As new or expectant parents, you’ve probably heard this one a hundred times by now, “Enjoy this moment: it passes by so quickly, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.”
Those of us that have a few years under our child-rearing belts can’t help but look back on those first few months with a newborn in a rose-coloured light.
Our intentions are good – it really does go by too quickly – but that’s not exactly the kind of advice that’s going to help new parents survive months of sleepless nights, long days with a restless babe in arms, and all the anxieties that come hand-in-hand with being responsible for every aspect of a brand new human.
So I’ve put aside my nostalgic clichés and dug deep into my memory banks to offer up some real tips for first-time parents on getting what you really need while managing your new life with a newborn.
Advice for new parents
1. Share the duties
Parenting a newborn is the ideal time to bring all hands on deck, day and night. Swap all the duties you can with your parenting partner, from diapering to bathing to night-time soothing, so that nobody gets too run down and everybody gets a chance for at least a few hours sleep.
Play to your strengths as you divvy up the chores, and don’t tip toe around asking each other for a break when you need it. When our first baby was born, I often went to bed around 7 or 8 pm, and my night-owl husband took the late-night shifts with our daughter. I was then relatively rested and ready for the middle-of-the-night feedings and early wake-ups, while he had a chance to catch his few zzzs.
You might feel like ships passing in the night in these early days, but within a few months, your newborn will settle into a more predictable routine, leaving more time for all of you to enjoy the rewards of the parenting skills you’ve been honing, and even a few minutes of downtime here and there.
2. Do less, rest more
All parents eventually accept the fact that you can’t do it all, and that perfection is an impossible illusion to strive for. We’ll all tell you that the sooner you realize that good enough is more than enough, your parental confidence and happiness will increase. So try to head into your new life with a newborn with just the basic priorities on your plate.
Taking away the pressure of trying to do it all, and all perfectly, is the one of the best gifts you can give to yourself…
When you are struggling to find a free minute to use the bathroom or have a shower, don’t also try and wash the floor, bake homemade muffins for your visitors and get a head-start on scrapbooking that baby book or glitter gluing those thank you cards. Instead, rest and recover, and take any time you can get for the things you really need: naps, fresh air, and quiet moments to just sit and get to know your new baby. Taking away the pressure of trying to do it all, and all perfectly, is the one of the best gifts you can give to yourself, your partner and your new baby.
Advice for first-time parents with a newborn
3. Focus on the big picture
So many clichés come to mind here: don’t cry over spilt milk (because there will be lots of that) and don’t sweat the small stuff. Parents must be the original authors of these old proverbs, and they are repeated often because they remain so relevant.
One of the pitfalls of modern parenting is the amount of information you can easily and quickly consume on every method and milestone that you and your baby could be following and achieving, hour by hour.
So if you’re baby isn’t sleeping through the night, or napping well during the day, or not taking to the bottle or the breast as you’d hoped, your daily challenge will be not getting swept up in what feels like a failure in the moment, and keeping the bigger picture in mind. New moms are especially prone to feeling anxious about not doing everything by the book, whatever book it is we’ve decided to follow.
But a failed nap here and there is more than okay, and everyone will eventually, one day, learn to sleep through the night in their own bed. So go easy on yourself, and just remember that there are many better ways to measure our parenting successes and achievements, including how adoringly our babies look at us for just being there.
Say yes to offers of help again and again and again.
4. Accept help
For many of us, we’ve just spent the last decade or more carving our space in the world as independent, autonomous working adults, so we think we should be able to take on this new role like a boss, right? Wrong.
Parenting a baby is an exhausting job that never lets up, and the quicker you learn to graciously accept help, the better off you and your kids will be. Whether it’s hiring a diaper service or a housekeeper, taking family and friends up on their offer to do your grocery shopping, cook you a meal, and fold your laundry, or letting your neighbours hold the baby while you have a shower or drink a hot cup of coffee, say yes to offers of help again and again and again.
Remember, your baby doesn’t need a martyr to thrive: they need a parent who isn’t too overwhelmed and anxious to be a pleasant and present caregiver.
5. Find your village
You know what they say about raising a child and the team of people you need around you to do it, and to do it well. Humans never would have made it this far if we’d been trying to raise our babies in little boxes all on our own.
You need to avoid the isolation that can sneak up on you when you’re home all day with a new baby. Stay connected with others and build up your support system; from family and friends, to your neighbourhood babysitter and the public health nurse, to other parents to talk to and lean on.
How having support can help parents with their new baby
Put your team of go-to people on speed dial for your anxious moments. Use your downtime to find a family centre in your neighbourhood, or join a mom’s (or dad’s) group with parents from your prenatal classes. Visit the playground and the library to meet other new parents, and swap stories, questions and solutions. Most importantly, reach out when you need help or feel overwhelmed: your village is there to support both you and your baby, and you’ll all benefit from the camaraderie and comfort of facing the challenges of parenting together.
Ultimately, all these tips boil down to shifting your priorities as a new parent, so you can get what you really need: a little sleep, a lot of patience and some quality time to bond with the precious new addition to your life.