You did it! Your baby is here! As a new parent (or possibly a parent again), you suddenly find you are on call---all the time. And you are exhausted. Perhaps you are not enjoying this so called 4th trimester as much as you thought you would or perhaps as much as you did with your first child. There are many reasons why this period is in fact very, very hard. While it can be a hard for many there are a few ways to make it just a little bit easier.
1. Don’t forget you own mental hygiene.
You now have a new little one to care for and make sure their needs are met. But that doesn’t mean your needs go out the window. You still have basic needs as well. For those that have flown on an airplane, before takeoff, the air host/hostess will come around, usually look you straight in the eyes and say, “If the oxygen masks drop down, put yours on first then put the mask on the child.” Why is this? Because what good is it if your child has their oxygen mask on but you pass out from lack on oxygen in the mean time? Your infant is not going to put your mask on. But if you have yours on, you can then get theirs on and everyone will have oxygen flowing. The same principle applies when you are caring for a newborn infant.
Sleep is possibly the #1 most important mental health hygiene requirement. For real. If you are a new mom you are probably thinking, right, how can I possibly? The answer – steal sleep anyway and anytime you possibly can. You need to carve out time to relax and refresh your mental wellbeing and getting good sleep is one of the best ways. That may mean you sleep from 8pm-2am or 2am-8am (Hey, that is 6 consecutive hours!) and have your partner or someone else take a feeding. New moms tell me all the time, “But I don’t want my partner to have to get up because he has to get up for work”. It doesn’t have to be every night, but what I am suggesting is that if one person consistently, day after day, and week after week does not get proper sleep, their mental health will begin to suffer. So perhaps you can find someone a couple of nights a week to help you get some solid sleep. Or maybe you can get some solid ZZZ’s on the weekend. But it really is like putting your oxygen mask on first. You will then feel better able to care for your baby during the rest of the day/week.
2. Let go of something, maybe just for the night.
Yes, there is a lot to be done with a new baby. There are the usual household chores to keep up with and they seem to have multiplied now that you have a little one. But please remember that the number of hours in the day did not increase. To help manage your sanity, you may need to temporarily manage the expectations you place upon yourself. That may mean letting something wait until tomorrow that you generally would do today. But chances are good you will have more energy after getting some rest and be able to do things more quickly. We’ve all been there where we are trying to do just one more thing before going to sleep, only to look up and an hour has past. Or you have become so tired you can’t focus on the task at hand fully. Managing your time and energy wisely is of the upmost importance right now.
3. Have flexible expectations and practice acceptance.
We approach motherhood with a whole host of expectations. And that is alright. But please have some flexibility if those expectations are not met 100 percent. When I had my little one, I was caught by surprise at how short a newborn babies’ naps truly were. After all, we hear the phrase “Sleeps like a baby” all the time, right? I had the expectation that babies sleep solid amounts of time from birth. Boy, was I surprised…and frustrated! I would text my friends with older children and ask them when my little one was going to take the coveted 2-3 hour naps (hint, eventually is the answer). My little one would also be kind to me for a few nights or even a week and let me get some sleep, only to cross over a milestone like learning to crawl, pull up, walk, or start cutting more teeth. The point is, no one had told me that an infant’s sleep schedule will change quite often in the first months of life. I eventually caught on and once I came to accept this and roll with the needs of my child, I was less frustrated when things did not go how I “expected them to go.” I had to change my mindset and decide to stop forcing my schedule; instead letting go and going with the flow. Therapeutically, we call this acceptance. Try it for a week and let me know how you feel! And this doesn’t apply only to sleep. It can apply to any preconceived expectation you held/still hold about motherhood.
4. Get out of the house.
You may feel scared or uneasy about taking your little one out of the house because you do not want to expose them to any illnesses too soon. But there are still things you can do outside of the house that minimize their potential exposure. You could take a walk in the park or better yet find a local walking group. Meetup is an app that is dedicated to bringing people with like interests together and you can probably find some great options locally if you look. There are also postpartum fitness classes designed especially for you where you can work out while your baby is in their stroller or on a mat. Under 9 months of age is also prime time to get a nice dinner out while your little one naps in the car seat at the table. So go out with your partner and bon appétit!
5. Make mom friends who have a child the same age as your child.
While you are out checking tip #4 off your list, get a couple of phone numbers from other moms. This is literally my #1 first time mom hack! Bonus points if you find an experienced mom friend who has older children. I stumbled onto another mom with a baby the same age as mine and it was amazing. It is a friendship I cherish greatly and truly helped me stay sane. If you are a working mom and are short on time during the week, be sure to check out the carnivals/fairs or any other events hosted by your child’s daycare as that is a great place to meet other moms. Joining the PTA is another great option. And you will have someone to talk with on the playground.
This is especially helpful if you are the first one of your circle of friends to have a baby. Your childless friends will be happy for you and want to come see you and hold the baby but until they become a mom, they will not fully understand. So go out there and make some new mom friends!
6. Be kind and flexible with your partner/family.
During this period, emotions are ramped up high. I like to use the phrase “Having your pump primed”. You have a lot of demands and expectations placed on you physically and emotionally. You may feel like something you generally would not get upset over is really a big deal right now. During this time, you may feel on edge. Best thing you can do is realize that your emotions are truly in overdrive right now (research indicates your hormones now are like those experienced in puberty and later on in menopause) so if you find yourself getting frustrated or upset, try to take a few minutes to be by yourself, take a short walk, listen to your favorite song or take a shower/bath to calm down. Then have the conversation you need to have with a clearer head and heart. Once you are in better head space, that is the time to have a healthy conversation with your partner about expectations for your roles moving forward. It can also help avoid conflict. Remember, this is your partner and teammate, so you want them on your side!
Jennifer Perera is a mom of two boys, a spouse and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is also Certified as a Perinatal Mental Health Professional by Postpartum Support International. She has a private practice in Springfield, New Jersey and also sees clients throughout New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Illinois via telehealth. Her passion is helping new moms and dads find their joy again in parenthood through individual and couples counseling. She also runs workshops for new parents, teaching them techniques and strategies to help them have a stronger relationship - built to thrive during the parenthood years. Jennifer specializes in working with parents during the prenatal and postpartum periods and those coping with grief or loss issues surrounding pregnancy.