by Barbra Williams Cosentino, RN
As a new mom, you might think that once you’ve given birth, the hard part is behind you. There is often scant preparation for the many life changes that accompany the appearance of your much-anticipated baby.
Although people mentioned that you’d be sore and sleep-deprived, no one really warned you about the occasional hours of nonstop crying. They also didn’t mention the indescribable joy of seeing that precious little one asleep in the crib, thumb in mouth, tiny bottom sticking up in the air. Here are expert tips to ease your transition.
Don’t be concerned if you don’t feel an instantaneous connection with your baby. Samuel J. Meisels, EdD, board president of Zero to Three, a national organization for infants, toddlers, children and families, says bonding doesn’t always take place in the immediate post-partum period. “Don’t worry if there isn’t that ecstatic moment after birth,” he says. “You will still attach to your child and develop a loving relationship.”
“It’s important to recognize that you are not going to be a perfect mother,” says Rebecca Shahmoon Shanok, PhD, founding director of the Institute for Infants, Children & Families. “You and your spouse will be cranky and tired at times it just goes with the territory. You have completely new responsibilities, and holding that fragile-looking infant makes it obvious just how much your baby needs you.
“It takes time to grow into your new role, to really feel like a parent. It may take six months or even a year,” she notes.
Here are six sanity-saving tips, from parents and experts to help you get through those challenging days of living with a newborn in the house.
1. Make sure you have an adequate support system, says pediatric nurse Alicia Schlesinger, RN. Particularly when you first return home, it’s important to have someone not only to provide emotional support but also to help with infant care, cleaning, cooking, errands and laundry. This support person may be a spouse, mother, mother-in-law, sister, doula, housekeeper or baby nurse.
Allow people to bring you meals or to care for your infant for an hour or two while you take a nap. Once your baby is a bit older, it may be helpful to join a new-mothers group where you can share your experiences, questions, and concerns with others.
2. Choose to ignore advice that you can spoil newborns by picking them up every time they cry. Infants cry for a variety of reasons ranging from hunger to discomfort to the need to be held. To develop a sense of security and trust, babies must know that Mom or Dad will consistently respond to their needs. For older babies, parents can use their voices to provide comfort, but in early infancy touch is of paramount importance.
3. Lower your expectations of what you can accomplish in a day, advises Dr. Meisels. Caring for a newborn requires an enormous amount of time and attention holding and cuddling, stroking and burping, changing and feeding.
Until you get organized and your baby falls into a routine, it may be difficult to find time for household chores or cooking. Give yourself permission to cut corners, use easily prepared foods or order in. Rest when your newborn rests.
4. Start a bedtime routine as early as possible. This may include singing lullabies, reading books or rocking in a rocking chair. Experts suggest putting infants down while they are drowsy but still awake, so they can begin to learn what it’s like to drift off to sleep by themselves.
Do not insist that everyone whisper and walk around on tiptoe. Babies need to learn to fall asleep with normal background noise such as the TV playing in a nearby room.
5. Remember that other family members have needs, too. No matter how tired they feel, moms need to spend some time listening to, laughing with and enjoying their spouse. If there’s a big brother or sister at home, be sure to give siblings plenty of affection too. Encourage visitors to pay attention to the “big kids.”
6. Enjoy your newborn! Take lots of photos. Infants change every week, and capturing every stage allows you to enjoy your baby’s development, both now and in the future.
Barbra Williams Cosentino, RN is a freelance writer.