by Jennifer Shakeel
Many expectant parents are swept up in the romance of having a new baby. We tend to get so excited over the arrival of baby that we forget to think about the changes that are going to take place, whether we want them to or not. As wonderful as being a new parent is, whether this is your first child or second or third, having a baby will change your life forever.
I think that it is a given that restful nights of sleep are a thing of the past, and for at least one parent, so are regular showers. New parents often sleep two or three hours at a time, because their infant has a bi-hourly or tri-hourly feeding schedule. It often happens that the parent has just fallen asleep only to awake to their infant’s crying. This irregular sleeping schedule changes little throughout the average baby’s first year of life. I laugh at this really; I have three children, the first two slept through the night from the moment they came out. The most recent addition to our family though, has an agenda all her own. Some nights she sleeps through the night, some nights she is up every 45 minutes, other nights she is up ever two or three hours. I have decided that it depends on where the moon is sitting in the sky and the direction of the wind.
On top of the sudden sleep-deprivation, caring for baby requires a tremendous exertion of energy. As a new parent there are the givens, you have to continually feed your baby, burp it, and change its diapers. It is also important that you monitor baby—even if the baby is napping—to ensure his breathing is regular. Many infants are also colicky, in which case you have to redouble the time you spend trying to soothe their crying. Or they could be like our new daughter, who has days where she likes to be awake all day. Not that she is fussy, or spends the day screaming (though there are those days as well) she just doesn’t want to sleep. Which is another challenge if you happen to work from home as I do; my work day has gone from 6 to 8 hours to maybe 2 hours if I am lucky. And in those two hours I am trying to shower and take care of the house as well.
A baby changes your life so dramatically because you no longer live for yourself. You can no longer decide at whim to travel out-of-town, see a film, or go shopping because you have an infant who needs your constant care. On the flip side, many new parents find that their lives are more focused because they anchor their lives on their child. For example, they start to think about savings plans for their infants’ college funds. As a result, because their financial necessities have shifted to their baby, new parents no longer spend for themselves as they did before parenthood.
Besides these more structural changes, many new parents feel changes in their own relationship with each other after the birth of their child. Many new parents clash with each other over the baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule. For example, as much as I couldn’t wait for our new daughter’s arrival, once she was here I wanted to be pregnant with her again so that I didn’t have to share her with anyone. Her dad is wonderful, and her older sister and brother were just as excited about her being her and everyone wanted to pitch in and help and hold her and all the fun stuff, but at the same time I wanted to just be left alone with her. Depending on the occupational situation, one parent may stay at home most of the time with the newborn while the other goes to work. Other parents may split equal time caring for the baby, especially at night when parents take turns sleeping.
New parents often see their social life drastically taper down, because their newborn does not usually take well to restaurants or other outings. Again, this is going to depend on your baby and how you two are as a couple. We like to go out to dinner a couple times a month. It is something that our older children look forward to, so we didn’t want to stop that just because of the baby. Fortunately, our new baby likes to sleep through dinner out at a restaurant. We took her out for the first time when she was just 4 days old. Furthermore, it becomes difficult for friends to visit because parents devote most of their attention to the child. Because of this situation, many parents make new friends with other parents, so they can jointly take care of their children while spending time together. I have to say, I am one of those group parenting people. Most of our friends have children the same ages as our children. And sometimes it is a rock, paper, scissors to see which parent is going to correct the children when we are all together.
It is true that a new baby can place huge stress on a couple’s relationship. You may know a couple who fight constantly about their children, and have differing ideas of what’s best for their children. Many couples attest that they never fought until they had children. They may fight because one partner feels that the other is not doing his or her share of the childcare work, or some other expectation was not met. It is important that you and your partner create an open line of communication with each other. Hormones aside, you need to talk about what you are feeling and so does the father of the baby. Remember that before you were parents you were a couple, and from now on you will be both.
There are also stresses arising from the new family structure. Many new fathers, for instance, often feel a sense of neglect as the mother devotes her attention almost exclusively to the infant. In truth, caring for the infant so exclusively is 100% natural, because a new mother is genetically wired to pay full attention to the infant’s needs. Therefore, there is no need for a father to feel jealousy or emotional hurt from the mother’s preoccupation with the child, though these feelings are common. Fortunately, as the infant matures, the couple’s relationship often returns to normal.
Many parents also experience a lack of sex life for the first year of the baby’s birth, because physical and emotional exhaustion take a toll on their sex drive. Then there are new parents who have an increased sex drive. Be open with one another, now more than every talking to one another is incredibly important.
Most parents are deeply interested in witnessing their infant’s development, from tracking its motor skills to its first smile. They also happily spend hours of time bonding with their baby by napping with it, playing with it, and feeding it. While these activities may seem boring to outsiders, they are hugely enjoyable to new parents.
Having a new baby may also make you stop and think about the different activities you do. You may start to question whether going on that motorcycle ride without a helmet is a good idea. Staying out late having a good adult time may not be something you are as interested in now that there is a new little person that is depending on you. Parents who may not even have locked their front door before having a child now do it without thought, because they place a premium on their child’s safety.
Though there is little doubt your new baby will cause an overhaul on your life, you will just as likely savor every minute of it because your new arrival will captivate you. Many parents attest that the first year of life goes all too fast, and it’s a good bet you will feel the same. I know I did…
Jennifer Shakeel is a writer and former nurse with over 12 years medical experience. As a mother of two incredible children with one on the way, I am here to share with you what I have learned about parenting and the joys and changes that take place during pregnancy. Together we can laugh and cry and rejoice in the fact that we are moms!
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