Becoming a new parent is an overwhelming experience by itself. And being overwhelmed is not necessarily a bad thing. We can feel overwhelmed with joy, happiness, and a sense of pride in seeing our new child in our arms. However, it is also normal to feel overwhelmed in a more negative undertone.
Babies are not always rainbows and butterflies and do what we would like them to do (aka sleep). Every new baby we welcome into the family, whether it is our first or fifth, can add anxiety and make us question our self-identity as well. Here are some common reasons we may feel like we’re drowning:
1) I need some sleep!
It is a common fact shared by both parents and nonparents, that one of the first things you lose once a new baby arrives is sleep. Every baby book and doctor seem to say the same thing: sleep when the baby sleeps. Easier said than done, as most new parents will try to get as many chores or personal things done as possible while the baby is sleeping. For other parents, the problem is that it’s daytime, and our bodies find that it’s hard to wind down when the sun is beaming, no matter how exhausted you are.
If you’re just not a napper, that’s okay. There are plenty of other ways to get rest such as working around schedules with your partner. For example, having your partner take the early morning shift from 5-7 am so that you can get a couple extra hours sleep, which will make a world of difference. If your baby wakes up several times in the middle of the night, it’s best for one parent to do all of those feedings, then you can switch the next night: If your partner takes the 1 a.m. and you take the 4 a.m., you’ll both end up tired.
It’s best for one of you to get a continuous period of sleep. If napping is what you really crave during the day, but have trouble drifting off, turn off your phone and make your bedroom as dark as possible. Earplugs can also cut out noises that might keep you up. And don’t snooze for long periods of time: napping for more than an hour or so, you enter what’s called slow-wave sleep and you will wake up worse than before. Try to keep naps under 30-45 minutes.
2) I can’t get my baby to stop crying!
As a new parent, you will learn that babies cry. A lot. They cry when they are hungry, tired, have a dirty diaper, bored, overstimulated, sick, uncomfortable, too warm or too cold, or just about any reason. Crying is their only way at the moment of communicating with you as a parent. But it also can be very stressful to parents, especially if you don’t understand why your baby is crying after you’ve fed them, changed them and tried to calm them down.
As stressful as it is right now, you’ll soon learn that your baby is not going to die from crying and that even if you can’t respond right away, it’s not going to hurt them either. If your baby is crying all…the…time, or you can’t decide what is wrong, and you still find yourself at wits’ end, it’s okay to put them down for a minute in a safe and secure place, like their crib, while you recollect yourself. It’s better to come back a little more refreshed than start to be angry and resentful.
3) I just need a break!
Whether you are breastfeeding around the clock or not, sleeping with your baby or not, working or not, every new parent goes through a time where they simply are not getting enough “me time”.
Sometimes, all it really takes is just 15 minutes to yourself: whether it’s just taking a nice long shower and actually getting the time to shave, or going for a walk just by yourself and getting some fresh air. It could be even something that you do for yourself that you did before the baby but perhaps stopped after the baby was born. For your mental health, and your family ultimately, make sure you save a little time for yourself every day.
4) I’m worried about my relationship with my partner.
Babies, of course, are a wonderful addition to the family, but can also be a killjoy on our sex lives and intimacy. It is really important to devote the time to your relationship and intimacy. Set up and schedule a date night, when neither one of you talk about the baby or children. Go and see a movie or go try that new restaurant.
Even just going for a walk and spending some time together can be very beneficial in reconnecting as a couple. If hired babysitting help is not possible yet, or you are unable to leave the baby, even a night in with your partner where you can order a nice dinner and watch a movie once the baby goes to sleep can be romantic. Whatever you decide to do, remember that it needs to be a regular deal, as it’s hard to keep a relationship strong on a couple of hours of sleep a month.
5) My house looks like a tornado went through it!
This may sound crazy to someone who has added a child in the family budget, but many parents decide to get hired housekeeping help as a way to keep the house clean on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be a daily or weekly deal, but even just bimonthly help can save you time as a new parent so that you can focus on spending time on your child and family.
If money is truly tight, try just cleaning 15 minutes at a time during the day when you can, and focus on one room at a time. Another great idea is picking up those random objects that have no real home and placing them in a basket that you can clear at a later time. Same goes for laundry. Try to do either your laundry or the baby’s on different days so you’re not overwhelmed.
Even with these tips and advice, you might still feel burned out or overwhelmed with all the new responsibilities of raising a new baby. In our modern day, we are lucky to have doulas and lactation consultants, and support groups for us new parents to help us understand our children better. But unfortunately, there are not enough professionals who are trained just to help new parents help themselves.
It is important to understand that there is a difference between occasional burnout and postpartum depression, which can be severe and is not the same thing as the baby blues.
The first year of a new baby’s life requires a huge level of adaptation on the part of both parents. Let your baby teach you about structure, flexibility, and creative problem-solving. Don’t feel ashamed or afraid to ask for help with practical things. You may not need more clothes, a 10th blanket, or flowers. Ask for diapers or for someone to help with dishes or chores if they visit.
Talk to people around you, and if you don’t feel comfortable, join a support community to meet people experiencing similar situations as you. You are not alone.