How to deal with becoming a new parent

Having a baby is one of the most life-changing events that many people will experience. The months before and after the birth are often stressful, and in this Spotlight feature, we provide some basic tips and advice that might take the edge off this most edgy of times.

Every year, almost 4 million babies are born in the United States. Each new delivery brings the immediate family a heady mix of joy, drama, smiles, and strife.

There is a wealth of information on the Internet and beyond that helps to guide a busily prepping mother- or father-to-be, so it can be difficult to pare down to the essentials. The truth is, when the baby comes, most advice will sail straight out of the window.

In this article, we provide some information that will, hopefully, help to lay some groundwork. Nothing can smooth the transition to parenthood entirely, but feeling on top of things will help.

1. Preparation is key

Many parents-to-be worry about not being prepared when the big day comes. Here are some tips that may help to ease this worry.

Infant first aid

One of the major concerns about having a child is that they may get ill or injured. While there is no amount of preparation that will take that fear away entirely, knowing what you should do if an incident were to occur is a solid idea.

There are hundreds of infant first aid courses available across the U.S. Just knowing that you have some relevant medical knowledge will ease tensions.

Buying a basic infant first aid manual for reference might also be of benefit.

Practice the basics

When expecting your first child, you may never have swaddled or clothed a baby, or even changed a diaper. As the big day draws closer, these basic procedures might play on your mind - just another unknown in a sea of unknowns.

The first point to make is that these tasks are simple. However, there is nothing like actually doing something to put your mind at rest. So, buy a doll that is roughly the same size as a baby and put a diaper on it. Dress it and swaddle it.

Not only will you feel slightly more confident, but you will also have a new toy for your impending child.

2. Stocking the drugs cabinet

During a baby's first few years of life, there are likely to be some sniffles, teething, rashes, and fevers. It is therefore good to have the appropriate medical supplies to hand.

Purchasing them in advance of the birth could save you (and them) a headache. Although this list is by no means exhaustive, the following items are a strong start: 

  • digital thermometer
  • babies' non-aspirin liquid pain reliever
  • tweezers
  • bulb syringe for extracting mucus from a stuffy nose
  • antibacterial ointment
  • teething toys
  • rubbing alcohol to clean tweezers, thermometers, and scissors
  • cotton balls for applying lotions and for cleaning supplies with rubbing alcohol
  • mild liquid soaps
  • diaper rash cream
  • gripe water
  • baby shampoo
  • baby-safe suntan lotion

3. Bedroom hacks

No two babies are the same, and no two babies sleep the same. Some are light sleepers, awakened by a floorboard creak, but others would not be roused by a Boeing 747 fly-past.

However, there are some adjustments to the bedroom that might make night-times a little easier over the coming months.

Blackout curtains. Babies need to sleep during the day, and blackout curtains guarantee a set amount of darkness at any time. This consistency will (hopefully) help to get them in the mood for slumber.

White noise machine. Although you will be creeping around when your baby is asleep, it is impossible to prevent all extraneous noise.

A white noise machine helps to cancel out background sounds. This can be particularly useful for parents of multiples if they are sleeping in the same room.

It is worth noting that some researchers believe that these machines may damage a baby's ears if they are left on for long periods of time or are positioned in close proximity to the child. So, keep the volume setting low and make sure that it is not too near the baby. 

Rugs. If you have wooden floors, put down some rugs so that, as you tiptoe around, the sound is muffled.

A night light is a sound investment for your shins.

Adjustable night light. The essential partner to blackout curtains is a night light.

In the small hours, when you need to get up to prepare a bottle, change a diaper, or use the bathroom, the last thing you want is to slam your shin or little toe into the corner of the bed or step on a hairbrush.

A dim light, easily accessible from your bed, will save you countless bruises and unnecessary awakenings.

Diaper placement. Store a stash of diapers and wipes somewhere easy to reach from the bed. In fact, it is a good idea to have a spare diaper and some wipes in a few locations, including the car, stroller, and your best friend's or parents' house.

You never know when you might need to carry out a quick change. And, of course, a fully stocked diaper bag that can be grabbed as you leave your home is a great idea.

Safe sleeping for babies

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the death of a baby during sleep for no clear reason. It is every parent's worst nightmare. In October 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a document explaining the safest way to set up an infant's sleeping environment.

The report is based on hundreds of published research papers. The following are some of the main take-home messages.

  • Babies should be placed on their backs to sleep.
  • They should sleep directly on a firm surface - for instance, a mattress in a safety-approved crib, covered by a fitted sheet with no other soft objects (such as pillows, cushions, toys) or bedding.
  • Ensure that the area around the bed is free from potential hazards, such as electric wires or dangling cords.
  • Sitting devices, including strollers, swings, car seats, infant slings, and infant carriers, are not recommended for routine sleep at home or in the hospital, especially for young infants. They also advise against sleeping on couches or armchairs.
  • Babies should sleep close to their parents' bed, but on a separate surface. As per the report, they should not sleep in the same bed due to the risks of "suffocation, strangulation, and entrapment."
  • Babies should sleep in their parents' room for at least the first 6 months of life.
  • Although it is unclear why, sleeping with a pacifier appears to reduce SIDS risk (even if it falls out of an infant's mouth). 
  • Parents should avoid smoking, alcohol, and illicit drugs.
  • Having the appropriate immunizations at the right times may have a protective effect against SIDS.

Sleep when the baby sleeps?

Sleeping whenever the baby sleeps sounds good in theory, but in practice, because a baby may only sleep in short bursts, it does not always work out well for the parents.

Also, when the baby is asleep, you may need to carry out the tasks that have fallen by the wayside while you have been caring for them, such as cleaning, eating, and showering.

Many couples find that looking after the baby in shifts works better. However, there is no right or wrong approach, so find what works for you.

4. Look after yourself

Self-care in the early days is essential.

During pregnancy, the importance of a healthful diet for the mother is a no-brainer.

Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and avoiding drugs, tobacco, and alcohol are essential.

Once the baby is born, however, this self-care needs to continue - and that includes the father.

The baby is reliant on you for survival, so maintaining your own health is vital. Also, not eating enough or eating low-quality foods can make you feel more tired, which is not ideal.

It can be difficult to find the time to cook for yourself, but getting the right nutrients is just as important once the baby has arrived, especially while breast-feeding.

A bit of 'you time'

If possible, whenever you get a chance, take a bit of time out for yourself. Short breaks away from childcare can do your psychological well-being no end of good.

Accept help

Many people find it difficult to accept help, possibly because they do not want to inconvenience others or are too proud. At this point in your life, say "yes" to help; it could save your sanity.

5. Keep perspective

It is difficult to maintain a level head when you are knee-deep in diapers and bodily fluids and more sleep-deprived than you have ever been in your life. However, reading and understanding what to expect before the great day rolls around can be useful.

An experience as ubiquitous as parenthood has generated a wealth of old wives' tales and falsehoods, and some of these can be unhelpful. Here, we bust some common myths and misconceptions.

Parenting comes "naturally." Having a baby definitely is a natural process, but parenting certainly does not come naturally to many people. Don't worry if it feels distinctly unnatural to begin with.

The "maternal instinct." This otherworldly power is supposed to mean that you always know the right thing to do for your baby - but it is rarely that simple. Sometimes, the maternal instinct can be spot on, whereas other times it is better described as maternal anxiety. Listen to your internal voice, but don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion.

Love at first sight? You might not fall in love with your baby as soon as you see her - but don't worry, because this is normal. Sometimes the bond is instant, but sometimes it takes time.

New fathers, in particular, may take more time to develop a close bond. So if the sight of your newborn does not yet fill you with love, try not to panic. 

Breast-feeding is easy. Breast-feeding is natural, but it does not come naturally to all women. It takes persistence, and even with persistence, it is not achievable for everyone.

Although "breast is best," it is not the only option. Women who are unable to breast-feed often beat themselves up, but they shouldn't. This period in your life is hard enough without an extra layer of guilt.

Leaving a baby to cry is healthy. There is no evidence that letting a newborn cry alone is "good for strengthening the lungs" or "teaches them to be more independent." In fact, there is evidence that leaving a baby to cry might have negative physiological consequences

Bundling and swaddling. Babies do not always need to be wrapped up in layer upon layer of clothing and blankets. As a general rule, they should wear just one more layer than you.

Conclusions

Although this article is far from comprehensive, we hope that it provides at least a couple of useful pointers. At the end of the day, becoming a parent is a major change, and, as with all big transitions, there are likely to be plenty of bumps along the road.

Remaining calm is both the best and the hardest advice to follow. As with war, the key to a smooth transition into parenthood is preparation. Good luck.