The nursery is decorated, the tiny clothes are washed and folded, the hospital bag is packed – and you're eager to begin your new life with your newest family member!
While nothing can quite prepare you for those first weeks of parenthood, there are many practical ways to help ease the transition. After all, taking care of your baby will be a round-the-clock job, and the only way to learn is through observation, education and experience.
Between the feedings and diaper changes, the sleepless nights and unexplained crying spells (Yours or your baby's!), fatigue and stress can quickly take a toll. So before you're officially a parent, take some time to "baby proof" your life.
Take time for yourself and your spouse. The demands of parenthood make it all too easy to focus exclusively on the baby while putting your needs as a couple aside. So you'll feel like you're swimming rather than sinking, make a concerted effort to support one another like a team.
One spouse, for example, could give the other spouse fifteen minutes a day of alone time to decompress, to get some fresh air and to spend a few quiet moments for resting mind and body. As a couple, pray together and talk about the day—after the little one is sleeping soundly. And, as difficult as it is, make it a priority to find a babysitter you can trust. Go on a date as often as you can—even if it is for a cup of coffee. A little time away from the crying and spitting up can help put a harried life back into perspective.
Modify your expectations. After bringing the new bundle of joy home from the hospital, many parents anticipate a peaceful, intimate transition. Yet caring for an infant can be exhausting, emotionally demanding and boring – not to mention incredibly stressful. Lighten up when it comes to housework, phone calls, thank-you notes and errands; your regular routine can wait.
The birth of a baby is, without a doubt, miraculous. Still, this major life change can rattle relationships, emotions and finances. How will you safeguard your marriage against the inevitable distractions, frustrations and busyness? How can you minimize the financial hit while meeting your child's needs? How do you listen to copious amounts of advice without becoming overwhelmed?
Take heart: We're here to offer wisdom and encouragement that'll help you survive and thrive during those early days of parenthood.
Jay and Nancy Gueldner couldn't have been happier when they discovered their first baby was on the way. Both in their 30s, with solid careers and a happy marriage, the Gueldners were confident they could handle their new roles as parents.
"We knew an infant was an enormous responsibility, and we knew it would be a huge life change," Nancy says. "But we had no idea that one little baby could be so all-consuming."
When Robby arrived, it didn't take long for the Gueldners to notice the effect on their marriage.
"I'm sure we neglected each other," Nancy remembers. "We used to have all the time in the world to spend together and nurture our relationship, and then suddenly, the baby was the first priority."
It's no secret that most moms and dads are blindsided by the magnitude of this transition. Indeed, even the most unflappable person can become unhinged following the baby's birth. But what many couples fail to realize is that stress, sleep depravation and emotional exhaustion can seriously damage a marriage.
Studies show that more than half of all married couples experience a decline in marital satisfaction following the birth of a baby. 1Furthermore, most couples report having eight times more conflict in their marriages after the baby joins the family. 2Trouble is, finding time to cultivate your relationship with your spouse – without your little one wailing in the background – isn't always easy.
"So many people told us to leave our son with someone so we could connect as a couple," Nancy says. "But we didn't have family nearby at the time, and we didn't feel comfortable hiring a babysitter we hardly knew."
If a weekend getaway or even a romantic dinner for two isn't realistic, there are other do-able ways keep your marriage on solid footing.
Communicate positively with one another. In spite of the emotional ups and downs common to new parents, make a habit of supporting and encouraging your spouse.
"Jay and I really tried to be kind to each other even when we didn't feel like it," says Nancy.
Scorekeeping, nitpicking and those niggling feelings of jealousy may be normal, but tearing one another down won't go unnoticed. Sharing emotions and coming up with appropriate solutions is a key component to a healthy marriage – now and in years to come.
Make it a priority to spend time together. Whether it's enjoying an evening walk, ordering carry-out after the baby has gone to bed or grabbing a few minutes to talk over breakfast, try to find ways to engage in conversation that work for both of you. It's easy to get hyperfocused on your baby's day-to-day care. Still, having fun together as a couple will create a loving foundation for the whole family.
Maintain an overall sense of team. On top of issues like who will earn what portion of the income and who will do the laundry when, ease the parenting transition by detailing role responsibilities. Nagging one another about who should load the dishwasher – all while the baby is screaming to be fed—will only result in increased irritability. Rather, compromise with one another, maintain flexibility and work through expectations. If each person helps out, then you can avoid resentment and establish a united front early on.
Understand that intimacy changes. It's common for a new mom to experience sadness and frustration at the ways pregnancy, childbirth and nursing have changed her body. Fatigue and sleeplessness further complicate the physical aspect of many marriages. With less time and energy for sexual closeness, it's crucial for husbands and wives to discuss new approaches to intimacy. As unromantic as it may sound, sex can be thoughtfully planned into your schedule. And don't despair: you can rediscover that pre-baby passion.
Remember: Parenting your infant won't last forever. Surely most moms and dads with little ones have heard the well-intentioned advice, "They'll be grown and out of the house before you know it!"
While this may be true, it may not feel like it during those first few years. Nevertheless, you and your spouse will be with one another long after the kids are grown. So in the midst of 2 a.m. feedings and emergency visits to the pediatrician, keep in mind that this is only one stage in your long life together.
Expectant parents often spend months preparing for the arrival of their baby. There are parenting classes to attend, parenting books to read and plenty of steps to baby-proof the house. Then, as soon as the baby is born, there's a whirlwind of activity and unexpected change.
Many new parents underestimate the intense helplessness and stress that accompany this life stage. What's more, according to the American Psychiatric Association, some 85 percent of new mothers display symptoms of mood disturbance, ranging from the blues to postpartum depression. The good news is, most new moms and dads receive support from family and friends that's sure to help ease the transition. With that assistance often comes a deluge of parenting advice. Take a look at these suggestions designed to help your household run more smoothly during those irreplaceable days, months and years.
As an expectant parent, one thing is certain: Relatives, acquaintances and even strangers will assail you with endless stories and advice about child rearing. Trouble is, it's a challenge to know what to believe since no two pregnancies, births or babies are alike. Still, it's all too easy for new parents to fall victim to parenting myths or misconceptions somewhere along the line.
Fortunately, children and parents learn together, and your parenting can change and develop as your child changes and develops. Consider these common parenting myths that'll help put you and your spouse at ease during those early days with baby.
Myth #1: Parenting comes naturally. Your baby arrives home so helpless and dependent—and suddenly, you're not sure if you're up for the job. Then reality sets in. The baby cries when you want him to sleep, and sleeps when you want to show him off. In the meantime, you're exhausted, irritable with your spouse and wondering what it'll take to make your baby happy.
Be encouraged! Adjusting to this whole new way of life can be a challenge for everyone. Keep your expectations in check and remember that your relationship with your baby will deepen. It just takes time and a whole lot of patience.
Myth #2: Your newborn shouldn't cry much after settling in at home. The average newborn cries more than any parent anticipates. Try the old standbys of feeding, diaper changing and swaddling. If your baby continues to fuss, remember that this is not an indication that you're a poor parent!
Even though most infants sleep between 15 and 17 hours a day, it usually happens in fits and starts. The majority of babies sleep for 15-minute to 2-hour stretches before waking up for a feeding. So when you're not accomplishing much on the home front, and you're more drained than you've ever been, remember—this is normal!
Myth #3: Babies should sleep through the night when they're two to three months old. When asked if their infant sleeps through the night, most bleary-eyed parents have the same effusive response: "No!" Babies differ dramatically in terms of when they can sleep all night, and some find this easier than others. Most little ones cry out for comfort or companionship, and don't yet have the ability to fall back asleep on their own.
In the meantime, follow the age-old advice of napping when your baby naps. Resist the urge to use this precious time to catch up on chores. The whole family benefits when Mom and Dad are well rested. While there are differing opinions on how to deal with sleep issues as children grow, one thing is certain: Sleepless nights are a rite of passage most parents experience.
Myth #4: Like it or not, you'll end up parenting like your parents. Simply put, all parents fail. As an adult, we can easily recall a time when our parents let us down, uttered an unkind word or reacted inappropriately. And now that a baby is on the way, along comes the realization that most parenting techniques trickle down from our own moms and dads.
Here's where the work begins, because it does take a conscious effort to break negative childrearing patterns. Are you aware of areas you'd like to be different from your parents? Have you forgiven your parents for ways they fell short while raising you? Do you know any adult mentors you could recruit to be a role model?
As a parent, there will be times when you're not sure what you're doing. But time, practice and experience will help you become the mom or dad you want to be.
Myth #5: Children should come first. Once children enter the picture, spouses are often sidelined. Marriages can take a serious hit when feelings of sadness, anger and jealousy are at the forefront. However, studies show that happy marriages result in happy kids.
Moms and Dads: Invest in each other and don't allow your marriage to flounder. Take the advice of Dr. James Dobson:
"To keep a marriage vibrant and healthy, you simply have to give it some attention. Water the plant, place it in the sunlight, and it will grow. If you put it in a cold dark corner, however, it is likely to die. With a little effort and creativity, you can keep the fireworks in your marriage."1
"To keep a marriage vibrant and healthy, you simply have to give it some attention. Water the plant, place it in the sunlight, and it will grow. If you put it in a cold dark corner, however, it is likely to die. With a little effort and creativity, you can keep the fireworks in your marriage."
Parenthood definitely changes a marriage—but those changes can be for the better.
If there's one topic that raises blood pressures of new and soon-to-be parents alike, it's the financial expense of raising a child.
Maybe you've stumbled across an article detailing the daunting costs of child rearing, from birth through college. Maybe you're concerned about making things work on a modest income. Maybe you're anxious about your lack of financial savvy—particularly when it comes to long-term planning.
There's no doubt about it, money is a huge stressor for most new parents. As Jacey Rury, mother of three points out, "There's probably never a 'perfect time' financially to have a baby. If we would've waited until we paid off this amount or saved that amount, we may never have had kids!"
Certainly there are some unavoidable expenses, but having a baby doesn't have to turn your budget upside down—as long as you resist the urge to buy that chic diaper bag or those teeny-tiny name brand shoes. Just remember: it is doable to provide for your little one without breaking the bank. Here are some money-saving suggestions to keep in mind.
Choose baby clothes wisely. "Unless an infant is premature, I wouldn't recommend buying clothing sized for a newborn," says Jan, mother of four. "Babies grow so quickly that those clothes may only get a couple of wears out of them. A baby can start out wearing outfits sized for a 3- to 6-month old."
Also, avoid the temptation to overdo it on those adorable but very pricey designer duds. Instead, visit yard sales and secondhand stores. It’s a sure bet to score high quality items at affordable prices.
Evaluate what you and your baby really need. From elaborate bedding to a variety of strollers to expensive "must have" toys, it's all too easy to shell out thousands of dollars before the baby is even born.
Christine Johnson, mother of two, offers this reminder: "The cute swings and beautiful nurseries and other "stuff" you can buy is not what makes your baby coo and smile."
Practically speaking, all you really need during those early days is a safe place for your little one to eat, sleep and soil lots and lots of diapers.
Don't hesitate to register for gifts. For some, the jury is still out on whether registering for baby gifts is tacky rather than sensible. But let's face it, people are going to buy presents either way—so why not offer a little guidance on the items you need most?
Creating a registry will save you time and money, since it'll cut down on shopping time, and you won't have to visit stores to return unwanted gifts. Plus, this way you won't end up with a closet full of onesies when you were already stocked with a perfectly good supply.
Mom, take care when updating your wardrobe. Of course it's necessary to purchase clothing that'll accommodate your expanding, well, everything.
The challenge is building a temporary wardrobe of items that are well-made, fashionable and inexpensive. Fortunately, many mass-market retailers have caught on to the growing numbers of women who are showing off their pregnant curves. Also, don't be afraid to journey into your husband's closet (his sweatshirts and t-shirts may fit perfectly) and to spread the word to friends and neighbors that you're on the lookout for maternity wear.
Anticipate the cost of delivery. With escalating hospital fees, a range of insurance coverage and a whole host of childbirth methods, expected and unexpected expenses can quickly pile up.
Depending on where you live, the cost of having a baby currently ranges from $6,000 to $8,000 for a vaginal birth, to $10,000 to $14,000 for a caesarean birth. Insurance could cover a lot or very little of the cost. You can save by passing up a private room if there's an extra charge, and checking out free services that the hospital offers, such as complimentary breastfeeding consultations.
Plus, don't forget to ask hospital staff for free product samples, and ask permission to take home any in-room baby-care items. Why let these useful supplies go to waste?
Think long term. If you haven't already assessed your insurance needs and taken steps to write a will, now's the time. Evaluate your life, disability and health insurance coverage. Is everything updated to include all family members? Do you know all your healthcare options?
And you may not like thinking about this, but it's important to have a plan for your children if something should ever happen to you. No matter how large or small your estate, a legal will is essential to designate guardians.
In regards to tackling future expenses (college included), your best budgeting bet is to take stock now and start small. Financially speaking, the baby years may be lean. But staying on top of your finances will pay off in the end.