What New Parents Should Expect

Adjusting to the “new normal” once the baby is born will take time. Moms and dads will come home to very different roles and experiences, and each should be patient as they adapt to the changes. Below are a few tips to help each parent prepare for the transition to life with baby.

What moms should expect:

Length of postpartum recovery varies. Some women may feel back to normal after six or eight weeks, while others may need more time.

Hormones will be fluctuating. Chemical changes in the body will unbalance hormones, so new mothers will likely be more emotional.

Abdominal pain is normal. Pain in the abdomen is caused by the uterus shrinking to its normal size. A heating pad or hot water bottle can help alleviate the discomfort.

Feeling sad is nothing to be ashamed of. Fluctuating hormones can leave mothers feeling sad and confused for the first week or so. However, severe feelings of sadness that last longer are symptoms of postpartum depression. Tell your healthcare provider if such strong feelings persist.

Constipation is common. Painkillers and fear are two common causes of postpartum constipation. Drink plenty of water and eat foods high in fiber to help get your system back on track.

What dads should expect:

• There is no “going back to normal.” You need to create a new routine and get used to new (and more) responsibilities, such as loads of laundry and grocery shopping.

No escape from sleep deprivation. Getting help to take care of household chores may allow you to get some extra sleep, but don’t count on getting eight solid hours any time soon.

Look out for postpartum depression. Feeling sad is normal, but if the mother seems to lack interest in the child, is frequently irritable or crying, or is having sleeping problems, you need to take her to see the doctor.

Be confident and patient. It takes time to get used to the role of father. Both parents will make mistakes and learn from them. Don’t be hard on yourself, and remember to enjoy this amazing and surprisingly brief time with your baby.

Preparing for visitors

New parents have to readjust nearly every aspect of their lives. When relatives and friends want to visit, the list of responsibilities gets longer. Household chores such as vacuuming, washing the dishes, doing laundry, taking out the trash, and dusting become urgent burdens—all because visitors are coming. Here are a few tips to help prepare for having relatives over:

Prioritize. Don’t try to clean the whole house. Close the door to areas off-limits to visitors and don’t worry about cleaning them.

Quick clean. Have a basket for random items that need to be picked up so you can easily hide it.

Don’t apologize. Your visitors don’t—and shouldn’t—expect your house to be squeaky clean after childbirth, so don’t feel like you need to apologize for your messes.

Healthcare expectations and medical visits

Upon hospital discharge, you should have been provided with a calendar of postpartum medical appointments to give the doctor a chance to check up on your own recovery and make sure the baby is healthy and developing properly.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently recommended a serious reevaluation of postpartum visits to ensure healthy mothers and thriving babies. The recommendations call for a new focus on what the ACOG refers to as the “fourth trimester.”

Essential Terms for New Parents

Entering a new stage in life requires learning the jargon—the lexicon of new parents. In a short time, you will become familiar with medical terms, parenting styles, and behavioral issues that will help you communicate clearly with healthcare providers and other specialists.

Medical Terms

New and expecting parents will hear many unfamiliar medical terms, such as “baby blues,” “colic,” and “colostrum.” The following list of common baby-related medical terms includes brief definitions and links to more information.

“Baby blues” and postpartum depression: This mood disorder affects nearly 15 percent of women after childbirth. It is caused in part by significant changes in levels of hormones. Unlike postpartum depression, “baby blues” usually last a week or two and are generally mild. Find out more at the National Institute of Mental Health’s Postpartum Depression Facts page.

Fontanelles: These are the six spots on an infant’s skull that are covered with a tough, fibrous membrane. The spots help the fetal head mold and pass through the birth canal.

Colostrum: This yellow fluid is produced by the breasts immediately after childbirth. Learn more about the benefits of colostrum to infants via the American Pregnancy Association’s page entitled “Colostrum—The Superfood for Your Newborn.“

Colic: If a baby cries for more than three hours a day, for at least three days a week, and for at least three weeks, then the baby has colic. 

However, colic is not an illness and usually goes away. Find out what causes colic and how to treat it in an essay on the website KidsHealth.

Popular Parenting Terms

While there is much advice available on ways to parent, some parenting styles currently getting a lot of media attention include free-range, helicopter, and lawnmower. Each has its drawbacks and unique goals. It’s important for new parents to decide how they would like to parent and to develop their own perspective on the best parenting strategy for their family.

Attachment: Also known as “attachment theory,” the term describes the type of attachment formed between the parent and child in the early formative years and how it impacts the child’s later social and emotional well-being. Paediatrics & Child Health defines attachment as “one specific and circumscribed aspect of the relationship between a child and caregiver that is involved with making the child safe, secure, and protected.”

Free-range: This style of parenting is characterized by giving a child freedom to engage in independent activities to help develop the child’s decision-making skills. Allowing an older child to walk a mile to the grocery store or take a trip around the city using public transit alone are two examples of free-range parenting. Learn more about the goals of this parenting approach in Healthline’s “What Is ‘Free-Range Parenting’ and How Does It Affect Kids?”

Helicopter: This style of parenting is characterized by “hovering” around the child, even through college. Critics point out that helicopter parenting tends to stifle the child’s independence.

• Lawnmower: This approach to parenting believes in removing all obstacles in the way of the child’s success or comfort. Scary Mommy compares this parenting style to helicoptering in “Lawnmower Parenting Is the New Helicopter Parenting and Teachers Aren’t Feeling It.”

Resources to Help You Care for Your New Child

On the parenting site Message with a Bottle, Kate Meier writes that parenting “isn’t something you merely survive or put up with. It’s your life now, and it’s the best part of it…. It’s what makes your heartbeat a little stronger every day.” The love of parents will be tested as they grow with their child—learning more about his or her view of the world, desires, and dreams.

Resource Materials

When a baby is born, an instruction manual is (unfortunately) not available. It’s up to the parents to learn—through trial and error—how their child thinks, behaves, and responds. Fortunately, parents can benefit from insights gleaned by studies into child behavior and development.

Parenting advice

Parents Forum: Parents can increase their emotional awareness by participating in a Parents Forum discussion group.

PBS Parents: Parents will find expert advice from a community dedicated to kids’ mental and emotional well-being.

Alan E. Kazdin, PhD: Take a free online course entitled Everyday Parenting: The ABCs of Child Rearing to learn evidence-based parenting strategies developed by former American Psychology Association President Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, which he refers to as the Kazdin Method.

Religious organizations: New parents who are members of a religious organization may have access to parenting materials and advice that aligns with their religious beliefs.

Activities for newborns and babies

Parents.com: The site describes 11 activities for babies from newborn to six months old, including dancing, singing, baby sit-ups, and follow the leader. Another activity is filling a basket with small paper items the baby can grab and move around.

KidsHealth: Read about activities and strategies that encourage learning in your newborn.

Pathways.org: Access a list of games and activities for children from birth to 12 months old, all supported by findings of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Early childhood health

Baby Center: New parents will find information on a variety of early childhood health topics.

Child Development Institute: This resource offers expert content on child development across all ages and stages.

Let’s Move: This initiative began with the former first lady Michelle Obama to combat childhood obesity. New parents can access healthy recipes and tips for keeping children physically active.

Administration for Children & Families: The division under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers resources to parents on a variety of subjects.

Pathways.org: Parents can access e-magazines, newsletters, and other resources regarding child health.

Behavioral issues

Infoaboutkids.org: Developed by the Consortium for Science-Based Information on Children, Youth and Families, the site provides information to help parents understand the difference between normal behavior and a potential behavioral issue.

Effective Child Therapy: Parents can access information about behavioral issues. Learn to spot the symptoms of a mental illness, and explore treatment options.

Child Mind Institute: Experts on childhood behavior offer their insights into such matters as helping children calm down. Assisting them through transitions and teaching them how to regulate their behavior.

Preparing for the Future

Former president Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.” The best way for new parents to prepare a child for the future is to prepare themselves for a lifetime of learning and growing right along with them.

Read the full resource guide 

“Resources for New Parents: What to Do When You’re Expecting, Tips & Articles” at https://onlinenursing.duq.edu/master-science-nursing/resources-for-new-parents-what-to-do-when-youre-expecting-tips-articles/

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