Adding a new family member can be hard. Here’s some help to make a smooth transition.
A new baby in the house brings a lot of joy… and some challenges. For first time parents the experience is life-changing. Feelings of love for your baby are often combined with feelings of exhaustion, stress and uncertainty.
Mothers and fathers may find themselves thinking, “Am I doing this right? What does my baby need? Are other people worried about the same things?” Or even, “I never thought having a baby would be like this!”
If this is your second child, your first child is having a life-changing experience. And his feelings of love may take second place to feeling uncertain and displaced: “Is there enough love to go around? Will I have to fight to get my needs met? I want that baby to go away!” He will need a lot of empathy, attention and reassurance: “You are really tired of waiting for me to finish feeding this baby. I like it when you sit close to me so we can read while I take care of him. Soon he’ll be big and we can take him where we want to go.”
Give yourself time to heal
Everyone in the family has a different perspective on the changes a new baby brings, and different needs and adjustments to be addressed – pretty much all at the same time! If you are the birthing parent, you’ve got some healing to do. Your body and your hormones are slowly getting back to normal, and it is important for you to take care of yourself.
Remember that you can’t take care of the baby, enjoy her and do your part in the family unless you do. Slow down, be patient with yourself and accept help.
Birth parents and their partners will be figuring out how to get everything done and regain balance with a new “set of demands” and, probably, less sleep – at least for a while. If friends and family have offered help, take them up on it. Let them know what is most useful. Some families are grateful for prepared food so they don’t have to cook or mess up the kitchen. Maybe you would rather have someone hang out and hold the baby while you get a few things done around the house – or vice versa!
Ask for help with your older kids
If this is not your first child, let people know that it would helpful for them to take your older child or children for playdates and outings. Plan opportunities for him to do things he really enjoys – trips to the park with a friend, dinner with grandparents, ice cream with the other parent. You will have plenty of time to be together when the new baby is old enough to be put down for a while and you are feeling stronger.
In the meantime, don’t be surprised if an older child, especially a toddler or preschooler, is ugly or aggressive toward the baby or parent. Set limits firmly and calmly but avoid being punitive. Instead, let them know you understand their feelings; hard and angry feelings are ok. Help them recover by offering comfort and distraction.
Your new baby has needs too! Research is very clear that infants need consistent nurturing from a warm and responsive caregiver to thrive in the first few months of life.
But love and instincts will only take you so far; parenting skills don’t just drop out of the sky. Parents need support, encouragement and information. By recognizing everyone’s needs the transition can go more smoothly and each family member can find their place in your new normal.
Jenni Watts Evans is a parent educator and assistant director at the Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital. For more information and to learn about the parenting groups and classes available, call 504.896.9591, visit theparentingcenter.net or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for a fun New Parent Infographic for more tips for your new baby.