Welcoming a baby into your life, no matter how well planned, will cause change. Whether it’s your first child or your fifth, you and those around you will have to adapt to its arrival and sometimes it can be tricky to balance everyone else’s needs and deal with your own feelings as well.
In the beginning
Looking forward to the arrival of a new baby can be exciting and eagerly anticipated. However, parents can often not realise how tiring it can be looking after a new baby and, if it’s your first child, how confusing it all can be. Learning to relate to this new little person, learning to do new things and learning to juggle the hundred and one things that new babies need - it takes time to adapt and change to this new life. If you already have children then managing the needs of older children as well as caring for the new child can take up all your energy.
Offers of help can be welcome and some should certainly be accepted. Do consider asking for and accepting help and support that is offered. People who will do a shop for you, get a meal ready or look after the baby for an hour while you have a bath or shower or just sit and read a book are invaluable. Think about what would help you most. Time to yourself and adult conversation are often the most important things to new parents. Your friends and family might be wanting to do something for you and just waiting for you to ask.
However, constant visitors and advice you don’t want are not so welcome. Don’t feel you have to entertain people – let them make their own tea and bring their own biscuits. And if it’s too tiring to see someone, don’t be afraid to ask them to arrange to come another time. ‘Always phone first’ is a good rule. Partners can be good gatekeepers by explaining that you’re just too tired. Grandparents can help keep people away too but they should remember that there are times when you won’t want to see them either!
You and your partner
In theory, having a baby should be a joyous time which brings you and your partner closer. In fact, it can put a real strain on the best of relationships. You can both be tired, feel that your world has been turned upside down (it has!) and it is not unusual for partners to feel ‘shut out’ by the new arrival.
It is really important that you try to keep communicating about how you both feel. Learning to look after the baby together is good for a relationship. Fathers should be encouraged and included in the sharing of baby care. It can be hard to let go, but remember you are both learning, so encourage each other, learn and practice together.
Your sex life will change. You may not feel ready to have sex immediately, and this can put pressure on a relationship. Talk about how you feel physically and emotionally, and put time aside to be intimate. This can just be having cuddles and holding each other. The most important thing is to keep talking to each other. Talk to each other about what things you both need help with and how other people could help. Don’t beshy to ask for help; people like to feel they can be useful. Try to spend some time alone as a couple, even if it’s just a walk for half an hour, a quiet cup of tea catching up, or an undisturbed meal while someone else looks after your baby.
Time to yourself and adult conversation are often the most important things to new parents. Talk to each other about what things you both need help with and how other people could help. Don’t be shy to ask for help; it helps people feel they can be useful. If people offer to help, let them. People may offer to bring round meals, do a bit of shopping for you or even (if you’re really lucky!) do the cleaning.
If you are finding it difficult to adapt to being a parent or are concerned about any feelings you may be experiencing then speak to the health visitor or think about seeing a counsellor. Help and advice is also available at www.relationships-scotland.org.uk
Parents and not partners
If you are no longer partnered with your baby’s other parent then you still need to look at how your relationship as parents is going to work. You need to talk about how you can support each other as parents to do the best for your child. If you find it difficult to work things out together, help is available on the parenting apart website and on the relationships scotland website.
When you first have a baby it can feel isolating and lonely, and you will not be the only ones feeling like this. Having a baby can be a good way for both of you to make new friends.
Having a baby can sometimes affect your friendships with those who don’t have babies and who have a different social life, so it is good to find alternative places for support. This is normal.
Most areas have groups for new parents that are good for support and friendship. Some organisations have coffee groups, drop-in centres or baby and toddler clubs. It can be hard to break into these networks, especially if you’re a bit shy. You could ask someone you already know if they’ll come along with you for the first few times until you get to know other people there. There are now more groups for young parents as well. Ask your health visitor/public health nurse for advice and details of groups.
If you are a single parent and your child’s other parent isn’t able to help, getting time with other adults away from children can be particularly challenging. It is still important! Being on your own with a new baby can be hugely rewarding, hard work and lonely. Don’t feel that if you are struggling you are somehow failing. Everybody needs help and support. You might find it difficult to ask someone else to look after your baby, but you'll help your baby by taking care of yourself. A part of this is having good relationships with other adults and spending time doing what you enjoy. Often people are just waiting to be asked, so think about what you need and who might like to help. Maybe you'll be able to return the favour sometime.
There are now more groups for young parents as well. Ask your health visitor/public health nurse for advice and details of groups.There are groups that can help when it all seems too much. Ask your health visitor/public health nurse or contact groups such as Gingerbread Scotland or One Parent Families Scotland.