Having a baby is much more than a physical experience. It is the beginning of a parenting role that will continue for a lifetime. A new little person has entered your life. Things will never be quite the same.
Adjusting to such a big change does not happen overnight. Parents may not be suddenly struck with instant love for their baby. Like any relationship, love for the new baby grows and blossoms with time.
Research has shown that families go through the following stages after the birth of a baby:
Taking-in Phase — For the first day or two after the birth, new mothers need extra food and rest. Cesarean mothers need even more rest. All new mothers also need "mothering" themselves so they can successfully mother their new babies. New fathers also may have difficulty adjusting to parenting. Partners can make a special effort to support each other during this big change in their lives.
Taking-hold Phase — During this phase, parents focus on learning to care for their new baby. Temporary mood swings and feelings of vulnerability on the part of the new mother are not uncommon. Each partner may feel neglected as they become more involved with the baby, overlooking their partner's needs or feelings.
Letting-go Phase — The couple will continue their relationship that they had before the birth of the baby. The older brothers and sisters get to know the baby at this time.
Of course, each family's adjustment to a new baby is different. This process is affected by many things such as the health of the mother and the baby, maturity of the parents, family support and how successfully parents combine their personal goals with their new responsibilities.
Common needs of parents after their baby's birth include:
- The need to realize your actual baby is different than your fantasy baby. Real babies have their own personalities. They cry, demand to be fed in the middle of the night and dirty their diapers. During pregnancy you may have imagined a baby with a different personality. You may have also focused on the fun parts of taking care of a baby rather than the difficult parts.
- The need to establish the newborn as a separate individual. During pregnancy, it may have been difficult for you and other family members to view the baby as a separate individual from the mother. Each human being is unique with a distinct personality. Establishment of this separate identity continues as the baby grows.
- New parents tend to have high expectations, which can lead to disappointment and feelings of failure and helplessness during the first few weeks. Taking care of a newborn is very tiring and challenging.
- The need to learn infant care skills. As you learn and get used to taking care of your baby, you will become more relaxed and feel better as a parent.
- The need to understand your baby's way of communicating. Since newborns have not yet learned to talk, parents must learn, understand and get used to their baby's cry, body language or infant cues. Behaviors such as opening the eyes wide, turning the head or looking away are ways babies communicate before they can talk.
- The need to establish a place for the newborn within the family. Suddenly there is a new member of the family. There are a lot of adjustments that need to be made by all family members towards the baby.
- The need to maintain adult relationships. It is important for the mother and/or partner to spend some time alone away from the baby with each other or with other adults. This is the most difficult for the person who cares for the baby most of the time.
- Spend some time with your partner as a couple, without the baby. Enjoy a dinner together or an evening out with friends. Take advantage of opportunities offered by friends to baby sit for a few hours.