Babies a New Life : Will We Ever Get Better at this? New parents’ highs and lows (part 1)

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Q: My baby seems to cry all the time—I feel completely useless. Why can’t I get anything right?
A: New parents tend to set such high expectations for themselves that, unless everything is going perfectly well all of the time, they feel as if they are failing in their role at some time or other. It’s very easy to criticize and blame yourself, particularly if you are not getting much sleep and are at home alone with your child all day. The truth is that you are doing all you can, and this is just a phase. Spending time with other parents will help you see that you are not alone in how you feel and give you the opportunity to share hints and tips, and talk about the difficult times, too. Speak to your pediatrician to find out what parent-and-baby groups are available locally. Learning to do baby massage may also help to relax your baby and improve her sleep—and yours. If there are no suitable groups available in your area, you could always consider starting your own. If groups are not for you or it’s difficult to get out and about, and you have access to the internet, try logging on to the discussion forums hosted by many parenting websites, or start your own blog on a social networking site. No one gets everything right all the time—aim to do your best, ask for help when you need it, and you will be good enough.
Q: I love my baby, but she’s taken over everything. When will I get my life back again?
A: A new baby impacts hugely on your life. You undergo changes on a physical, emotional, and practical level. After giving birth, your hormones are fluctuating as your body tries to recover, which can cause all sorts of emotional upheavals. At the same time, you and your partner are striving to find a balance between the joys of becoming new parents and the responsibilities of caring for your newborn. It is, therefore, not unusual to feel overwhelmed, anxious or even distressed at times. You might feel like you’re losing all sense of self as your priorities change and you spend every hour dealing with the demands of your newborn. Those on maternity leave may feel totally removed from their previous lifestyle as a career woman. A small number of women (and men) may slip into postpartum depression, in which case it is advisable to seek professional help. The first few months are the most taxing. You may not have the time, energy, or motivation to pursue the same activities that you did before becoming parents. This is a time when you should be able to count on the support of family, friends, and, of course, each other. As your baby grows and your relationship develops, you will gain confidence in your new role and begin to see the opportunities that parenthood opens up, such as making friends with other new parents. It will eventually feel perfectly natural to think of yourself as a parent, and this new identity will become a part of the person you were before childbirth, adding to your sense of self.
Q: My relatives keep interfering. How can we explain to them that we want to do it our way?
A: It’s only natural that family members want to help by offering the fruits of their experience. However, even when given with good intentions, advice can conflict with your own attitudes, or sound confusing and even overbearing. However, it is important to keep the family peace, and avoid the risk of upsetting relatives by brashly rejecting their pearls of wisdom. First, agree with your partner how you are going to approach the important issues, then present a united front and discuss your plans with family. If you want advice, try saying, “What are your thoughts on…?” rather than, “What do you think we should do about…?” This approach will ease the pressure and lead to a discussion where you can open up a conversation about how parenting practices have changed. You could mention key differences in modern babycare, for example putting babies to sleep on their backs, when to wean, and the potential harm of leaving a baby to cry it out. It will reassure them that you are being thoughtful and responsible, and that you are not rejecting them, despite disagreeing with some of their ideas.

Finally, expect to make mistakes—being a parent is not about getting everything right the first time.

Q: I feel scared to take my baby out for the first time. Is this normal?
A: Leaving the safety and security of your home for the first time can be a daunting experience when you consider that you’ve been confined to the four walls of your house since your baby’s arrival. However, going out can really lift your mood, and will help structure your day by giving you something to focus on. Your baby will delight in the stimulation provided by new sights, sounds, and smells.

Keep your journeys simple at first; maybe start off with a short walk, increasing the distance as your confidence grows. Remember that as you travel further from home, you will need to take more equipment with you, so plan in advance to ensure you have everything you need.

Q: Why haven’t we had sex since our baby was born?
A: Lots of couples find that it can take time for them to resume their sex life after the birth of their child. This does not mean that the relationship is breaking down, just that both parties are under considerable pressure and having to adjust to life with the new addition. After carrying a child and then giving birth, women often feel self-conscious about their changed bodies and not particularly sexy. They might be feeling overweight and unattractive, so their partners will need to be complimentary and help to rebuild their confidence. There also may be pain and soreness due to stitches. Women who are breastfeeding may not want their partner to touch their breasts, especially if their nipples are sensitive or because they may leak. Sleep deprivation is common, which doesn’t help. Some couples are uncomfortable with the idea of having sex in the same room as their baby (in which case the obvious solution is to have sex elsewhere). There is also evidence to suggest that fatherhood decreases testosterone levels and raises prolactin levels to help with the bonding process, so a new father may experience a fall in libido due to hormones. The issues could be myriad, but whatever they are, it is important that you talk to each other about your concerns, how you feel and what you want from each other. If one of you, or neither of you are ready for sex yet, make time to be intimate in different ways: Enjoy time alone, find a few quiet moments to talk and be affectionate with each other by holding hands, kissing, or cuddling on the sofa. You can have sex whenever you feel ready, but some women prefer to wait until the postpartum checkup at around six weeks to make sure everything has healed.
Q: Can men get postpartum depression, too?
A: Taking on the responsibilities of caring for a baby, changes in your relationship with your partner, dealing with the added financial pressures, and going out to work each day feeling exhausted from a lack of sleep are all bound to take their toll on you physically and emotionally, so it’s perfectly reasonable to be feeling at a low ebb during this time.

If you find yourself increasingly tired, upset, hostile, and unable to cope, it is possible that you may be experiencing depression. Opinion is divided as to whether or not this should be called postpartum depression, but research indicates that between five and 10 percent of dads feel this way. If you are a first-time father, are not getting along with your partner, or are unemployed, you are more likely to get depression. If your partner is suffering from depression, it also increases the chances since human beings tend to synchronize their emotions. Depression left untreated can have a harmful impact on your relationship with your partner, your career, and your bond with your child. Don’t ignore your feelings or hide them from your partner. Talk about them and, if the problem persists, seek professional help. Make an appointment with your doctor or an accredited counselor, and address the issue head on.

Q: Since the baby’s arrival there seems to be no time for our relationship. What can we do?
A: In the first few months, it is fairly typical for new parents to find that caring for their new baby leaves little time for anything else, and the relationship can become neglected. However, as routines become established and you both become more confident and skilled in your parenting roles, it should be possible to reclaim a little time for yourselves. It is important to keep your relationship on a strong footing, not only for your own well-being but also because your child will pick up any tensions between you. Remember that you are partners as well as parents, so make time to talk each other daily and try to get out on your own as a couple—go to the movies, for a walk, or out for a meal. Staying indoors is certainly easier, but there’s always something to do around the house, the baby is nearby, and it is difficult to switch off. What’s more, family and friends will appreciate the opportunity to help out by babysitting, so take full advantage—go out and try to rekindle the things that brought you together in the first place.
Q: I’ve heard about postpartum psychosis. Am I likely to get it?
A: Only a very small number of women, about one to three in 1,000, may develop this condition. It occurs within about a week of childbirth. As well as being severely depressed, symptoms may include delusions (believing everyone is conspiring against them or thinking that they or others are possessed), hallucinations (seeing and hearing things that are not there), and being unable to think clearly. In some cases the mother may reject her baby. Up to 65 percent of women who suffer from postpartum psychosis have a family history of severe depression. This condition is usually treated with antidepressants or antipsychotics. With medication and counseling, for example cognitive behavioral therapy, the psychosis can usually be treated in a few weeks. For some women psychosis can recur after another pregnancy. However, 70 percent of women will be fine the next time around.
Q: I am constantly worried that my baby is not developing as she should. Am I being overanxious?
A: Almost every parent asks themselves “Is my baby okay, is she developing normally?” This is a hard question to answer, since there are wide variations as to when individual babies achieve each milestone. In some cases, missing a stage is not of concern, for example, some babies shuffle on their bottoms, rather than crawl, with no ill effects. A means to avoid anxiety is to check your child’s age and stage in child development books. It is natural to compare her to other children of her age, but if you do so, remember that normal development covers a wide spectrum, and there is much natural variation. If you have checked her milestones and do believe that there is something to worry about, talk it over with others to see if they have the same concern. If they’ve noticed delays, too, then make an appointment with a qualified health professional right away to check this out. Fear of being labeled overanxious might hold you back from raising these important questions. However, it is part of your job as a parent to be cautious about your baby’s health and development, and to speak up for her so she gets all the help she needs. The sooner you obtain assistance the better; intervening early is known to get the best results. Whether your concern is confirmed or not, it will always be helpful to stimulate your child’s development. Give her playtime in different positions; on her tummy, in your arms, and on her back. Present her with interesting, noisy toys to listen to and reach out for to promote coordination and body control. Encourage speech by chatting and storytelling.

When you notice and respond to her babbles, smiles, and first words, you’re helping her learn the two-way nature of communication, while at the same time strengthening her bond with you.

Making new friends Avoiding isolation

When my husband went back to work after our little girl was born, I was really happy to be staying at home. However, I began to feel more and more isolated and cut off from the world, and things really started getting me down. I knew there was a woman nearby who had also had a baby around the same time as me, and I really wanted someone to talk to during the day but just could not pluck up the courage to say “Hello!” One day I decided to go for it and stopped to speak as our paths crossed in the street. Now we meet up regularly for coffee, a chat, or a walk in the park. It’s amazing what a difference it’s made to how I feel, and my daughter seems happier too.

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