Welcome to Parenthood (Now What?)
by Barbra Williams Cosentino, RN, CSW
- Make sure you have an adequate support system, says New York City mother and 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 nutritious 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 who are in the thick of it with you.
- Choose to ignore people who tell you 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. For babies to develop a sense of security and basic trust they must know that Mom or Dad will consistently respond to their needs. When the child is a bit older, parents can use their voices to comfort the baby, but in early infancy touch is of paramount importance. Walking around with your infant in a Snugli or doing infant massage are wonderful ways to help your baby feel nurtured and soothed.
- 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 some sort of routine, it may be difficult to find time for household chores or cooking. Give yourself permission to cut corners, to use easily prepared foods, or to order in. Rest when your newborn is resting!
- 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. Although you want the house to be relatively quiet, do not insist that everyone whisper and walk around on tiptoe. Babies need to learn to fall asleep with some normal background noise such as the TV playing in a nearby room.
- Remember that other family members have needs, too. Because Dad may feel abandoned and jealous of Mom's new "love affair" with a newborn, Mom needs to spend some time listening to, laughing with, and enjoying her spouse, no matter how tired she feels. If there's a big brother or sister at home, be sure he or she gets plenty of affection too, and try to ensure that each parent enjoys some "alone time." Encourage visitors to pay attention to the "big kids," and keep a few small gifts on hand to dole out to older siblings in the event that visitors arrive with gifts for baby only.
- Enjoy your newborn! Get into the habit of taking lots of photos. Infants change every week, and capturing every stage on film allows you to enjoy your baby's development, both now and in the future.