Becoming a new parent can be an exciting experience, but it can also be a challenging one. In the early days of parenthood, managing all of your new responsibilities alongside your existing ones can be difficult. You might feel overwhelmed or uncertain about what your baby wants or needs.
If you are finding it hard to cope, or to get everything done, try not to be too hard on yourself or to compare your family to others. There is no such thing as the perfect parent. You can only do your best.
Advice for new parents
Here’s some advice for managing as a parent of a new baby. Remember that it’s okay, and encouraged, to ask for help.
Find your own path
Nobody is born with the knowledge and skills to be a good parent, but everyone can learn to become one. This learning journey begins during pregnancy and will continue for as long as you are a parent. It comes through your own experiences. While there are many parenting books out there, the tips that they offer are no match for this. Your family is completely unique and only you can write your rulebook.
Of course, it can be helpful to consult resources, books, podcasts, family and friends for parenting advice. However, before applying anything you are told to your own life, check in with yourself to see whether it aligns with your family’s needs and values. Trust yourself first. Additionally, if a partner, a friend or a family member will be caring for your baby also, it is important to discuss everyone’s needs and roles as early as possible. Open and honest conversations can create a shared understanding of what is expected from everyone who cares for the baby.
Take care of yourself
When a new baby arrives, it is easy to put their needs first and forget about your own. As a new parent, you likely want what is best for your baby and will do everything in your power to give them a good life. However, it is important to remember to care for yourself too. After all, if you want to offer love and care to your baby, you need to have the energy to do so.
Self-care as a new parent is often about focusing on the basics like sleeping and eating. Of course, restful sleep and regular meals may even sound like luxuries at the moment, but they are crucial to your own wellbeing and, as a result, the wellbeing of your baby. Make things easier for yourself by stocking up on nourishing and easy to prepare foods including fruit, nuts, sandwiches, soups and eggs. Your local supermarket and cafes might stock some nutritious pre-made meals that you can just pop in the oven when you need them.
Getting enough sleep
Caring for a new baby takes a lot of energy. It is important to rest and recharge by getting adequate sleep. If you aren’t getting enough sleep at night, try to nap during the day when your baby is napping. If you are sharing the parenting responsibilities with someone, perhaps you can agree to take turns with the night time duties, allowing one person to care for the baby while the other sleeps. You can also seek help from friends, other family members and any other supportive people in your life. If you are breastfeeding, consider expressing some of your milk so that someone else can give the baby a night feed while you get some sleep. Find out more about getting sleep as a new parent.
Having a new baby affects every aspect of your life, including your relationships. When much of your life is taken up with caring for a child, you might not be spending as much time with friends and family members as you once did. It’s completely normal for your priorities to shift when you become a parent, and that might mean turning down social invitations and events. However, connection with others is important for your own wellbeing, so it’s a good idea to try to see and speak with loved ones as often as you can.
When it comes to maintaining a social life as a parent, organisation is key. Try to plan to meet a friend in a place that is convenient and comfortable for you, such as a nearby park or a cafe. This is particularly important if you are bringing your child with you.
Your friends and family may be excited to see you and your child, but it is important to put your own needs and the needs of your child first. Sometimes you might not have the time or energy to meet people, and that’s ok. If you plan a call or meeting and don’t feel up to it, be honest with the other person and ask to reschedule. Supportive loved ones will understand.
During the early days of parenthood, it is likely that you won’t want to let your baby out of your sight. This is a completely normal response to being a new parent. However, allowing other people to care for them from time to time is good for both you and your child. If somebody that you trust offers to look after your baby for a while, say yes. We all need a break sometimes. Some time away from your baby can help you relax and give you more energy and patience to look after them when you return.
Remember, it is also ok to ask for help whenever you need it. Parenting is challenging and every parent needs support, no matter their age or circumstances.
Worrying about your baby’s health
When you cannot communicate with your child, it can be difficult to know when you should call the doctor if you think they are unwell. Babies don’t speak our language and so learning to understand their needs and interpret their signals takes time.
The things that new parents worry about are often temporary and completely normal baby behaviours. However, if your child is experiencing any of the following, it is a good idea to contact your doctor immediately:
- a fever
- loss of appetite
- behavioural changes
- breathing difficulties
- digestive problems
- low urine output
- uncontrollable crying
If your baby is dropped or experiences any other kind of accident, it is important to seek medical attention, even if they appear unharmed. Your doctor can give your baby a quick check-up to ensure that they are ok.
Remember, if you have any doubts or concerns about your baby’s health, contact your doctor. It is better to be safe than sorry.
Feeling sad or depressed after having a baby
Feeling down after the birth of your baby doesn’t mean that you don’t love your child. In fact, it is completely normal. This is particularly true if you recently went through pregnancy and childbirth as these experiences are exhausting for your body and it might take some time to recover physically, mentally and emotionally. However, it is possible for any parent to feel down at any time after the arrival of a new baby.
If you are feeling sad or depressed, remember that it is ok to ask for help. Speaking with loved ones and the people in your life about your feelings can be very beneficial. They may be able to offer you some extra support with caring for your child, allowing you to get the rest that you need. If you are still experiencing a low mood, feeling unable to cope or having difficulty sleeping after a few weeks, it could be time to visit your doctor. You may be experiencing postnatal depression and need some professional treatment. Remember, this is a very common condition and support is available.
Managing the cost of having a baby
Having a child can be very expensive. There’s clothes, toiletries, bedding, and that is before you even think about childcare and education. Luckily, there are some social welfare supports that can help parents to pay for their child’s needs. These can help you to cover the daily costs of caring for your child, along with specific requirements such as childcare. As a parent, it is likely that you are eligible for some of these supports. Find out more about social welfare supports for parents.
If a child in Ireland has two parents, both parents are legally required to provide financially for their children, regardless of their relationship with one another. If you and your child’s other parent are separated and you have custody of your child, you are entitled to receive child maintenance from the other parent. This money is intended to help to cover the costs of caring for your child.
If you are worried about money, you can also contact your local Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) who offer a free and confidential budgeting service.
Working or studying as a new parent
Having a child certainly changes your life and affects where you put your time and energy. However, while becoming a parent may lead you to change plans, it doesn’t mean that you have to give up on them.
If you were in school, college or work when you had your child, you might decide to combine this with your responsibilities as a parent. If you do make this choice, it is important to know that you are not alone. There are people who can offer you support to ensure that you can remain in education or work while looking after your child. You might find your college, school or employer really wants to support you to complete your education, so talk to them about what they can do to create some flexibility for you.
Try not to feel under pressure to do anything if it doesn’t feel right for you and your baby. You can always go back to education or work when your baby is older and you feel ready. Remember, postponing your formal education or career doesn’t mean you are giving up on it. It simply means you are choosing to take a different route to get there. Taking the time out to bond with your baby and find your way as a parent is important, and can enrich your educational and work experiences later on.
When the time is right, there are many supports for young parents going back to education. If you are returning to work, you might also be eligible for social welfare supports such as the Back to Work Family Dividend, as well as childcare supports.
Getting support as a new parent
You may experience loneliness as a new parent, particularly if none of your friends have children of their own. Perhaps you feel that you no longer have as much in common with your old friends, or think that they don’t understand you. While these relationships can still play an important role in your life, it can be good to connect with those we can relate to. Joining a support group or meet-up group for parents is one way of meeting like-minded people.
If you need some additional support, consider speaking to a counsellor. Counselling can help you to gain a better understanding of your feelings and find new ways to cope with life’s challenges.
There are also several free support services that specialise in supporting parents through different stages of the parenting journey:
- Parentline; [email protected]; 01 8733500/ 1890927277
- Treoir; [email protected]; 01 – 6700 120
- Post Natal Depression Ireland; [email protected]; 021 4922083
- One Family; [email protected]; 1890 662 212
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- Connect with a trained volunteer who will listen to you, and help you to move forward feeling better
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