women
Q: I was in foster care when I was little. I can't believe I'm part of a family now. How will I adapt?
A: The whole process of having a baby can bring up many emotions and cause us to re-evaluate our lives and upbringing. Most parents, whatever their backgrounds, want a good life and opportunities for their own children. Your childhood experiences have shaped you as a person and will obviously influence how you feel about having a child of your own and extending your own family. Be honest and explore your feelings and expectations with your partner, and maybe with your midwife and doctor, while you adapt to your new life. It is important to try and maintain a healthy perspective on family life and although you are bound to want to be a superb parent, don't be too hard on yourself or have unrealistic expectations. You could consider looking into parenting courses since these may help you increase your confidence and be comfortable with your new role, and contact with other parents can be mutually beneficial for you and your baby. Above all, try to enjoy your time with your baby rather than spending time worrying.
Q: I'm in my pajamas all day and haven't got on top of housework since the birth two weeks ago.
A: After the initial excitement of the birth and bringing your baby home, the reality and exhaustion can start to take their toll. By two weeks, many partners have returned to work, visitors are waning, and life with a baby can seem relentless. Indeed, you may find that the weeks and months after your baby is born are not the happy time you expected. It can help to create a focus for each day, such as visiting a friend, grocery shopping, or walking to the park, so that you have a goal to motivate you to get ready. Many mothers find that they have to get dressed as soon as they get up or it can be too difficult to find time to dress later in the day. You could make use of the time before your partner goes to work to have a moment to yourself to shower and get dressed.

If you are really finding it hard to motivate yourself and are feeling tired, confused, and unable to cope, you may be suffering from postpartum depression  and should talk to your midwife or doctor.

Q: I'm helping my wife with the baby at night but am feeling exhausted at work. What can I do?
A: This is not an uncommon scenario and you may benefit from discussing this with your employer and human resources department if possible. Before talking to your boss, think about what you want and find out about your options: do you want time off, greater flexibility, or just a bit of slack? Do your requests affect your job, or other employees or your performance? Remember that the exhaustion is unlikely to be a permanent problem, so perhaps negotiating options for a month at a time may suit your employer. If you worked for your employer before your wife's pregnancy, you may have some right to paid paternity leave if you haven't already taken this. Parental leave may be worth considering too. Within certain criteria, a parent has the right to take unpaid time off work to care for them, a spouse, or another family member. But consider too that most of these options will affect your salary and your wife may be on maternity leave or have stopped working.

Negotiating a “sleep-in morning” with your wife is another option, so that, for example, every Saturday you get a sleep-in and she gets one on a Sunday, no matter what sort of night you had. Also, on the weekends, there is no harm in having a nap when your baby does during the day.

Q: My mother-in-law lives close by and helps a lot, but offers a lot of “advice.” How do I deal with this?
A: This is not an unusual situation and never easy to deal with. It requires a calm, tactful discussion if at all possible, being careful not to damage your relationship. Everyday child care has developed and changed over the years. Although having a grandparent close by means that you may have a willing babysitter or emergency helper at hand, sometimes a grandparent's support can be seen as interference and their advice becomes unwanted. This can leave a grandparent feeling rejected and helpless, and parents feeling judged.

It's important to discuss your preferences and routines for your baby with your mother-in-law. This can sometimes be more difficult with in-laws than with your own parents, since you may feel more comfortable with your own parents' involvement and be more likely to feel that you can comment when you feel uncomfortable. Since your mother-in-law is local, perhaps she could attend mother and baby class with you or you could spend a day together so that she can observe your methods. Discuss how things were for her as a parent in a lighthearted way. Also try to explain the rationale for your care—such as reducing the risk of SIDS or crib death by putting a baby to sleep on his back or delaying weaning until a baby is six months old. You could also take a look for a book about being a grandparent and give this to her as a present from the baby. Some books contain practical advice, from recipes to play, plus tips on how not to tread on the daughter-in-law's toes.

Q: We used to be equals. Now I'm at home and have nothing to talk about except the baby.
A: Life as a parent can mean a life that is dictated by the demands of a small person. Adjusting to being a family is hard and you may have changed your role completely. Many couples find that they need to talk about the differences between their lives before and after parenthood, and to help each other understand that each has probably had to give up a lot of time that they used to take for granted. Good communication is the key to dividing household and child-care duties. Try to find one hour a week to talk. It may also help to find extra things to do with your day, such as joining mother and baby groups, or going to the library or community center.
Q: I'm not sure when would be the best time to return to work. How do I decide?
A: Deciding when is the right time to return to work after having a baby is often an extremely hard decision for women to make. This is very much an individual decision and there is no right or wrong time. It will depend on how you are feeling, your employment conditions, as well as financial implications and child-care arrangements. You could make a checklist of all the things you need to consider before deciding which date to return. The main issue is likely to be child care. Some mothers have a support network of grandparents or older relatives to care for the baby, while many couples need to arrange care with babysitters, nannies, or day care. Depending on how early you return to work, you may also need to think about how your baby will be fed when you are at work. Will he be fed bottled expressed milk or be given formula? Returning to work after having a baby can be tiring, particularly if your baby's sleep pattern is not established yet, so you may be going to work having had very little sleep. You may want to discuss your options with your employers. For example, you may be able to work reduced hours and gradually build up to your usual working hours, or consider working part-time initially.
Q: My mom says she will do all the child care for us. Does that work well for most families?
A: You are fortunate that your mother is able to offer support since many couples do not have this option. Every family is different and only you can decide if this is a good option. Some women may feel that their mother is taking over and giving unwanted advice. Others may feel this is just what they need, especially in the first few months. Your mom obviously wants to be involved in her grandchild's upbringing, and to give you all the support she can. However, looking after a small child is not easy for anyone, so it would be wise to clarify with her exactly what she is offering and to have a serious discussion with your mom to agree what you both want and expect. Here are a few things to consider:
  • Should I offer my mom a small payment or a gift of thanks?

  • How many hours a day will this be for?

  • Will it be every day?

  • Is my mom also offering to be a babysitter when I want to have an evening off and maybe spend quality time with my partner or friends, or even alone?

  • How will we handle disagreements about the way things should be done?

Q: Are day-care centers a bad thing for small babies? We can't afford a nanny.
A: Choosing the right type of child care for you and your baby is never an easy decision for families and is an area that you will need to spend a lot of time focusing on. It is very important that you are comfortable with whichever child-care arrangements you go with. There are pros and cons to all types of child care and you will need to weigh what suits you and your baby best. Some babies do very well in a day care environment and many parents feel that their baby benefits from socializing with other children. Most day cares have rooms specifically for babies and the appropriate staff and equipment to ensure they are well taken care of. All day cares have to be licensed by the state and registration includes a criminal background check on everyone involved in providing child care at the day care, and an inspection of the premises to check health and safety and educational welfare issues. However, research also suggests that babies do best in day cares once they are over a year old; before that time, they benefit from a more homelike environment.

If you choose to employ a private caregiver, make sure to get references and do your own background check. Nannies are the most expensive option, but your baby receives one-on-one care in his own home. Home day care tends to be less expensive than a day-care center or nanny. The care is likely to be in the provider's home and there is often more than one child in the home.

Q: Our toddler is so jealous of the baby. I'm scared to leave them alone for a second. What can we do?
A: It is not unusual for a toddler to be jealous of a new baby in the home, so your child is behaving in a way that is normal for many children. Children are often confused about how the baby arrived, why he makes the sounds that he does, and why so many people seem to want to look at the baby and hold him. It is a very strange time for your toddler, since you will be giving a lot of attention to the new baby. However, it is important to address your toddler's behavior, to try to understand why he is behaving this way and to make him understand that there are boundaries and that certain behavior is not acceptable. Try not to react with anger, but to be firm and kind. In the child's mind, he may be thinking that life without the new baby was better than it is now and he may want to send the baby back. If you see your child hurting the baby, even if it is not intentional, he should be stopped immediately and told why his actions are wrong. Try not to leave your child with the baby unsupervised until you feel that it is safe to do so.

Depending on your child's age, talk to him about the baby. Finding ways for him to “help” with the baby may encourage him to feel involved, but don't make him feel that he has to help. Some mothers give older siblings the job of choosing the baby's outfit each day, or at least the color. Explore what your child is willing to do to help with the baby. Make a conscious effort to notice when your child is being helpful and praise him for the good things he does. It's important too to try to find some quality time for both you and your partner to spend alone with your toddler—perhaps he could have a special outing with dad, or you could do a favorite activity together.

To help you gain perspective, talk to other moms and dads about their experiences, since one of the best sources of help for parents is other parents. You will not be the first to encounter this problem and may find talking to other mothers useful.

Q: My husband has older children from a previous marriage. I don't want them to feel left out.
A: Stepfamilies are very common now, with over 2.5 million children in the US being part of a stepfamily, either living with the stepfamily or visiting them. Children will obviously be affected by changes within a family, and no matter what age your stepchildren are or how often you see them, they will be affected by the arrival of a new baby. You and your partner will need to share responsibility for making the introduction go as smoothly as possible and any preparation and involvement before the birth will help them feel involved. This is a time to give them lots of extra hugs and attention and involve them every step of the way with the new baby to help them feel important and excited: a family get-together to discuss names for the baby is a good idea. Involving them once the baby arrives can also be beneficial, but be aware they may want to have some space too. Try to keep the communication channels open and consider that your husband may need to spend extra time with them.
Q: I'm 18 and my baby and I live with my mom and dad. How can I become more independent?
A: This is something you need to sit down and talk about calmly with your parents. It may help to organize your thoughts in a list since this can be an emotional subject. Think about your life with your baby, whether you want to continue studying or working, and how you might achieve this. There is financial support available for tuition and onsite day care for those who want to continue their education, or start training, and need help with the child-care costs. Research local and federal funding. Resuming training may also be viewed positively by your parents and will help improve the prospects for you and your baby's future. You could perhaps use this as a bargaining tool to see if you could negotiate an evening a week when your parents babysit and you have an independent social life—this may need to be a rigid arrangement or they may prefer more flexibility. Also, is the baby's father involved in your lives? If so, could he or his family spend more time with your child so you can have a couple of hours each week to pursue your own interests? Attending a mother and baby group or a parenting course can be a good way to meet other moms and develop your social life, and it's good for your baby to mix with other babies. Ask about local groups at a community center or school.
Q: Can social services take my baby away—I've got a drug habit and I feel terrible about it?
A: This is not a question I can give you a straightforward answer to, since policies vary across the country and individual circumstances must be assessed. In some states, a substance abuse habit, whether this is drug- or alcohol-related, does not mean an automatic referral to the child protection services whereas in other states, drug use is an automatic reason to refer patients immediately to the authorities. If this is the case, a detailed assessment of your situation would follow, since removing a baby from his home is not undertaken lightly and it is preferable to offer extra support and services to keep a family together wherever possible.

Having said that, the health and safety of your baby is vitally important. You must be as honest and open as you can with all the agencies involved in your care to demonstrate your responsibility for the welfare of your baby while you are pregnant, and participate in the planning of the delivery and care of your baby. Attending all your prenatal and postpartum appointments is important. Other factors to consider are which drugs you are using, whether you can reduce or stop their use or participate in a drug rehabilitation program, and how much help and support you have and may need for life with a baby. The physical and emotional effects of having a baby are enormous, but there are also social and financial implications to consider. A positive step would be to see your baby as a reason to alter and improve your life. Most states in the US prefer education, treatment, and rehabilitation to punishment, or the threat of removal of a child from the home, in the management of substance use in pregnancy. Many treatment centers advocate for the rights of the mothers who want to get “clean.” Your midwife and social worker can assist in finding appropriate community resources.

Q: Our place is much too small and I want to move right away.
A: Having a baby often makes you re-evaluate your current situation and babies will have an impact on available living space. You may be eager to move up the housing ladder and starting a family is of course an obvious time to do this. However, moving is an expensive and time-consuming commitment, so it would be advisable not to rush into this. Although your baby may need more room as he grows and you may be thinking of having more children, while he is young your baby doesn't actually need a great deal of room, so consider your options carefully before you rush into any decisions. It's also wise to allow yourself time to recover from the birth and to spend some stress-free time with your new baby before taking on a major project such as moving. If you live in public housing, there may be channels through which you can obtain a larger apartment. Factors that might weigh in such a decision include what floor you live on, if the elevators work on a regular basis, and if your apartment is accessible using a stroller. If you would like to move to a larger apartment, you should find out about all of your options before or early on in your pregnancy. This way you may be able to make a move before an advanced pregnancy makes it difficult or before you have your baby.
Q: We have a cat and a dog. Are they a danger to our baby?
A: Cats and dogs can become stressed and unhappy when a new baby arrives in the home, which can cause problems. Dogs that show unrest because of the new arrival often feel threatened. Attacks are rare and if they do occur it is usually because of mixed signals, hunter instincts, or a defensive reaction. Cats may withdraw into a quiet area or mark their territory, perhaps very close to the baby.

Ideally pets should be prepared while you are still pregnant, by training them to be in certain rooms only. Pets need a routine, so make an attempt not to alter their routines drastically. You will probably spend less time with your pets when your baby arrives, but try to have some quality time with them if that is what they are used to. Your pets may want to get close to the baby. This must be avoided, especially if there is not an adult in the room. Even if your cat and dog are known to be passive, their reaction to the baby could be unpredictable. Also do not let your pets lick your baby's face. A review of many studies on the subject of allergies published after 2002 concluded that childhood exposure to dogs and cats reduces the risk of allergic sensitization.

Your new roles Getting used to family changes

The arrival of a baby inevitably brings with it a period when you, your partner, and other siblings need to adapt to a new family structure and learn to feel comfortable in your changing roles.

  • Try to accept that this is a time of great change and there may be some problems along the way as you accept your new roles.

  • Don't be hard on yourself or your partner—being parents is a big responsibility and it's best to accept that it's a steep learning curve. Don't worry that you're not perfect. By loving and caring for your baby you will be doing the very best for him.

Time for siblings

It's important, with the anticipated arrival of a new baby, that you spend some time thinking about how to prepare your older children. It's common for siblings to display feelings of jealousy when a new baby arrives and you will need to deal with this. Talk to your other children before the birth about the new baby. Let them know how important they will be in the baby's life and how they will be involved. Once your baby arrives, it can be easy to become engrossed in caring for his needs, but it's important that you don't neglect to give older children attention too. Ensure that you have individual time with each child and that you continue their routines, so that they can see that all your time doesn't revolve around the new baby.

Family time:

Making sure you include older siblings and allowing them to develop their own special bond with the baby will help them to accept and love their new sibling and value their relationship.

Where to get advice Who to turn to for information and support

Having a baby is a life-changing event and you may find that you have to reconsider major parts of your life, such as where you live and how you structure your work or studies to fit around your baby. Whatever your situation, it's likely that at some point you will need advice and information to help you make decisions or access support.

  • Your midwife may often the first person to turn to for information and will be able to offer advice on a range of issues from child care to government funding.

  • Your local government may provide information on training and education, including services such as day-care facilities.

  • A community center may offer free advice and information on a range of issues including benefits and housing.

NOTE

Older children may worry that they will lose your love when a baby arrives. Reassure them that your love is constant

NOTE

Having a baby can change your life in many ways. Try not to make decisions too hastily and consider all your options carefully

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