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7 Things All New Parents Need To Know

Amy Spofford is well-versed in pregnancy, birth, postpartum and mom-life. She is the founder of Eat What Feels Good, LLC, a platform promoting healthy preparation for and healing from birth so new moms can enjoy their little ones.

 
Executive Contributor Amy Spofford

When did it become normalized to judge new parents? It is quite unfriendly given that we don't know how anyone else's situation is unfolding behind the scenes and what is informing their decisions. Each baby is different. Each parent is different. Each parental leave scenario, level of support, and amount of financial stability are all different! This judgmental paradigm our society has created is doing parents everywhere a disservice. Instead, we could help them get real info about this life transition so they can feel better prepared to manage it and make the choices that feel right for them. In this article you will find key ways to make life with a newborn baby easier on the body and the mind. 


Happy young couple sitting on floor with a baby

Having a baby is no joke

A whole lot changes when you bring a new baby home, and only some of it has to do with the actual baby. No matter how your little miracle enters the world, there is physical healing to be done. There are new roles and identities with which to contend, and new relationship dynamics to explore. There will be visitors, laundry, finances, and, oh yes, the parents still have to eat. This whirlwind of changes deserves some clarity. Setting expectations and getting priorities straight can be overwhelming and yet grounding at the same time. Knowledge is peace of mind when it comes to new parenthood.


7 things all new parents need to know


1. Rest is essential

New parents need rest for many reasons. In an equal partnership, both parents need breaks from the exhaustion of sleep deprivation and fatigue of caring for a newborn. On top of that, new moms are physically healing from pregnancy and birth and those that choose to breastfeed are learning a whole new skill that also depletes their energy. This is no joke! In the early days, feedings and wet diapers are often tracked and timed, and once one cycle is complete it’s time for the next one. Aside from providing basic care to themselves and their newborn(s), a new mother should do no more than what is absolutely necessary. I realize that resting feels like an unattainable privilege for some, but this is one of the few times in life we must honor what the body needs. Anyone who knows a pregnant person – please take note of this. Resting allows for healing. It is beyond important.


2. Healing takes time

Pregnancy and birth are extremely taxing on the body. During pregnancy, a woman's blood volume increases by 50% so more oxygen and nutrients can get to the baby [1], accounting for some of the baby weight and swelling many women experience. Once the hurdle of birth is behind her, a new mom needs rest so she can heal properly. She has just lost a lot of the extra fluid she had retained during pregnancy. Her nutrient stores are depleted from growing a baby and going through birth, and her uterus needs to shrink from the size of a watermelon back down to the size of a pear. She has a dinner-plate-sized wound in her uterus from the placenta and a human (and then some) just exited her body. It might take longer than you'd think to fully recover from all this. Even when a new mom is no longer bleeding, or thinks they are "mostly healed," doing too much too fast can lead to pelvic floor injuries and a longer recovery time. Taking the time now to heal the right way will benefit hormones and physical vitality all the way to menopause. With everything a new mom has just gone through, it is unrealistic to expect complete healing to be quick.


3. Your baby will be fed

Despite being the main way of feeding babies since the dawn of mammals, breastfeeding for humans in today’s society is not easy. Even if it goes fairly well and there are few to no complications, learning a new skill like this has so many moving and unpredictable parts to it. Not only does one have to make sure the baby can latch properly and get the milk they need (which depends on the anatomy of both parties), but one must also contend with supply issues, pain, leakage and baby's tolerance of the milk itself. This isn’t to discourage anyone from choosing to breastfeed; this is simply an offer of solidarity that this is a common journey with an individualized learning curve. Even if you hit some bumps in the road, you can still go on to have a successful breastfeeding experience. Fortunately, there are a growing number of resources in this niche to turn to. Lactation consultants, nurses, mom groups, postpartum coaches and doulas can offer validation, helpful tips and perspective on the feeding journey. Breastfeeding can be rewarding and enjoyable, and anyone who chooses that path deserves access the resources they need.


If breastmilk is a miracle of nature, formula is a miracle of science. For a variety of reasons, breastfeeding is not for everyone, and it is a privilege of modern society that we have another safe option for infant feeding. Supply issues, medical concerns and maternal mental health are all considerations to be made, among others. If you have opted for formula, I implore you to have confidence that you are doing what works best for you and your family. The rest is just noise, and I have your back either way. Regardless of breastmilk or formula, the most important things are the health of the mother and that baby is fed and growing.


4. You will sleep again

I will admit that sleep deprivation is a special kind of torture. The human body is incredibly resilient, though, and new parents everywhere find ways to function on very little connected sleep. If you can relate to this, know that it will get better, because I promise it will. That doesn't negate the hard, but it is still an important reminder to those stuck in the throes of it, wondering if it will ever pass. It will. Lack of sleep can impact both physical and mental health if it is ongoing, so it is important to improve your sleep hygiene and sleep environment as you get through this tough stage. Little things matter and can add up. You can help to improve your sleep environment by making sure the temperature is cool in the room, avoiding bright lights in the night (use nightlights) and having partners help to change the baby before or after night feedings so mama can stay in bed. Another thing you can do is plan out your sleep. Instead of just forcing yourself to try and “sleep when the baby sleeps,” make a plan with your partner or other support people. Schedule someone to come over and then go take a nap right after a feeding to maximize your sleep time. Take a nap turns with your partner if they have time off, or ask them to supervise you if the baby is napping on you. Take advantage of your baby’s longest sleep stretch of the night (usually the first one) by going to bed when you put them down for the night. This may mean making their bedtime fit your desired schedule – that’s okay! You need to take care of you. We cannot be the best parents for our baby without prioritizing our own needs.


5. You don’t have to do it alone

Building a village is so important for success in early parenthood. Leaning on friends and family- especially in the early weeks – can ease the overwhelm that is common with this transition. Having home-cooked meals or take-out brought to your home can feel like a huge weight is lifted, and receiving the solidarity of another mom can help a new one feel less alone. Even if you have limited loved ones close by, more and more moms are connecting online and through social media and are finding emotional support and practical tips through their virtual village.


The biggest and most immediate support for a new mom will likely come from a partner. Partners who can take leave from work when the baby comes will ease the burdens on a birthing parent significantly. They can watch the baby while she rests, mind older children, cook, and complete other household chores. They can also look for ways in which they can help the mother emotionally and mentally. Coping with all of the changes occurring as new parents can be a lot for both parties to process. Being open to talking about the feelings and concerns that undoubtedly will arise during this transition is vital. Perhaps most importantly, establishing the mindset that you are a team from the beginning is vital. Both partners want to feel heard and appreciated, as an equal partnership will require both to be making sacrifices during this time. This takes effort and consistent communication, but it is so worth it. Don’t try to get through this alone if you have the choice.


6. Give yourself grace

There is immense pressure placed on new moms to present themselves as an instant parenting master, breastfeeding pro and fitness fanatic. In a modern world with ubiquitous social media updates and comparison photos, it’s easy to get caught in a shame spiral. We wonder why we aren’t measuring up to these impossible standards when the real question is, why do we do this to ourselves and each other in the first place? It’s not our fault that these expectations exist, but we must recognize the ways in which we perpetuate them. It is, in fact, in our power to reject impossible standards and reset the narrative. In time, we can shift the paradigm that expects “SuperMom” and opt instead for the gentle ease of a new mom back into her previous activities with loads of grace and individuality (there are many ways to “mom” right)! To the moms who are in it right now: empower yourself to embrace rest and to focus only on your healing and newborn care (if possible). Let go of expectations to return to your prior weight, energy level, activity level, etc. You’re allowed to have fitness and aesthetic goals, but right after birth is not the time. I’m telling you, loving yourself and appreciating what your body just did feels good. Let that part sink in, let people dote on you, and give yourself the grace you would give to a friend in the same situation.


7. Keep tabs on your mental health

Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders is the umbrella term used in the U.S. for the collection of mental health diagnoses new parents can experience in the postpartum/postnatal period. They are far more common than many people think, with postpartum depression showing up in 5%-60% of new moms [2]. Data is self-reported and is therefore likely to be under-reported, and though the stigma of mental health struggles seems to be declining, it’s hard to know the true data. The point is, it’s not rare to experience mental health challenges in the postpartum period and being more informed about them can help identify them more quickly so they can be addressed. Again, knowledge in this area is power. New parents do not need to suffer in silence anymore.


All of your feelings are valid even the ones that feel disorganized or contradictory. Feeling overwhelmed, feeling alone even if surrounded by people, feeling anxious, feeling blue – it’s all common and deserves compassion and space for healing. If anxiety and depression continue to persist or worsen beyond a few weeks postpartum (when you've gotten the hang of things more with the baby), it could be time to seek additional support from a professional to evaluate you. Familiarizing yourself with the symptoms and risk factors associated with PMADs is a wise way to be better prepared to manage outcomes.


Managing expectations

There is a lot you can do to mentally and physically prepare for bringing a new baby home, but my best advice is to be adaptable. Expect the unexpected, be prepared for interrupted schedules and limited sleep, and remember that everything is a phase and that whatever feels hard will soon pass. Grace is the biggest gift you can give yourself in this season of life. Journal as an outlet for your feelings, meditate if that feels helpful to you, and reach out to those in your circle who lift you up and make you feel seen.


You are doing the best job you can for you and your family. I truly believe that.


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Read more from Amy Spofford

 

Amy Spofford, Pre & Postnatal Coach

Amy Spofford is a Pre & Postnatal Coach, a Nutritonal Therapy Practitioner and a mom of three little ones. Practicing as a Speech-Language-Pathologist in a nursing home rehab setting in a pandemic made pregnancy and early parentood beyond difficult. Amy used her holistic nutrition certification and research skills to dive deep into all things pregnancy, birth and postpartum, thinking there has to be a better way to navigate this season of life. This led to her becoming certified as a Pre & Postnatal coach. Her mission is to reduce the incidence of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders by providing education and support to pregnant women through their transition into postpartum.

 

References:


  1. Physiological changes in pregnancy. Priya Soma-Pillay, MB ChB, MMed (O et G) Pret, FCOG, Cert (Maternal and Foetal Med) SA, Nelson-Piercy Catherine, MA, FRCP, FRCOG, Heli Tolppanen, MD, Alexandre Mebazaa, MD, Heli Tolppanen, MD, and Alexandre Mebazaa, MD

  2. Ghaedrahmati M, Kazemi A, Kheirabadi G, Ebrahimi A, Bahrami M. Postpartum depression risk factors: A narrative review. J Educ Health Promot. 2017;6:60.


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