Planning for Co-Parenting

This week, you can
• Consider the practical implications of certain child-rearing decisions
• Come up with a plan for sharing parenting with your partner in those early weeks

T HERE ARE A LOT of parenting books on the market. And most of them have definite opinions about things like where your baby should sleep, what he should eat, and whether he should have a pacifier or not. I will try not to add to the burden of “shoulds” or “should nots.” Instead, I’d like you to consider the practical implications of different choices and make sure you and your co-parent are on the same page for rolling out a parenting plan after the baby’s born.

No matter how you’ll divide up the parenting burden later, keep in mind that the early weeks of caring for your baby will be exhausting and confusing. You’ll be recovering from labor and delivery. You’ll be short on sleep. You’ll need to take it easy! Even if you’re going to be a stay-at-home mom and therefore caring for the baby during the day is “your job,” your partner will need to share the load . . . especially in those first few weeks. Plan for it now so nobody gets an unpleasant surprise later.
Who will make medical decisions for the baby in the hospital? If there are any emergencies or if your baby needs special care, will you make decisions together? What if Mom is getting stitches in the recovery room or Dad is down at the snack machine when a decision needs to be made? Talk about the possibility that you will be faced with unexpected surprises and decisions during your hospital stay, and come up with a plan for communicating and handling decision-making together.

Not all decisions will be high-stakes emergencies, but they still warrant discussion beforehand. For example, babies routinely receive Hepatitis B vaccinations while in the hospital. Some parents prefer to wait until the baby is a little older or in a risk group for this disease before giving the shot. Circumcision is another issue that often throws parents off guard when it comes up. Their precious baby boy is only a few hours old and they haven’t really discussed the topic—and suddenly there’s the nurse, ready to take him away for the procedure if only the parents will sign on the dotted line. Talk about this ahead of time! Circumcision is surgery and cannot be taken back. It’s not an emergency and your baby does not have to have it done before he leaves the hospital. If one of you has questions or doubts, you can always have it done later on an outpatient basis.
What will be each parent’s role during the postpartum hospital stay? Ideally, Dad will be doing most of the baby care that requires fetching, carrying, and walking, while Mom stays put and recovers. Fortunately most newborns sleep through most of the first couple of days of life (and sometimes beyond). Pacing the floor with a fussy baby is likely days or weeks away. Still, there are considerations to be made. Will Dad accompany the baby for any medical procedures or tests? What if Dad needs to go home to check in on pets or care for other children? There will be nurses on duty to care for Mom and help with the baby, but they will likely be busy and might not be able to immediately respond if Mom needs help getting to the bathroom or would like somebody to hand her the baby for a feeding. If your partner or spouse can’t be with you during your postpartum hospital stay (or if you aren’t in a relationship), is there another person who can step in?


Whether your baby’s father is completely out of the picture or plans to be very involved in his child’s life, the issues I’m posing this week will look very different for you than they will for a married or partnered mom. Remember that your first obligation is to take care of yourself and your new baby. Any legal arguments regarding your baby’s care or custody can wait until you’ve been home for a while and have had a chance to re-cover. Despite what the hospital staff may tell you, even birth certificates and paternity paperwork can be put off for days or weeks. If your baby’s father is AWOL, or if you have made a conscious decision to be a single parent, ask a close friend to be your stand-in “dad” for the first few weeks so that you can navigate this new world of parenting without being alone in it. If your baby’s father wants to be very involved with her care and the two of you have a cordial and friendly relationship, by all means, discuss all these issues ahead of time to come up with a plan the two of you can agree on. On the other hand, if your relationship is contentious or if you feel anxious or stressed out around him, you are within your rights to hold him at bay until you’re feeling more settled in with your baby. If need be, get a friend or family member to act as go-between, giving him vital information and facilitating visits. If you are uncomfortable with any decisions he’s asking you to commit to at this point, stand your ground. That is what the court system is for.
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