How Couples Prepare for a New Baby & Support Postpartum Mental Health
Prepare for the “challenging” baby, but keep the dream of the “fantasy” baby.
I know you are going to be the lucky parents with the baby who sleeps through the night, latches on the first try, loves sleeping in a crib, and has cries that are easily soothed. But just in case you end up with a “real” baby, you might want to have a game plan for the worst case scenario.
Here are some things to think about and discuss before baby arrives:
Have some phrases that signal to your partner that it’s time for them to step in.
“I need a break now.” (Translation: “If you don’t take this baby right now, I’m going to lose it!”)
“Why don’t you take your mother to the grocery store to get milk.” (Translation: “If you don’t get that woman out of my eyesight in five minutes…”).
How will you manage guests?
Who is a support and who isn’t? How can you politely and diplomatically steer guests in the direction you need instead of yielding to the demands of relatives out of guilt and obligation? Prepare for the real dynamics of extended family and not your “hopes” that they will rise to the occasion to help out.
Have they been helpful in the past? Do they get under your skin at times? These relationship issues often get amplified during the first few months of baby. As a couple, make a plan regarding guests that will minimize stress.
Get a food chain together.
Before baby arrives, even if you’ve convinced yourself that you’re going to “try all these new cool recipes on maternity leave,” start talking to friends and family to see if they’d like to provide a few meals. Imagine cooking while holding a watermelon! Impossible!
If anyone asks if they can bring something, the answer is “Yes. Food.”
Have a road map to support each other’s self care.
A newborn is completely dependent on their caregivers and demands every moment of the day. It is even more demanding physically and emotionally on the breastfeeding parent because baby often is so easily soothed by nursing.
Set up some ways to ask your partner to take some self care. For example, “What kind of self care are you going to do today? How can I support you?” If the other parent is bewildered, offer a few suggestions and don’t let them off the hook.
Don’t assume that because one parent is on parent leave that they have “home” and baby covered.
Who does laundry? Walks the dog? Takes out the trash? The lack of sleep and the emotional strain of having a newborn is intense and draining. Imagine if you were at work and you were asked to carry your boss around all day and give in to their every wish. How well could you do your job? How well could you type on your computer? Make a phone call? Take a lunch break?
Take turns carrying the “boss” when both parents are home. Sometimes, taking a break is allowing the nursing parent/at-home parent to do other household things or shopping while the alternate parent holds baby.
If there is one parent staying home, how can bonding happen with the other parent?
Who changes diapers? Who does nighttime feedings? What will you do when the baby won’t sleep in the crib for more than a few hours? Often, the nursing parent is very in-sync with the baby, but it’s critical that the other parent fights their way in to bond as well.
Mothers often experience baby blues and this can sometimes turn into postpartum depression. The other partner can buffer against this by providing relief by giving the nursing parent rest, and “personal space.” Research has shown that the mental health of parents significantly affects the mental health of their children.
Remember that the intense infant stage is only 6 months of your life.
Your baby will gradually become more independent and in 4 short years be able to dress themselves, feed themselves and use the bathroom. Six months is half a school year. Remember how quickly 4 years of college flew by? You got this! It gets better!
Don’t let yourself engage in doomsday predictions.
When your baby has a cry like a T-Rex, don’t assume that they will become a sociopath or a “difficult child” based on their behaviors in the first months of life. All babies cry. That’s the only way they can communicate. If you show up and hold them, even if they can’t be soothed, at least your baby knows that they don’t have to cry alone.
Degeneffe, S. (2018). How Couples Prepare for a New Baby & Support Postpartum Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-couples-prepare-for-a-new-baby-support-postpartum-mental-health/