10 Survival Strategies for Parents of Newborns --
by Catie McDowell, LMFT and Ellen Rossier, LCSW of The Mom’s Connection

  1. Rest.  In other times and in other cultures, the extended family or women of the village rallied around new parents and their baby and cared for them, their home, and other children. Today, there is little support for the idea of women taking a “time of seclusion”. Instead, new parents feel pressure to get back to life as usual. The gift of maternity/paternity leave is that you are given permission to let go of other responsibilities and limit your focus to yourself and your family. So, slow down. Give yourself this time.
  2. Let yourself be taken care of. People love to feel helpful, so when friends and family offer to help, say YES. This can be a challenge if you’re used to being self-sufficient, but this is not the time for stoicism! Make a list of tasks that people could do for you, such as cooking dinners or meals to have in the freezer and pull out later, taking an older child on a play date, or making a grocery run. There are no medals handed out for over-doing. In fact, women who overdo in the early weeks may recover more slowly or develop complications like mastitis.
  3. If you can afford to hire help, do it! There are lots of people in town who offer postpartum doula care. Their services include: mom and baby care, cooking and light housework. This can be especially helpful for parents of multiples.
  4. Let the machine pick up. You don’t need to answer the phone call of every well wisher or oblige every would-be visitor. Sometimes a simple message on your answering machine giving callers the vitals on your baby and a report on how you’re doing can satisfy the curiosity of well-intentioned friends and family. About visits—everyone is understandably eager to meet your new arrival. But, visits can be surprisingly exhausting for new parents and babies. Some people find it helpful to post a sign on their door welcoming visitors by reminding them to keep their stay brief. Most folks find that one short visit (20-30 minutes) a day is plenty. Partners can help to politely excuse lingering visitors by saying something like, “You look tired, honey, you must be due for a nap.”
  5. Be gentle with yourself and your partner. The optimal ratio for adults to newborn is at least 3:1! It’s hard to believe that a tiny baby can create so much work. But, they do. Exhaustion and overwhelm can open the door for misunderstandings or misperceptions. It’s easy to slip into feeling that your partner is not carrying his/her weight of the new and ongoing household tasks. These thoughts can develop into resentment, which can lead to feelings of distance and disconnection. Say to yourselves, “There is more work to do right now than any two people could do. We are both doing all we possibly can, and some tasks are still left undone.” That’s just the reality. Remember to thank each other for all the things you are doing. Gratitude and resentment do not co-exist easily.
  6. Talk with each other about your feelings.  No matter how long people have been having babies, it’s still a big deal when you’re the one who is uttering those words, “My daughter” or “My son” for the first time. It’s important for breastfeeding moms to tell their partners how overwhelming it can be to be the sole food source for a little being. Dads or working partners need to explain how heavy the weight of providing for a growing family can be. You both need to be able to share your fears, worries and dreams. When you’re under stress, the old habit of thinking your partner should just know how you feel, can rear its head. You can’t read each other’s mind. So talk, and listen.
  7. Get outside with your baby. There is something about the warm sunlight, or cool breeze, or crispness of a moonlit night that calms babies, and their parents.   If you’re feeling housebound, or if your little one has a fussy time of day (or several times) when nothing seems to quell her crying, head outside. Even if she keeps fussing, you will find yourself breathing more deeply, feeling a sense of space and maybe a moment of tranquility.
  8. Discuss your nighttime strategy during the day. Emotionally and physically exhausted people do not make their best decisions at 2 in the morning. And, they are generally not their most rational, generous and kind selves. In other words, you can have some real blow-up fights in the middle of the night as you try to figure out how to respond to a crying baby. So, talk about it ahead of time. Decide who is doing what when before you fall asleep. Nights will still be hard, but perhaps not as volatile.
  9. Join a group for new parents. Being with an infant hour after hour, no matter how much you love him, can be isolating. And, even the most confident parent can find it daunting to venture out into the world in the early weeks. A group for new moms or dads provides an opportunity to get out and connect with other parents in a place that’s safe and infant-friendly. Sharing ideas and swapping strategies with other sleep-deprived adults can be very comforting!
  10. Embrace those moments of pure happiness. Having a newborn is really hard work. So, when you have a moment of peace, or joy, or amazement about this new little being in your life, revel in it!

Catie McDowell

Licensed Marriage &
Family Therapist


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