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Adjusting to parenthood

Maybe it's a good thing we begin parenthood as novices, without any real sense of how much our lives are about to change. Otherwise, we might never become parents in the first place.

Yes, a new baby is a great source of joy for most moms and dads.

But a new baby is also helpless and in need of constant care.

What's more, "Virtually every new parent-to-be underestimates the impact, both physical and psychological, a baby will have on their lives," says psychologist Lawrence Balter, PhD, the former host of a nationally syndicated radio show on parenting and author of a variety of books on the topic.

If you're about to become a parent—or you just became one—these are some of the changes that may surprise you:

Total exhaustion. Most babies don't sleep through the night until they're at least 3 to 6 months old.

How to cope: If you're a two-parent family, take turns getting up at night. That way each of you will get some continuous sleep. (Hint to nursing moms: Try expressing breast milk so that someone else can help feed the baby at night.)

Also, nap when your baby naps. Sleep should be your priority, not the dishes in the sink.

Self-doubt. Don't be surprised if your bundle of joy turns you into a bundle of nerves. "It's natural to wonder if you're up to the challenge of caring for your newborn," Dr. Balter says. Most first-time parents question their competence now and then.

How to cope: Remind yourself that parenting takes practice. Every time you soothe, feed or diaper your baby, your confidence will grow.

And don't be afraid to ask questions. Your baby's doctor is a good resource.

Mood swings. New moms are often caught off guard by how fragile they feel. Rather than feeling elated, they feel weepy, distressed, irritable or even resentful of their infants.

These feelings, often dubbed the "baby blues," may show up about two to three days after birth.

How to cope: Don't worry that you're a bad mom if you feel unhappy, cranky or out of sorts after giving birth. Your feelings are normal. Lots of new moms have the baby blues to some degree.

The good news: Typically, these feelings fade quickly. However, if they last for more than two weeks, call your doctor. Get help right away if you have thoughts about harming yourself or your child.

A changed relationship with your spouse. When baby makes three, couples have less time to spend together. Some couples may grow more distant—rather than closer—as new parents.

How to cope: Make it a point to connect. Even if you can spare only 10 or 15 minutes out of every day, try to focus on each other.

As soon as you feel OK leaving your baby with a relative or sitter, go out together regularly. A solid relationship forms the foundation of a solid family.

reviewed 4/8/2019

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