miserable. Parents who don’tcount how many hours their babies slept in a row are happier with their baby’ssleep.

Instead of trying to focus on eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, take what you can get and try and make things easy for yourself. If the baby sleeps best in the bed with you, that’s okay – just research how to co-sleep safely.

Sleep when you can – whenever you can – but don’t count hours or set your expectations too high. Instead, just focus on enjoying your baby awake and asleep.
3. Understand The Effects of a Baby Cry

The cry of a human infant is genetically programmed to drive us slowly insane. When you can’t even lift your own head, you need to be able to summon help swiftly, and that is what a baby cry is meant to do.

Some people can handle the sound of a baby crying better than others. In general, men tend to have a lower tolerance for crying than women, but this isn’t always the case. Whether man or woman, it isn’t unusual for one parent to be able to handle crying fits calmly, while the other parent is going crazy. In its worst moments, a crying baby can fill a loving parent with helpless rage.

It is important to remember that people can’t help their physical reactions to a baby’s cry, and that it is much safer for the baby if a parent distances him or herself when he/she can’t take it any more, even if that means the other parent handling more than his/her fair share of crying infant.

If necessary, consider investing in ear plugs to muffle the sound of your baby’s cries. It may be easier for you to shush and sing and cuddle your child once the unbearable sound has been turned down a few notches.
4. You Can’t Spoil A Baby

Pediatricians and psychologists agree – a baby cannot be spoiled. So no matter what your in-laws say to you, feel free to coddle your baby and hold him as much as he needs to be held.

Studies are now showing that babies are safer and less likely to suffer from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome if they sleep close to their parents. In fact, some researchers suggest that your baby is much safer sleeping with you. (Please see Dr. Sears site for more information on Co-sleeping Safety and Recommendations.)

The same goes during the day: babies who are held cry less. In fact, in cultures where babies are carried constantly, colic is virtually unknown!

So if holding your baby makes your life easier, and if you find yourself falling asleep in bed with your baby during a nighttime feeding, don’t fret about independence or setting up bad habits.

Do what works, and enjoy making your baby happy.
5. Understand That Holding The Baby Can Be A Chore

When the new mother is at home with the baby all day, some partners have been known to hint that she isn’t really working. However, listening to a baby cry and dealing with its constant demands can be very tiring, and many stay at home parents feel frustrated that their hands are perpetually full.

When the working partner suggests that the stay at home parent should be doing more around the house, a fight is inevitable. Partners should try to understand how very time consuming a baby can be, and realize that a stay at home mom may be desperate to clean/cook or even just take a shower… but has been simply unable to do so.

Other, more understanding partners come home from work determined to try and help… and proceed to wash dishes, cook dinner, or perform other useful tasks. What these helpful spouses don’t always realize is that the house-bound parent might relish a chance to have her hands free long enough to be able to do them.

One of the best, most helpful things a partner can do when coming home from work is to simply offer to hold the baby for a while.
6. Don’t Privatize Baby Care

It isn’t unusual for the stay at home parent to take charge of all things baby, leaving the working parent out in the cold. The working parent often feels less confident with the baby through sheer lack of experience: while the stay at home parent is doing seven diaper changes a day, the working parent may do one. Same goes for feedings, burpings, and rocking baby to sleep.

Sometimes this can result in the working parent bowing out of child care altogether. The mother may feel like she is left with all the baby care while the father may feel like he doesn’t know how to help. Both parents end up unhappy with the division of labor!

The stay at home parent needs to remember this, and be sure to encourage the working parent to stay involved in the baby’s care when he/she is home, without passing judgement on how well it is done. Only practice can make perfect.
7. Make A Date Night

When a newborn baby arrives, friends and family usually pepper the new parents with offers to babysit. Take up these offers! As difficult as it can be to leave your precious newborn, even just for a couple of hours, it should be done frequently. Not only does it teach your baby that the world is full of helpful people who care about him/her, but it is healthy to get out and enjoy each other as a couple… even if all you do is talk about how much you love your baby!

Breastfeeding mothers are especially reluctant to leave their baby, since they are taking their baby’s food supply with them. However, in this day of cell phones it is possible to slip out for a quick dinner at a nearby restaurant knowing that the sitter will call if baby can’t wait any longer for another feeding. When the baby is a little older and able to take expressed breast milk in a bottle, outings can be longer.

Set up a “date night” on a regular basis – once a week or twice a month. While some couples hate the loss of spontaneity that comes with a planned “date night”, it is important to understand that in this particular phase of parenthood, that planning is a necessity, or dates won’t be happening at all.
8. Take Care of Each Other

Everyone reacts differently to parenthood. Men and women alike can suffer from post partum depression. Most people are at least temporarily overwhelmed at times. Remember that these times will pass. If necessary, seek help on behalf of a spouse if you suspect that he or she may be suffering from depression.

The new mother needs extra physical and emotional care (see our article on caring for a new mother) but both parents need to give each other love and support in this challenging and sometimes overwhelming period. Remember that, and take care of each other.
9. Cherish The Small Moments

Repeat this to yourselves every day: “My baby will never be this little again.” Babies grow. Tomorrow your baby will be older and more self sufficient than today. In the mean time, enjoy your baby’s infancy while you can. Tomorrow she will be bigger, and she will never be this small again.
10. Keep Your Sense of Humor

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt like you had to either laugh… or cry? Much of parenthood feels like that. Choose to laugh.

Not only are babies sensitive to their parents’ distress, but there is simply no use crying over spilled (or spit-up) milk. If you’re having trouble finding the funny side, call a friend, who will surely help you smile over it. Tickle your baby and have a laugh about it together – why leave baby out of the fun?

Today’s frustrating incident is tomorrow’s funny story – whenever everything just seems to go wrong, picture yourself telling the story at your child’s wedding, and remind yourself of how quickly this will pass!

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