Are you currently pregnant and trying to get ready for your baby’s arrival?

You’re probably busy getting things for your baby but what about preparing yourself and your relationship for the challenges that occur in the first 12 months of parenthood?

Becoming a parent is one of the most significant reorganisations in the lifespan, changing the brain, endocrine system, behaviours, identity, relationships, and more, of both parents (1)

All parents go through the emotional, mental, social, financial, and relationship changes when they have a baby. But unfortunately, many couples are poorly prepared for how having a baby will impact them personally and their relationships.

The first 12 months of parenthood are full of learning, bonding, connecting, growing and changing for mum, dad and baby. To immerse yourselves in this joyful time and approach it with wonder and curiosity, it helps to have a “map” of what lies ahead: what challenges you might face.

One of the biggest things that will make or break your first year of parenthood is your expectations. Helpful expectations of parenthood support parents to adjust more easily, whereas unhelpful expectations can contribute to stress, not enjoying parenthood and mental health concerns.

By having realistic expectations for how life with your baby will affect you and your partner you can prepare yourselves and take some of the stress out of the early months with your baby.

10 Challenges in the First 12 months of Parenthood

1. Learning how to take care of your baby

Learning how to look after your baby is a whole new world for many parents. Social expectations often lead you to believe that a “good mum (or dad)” knows what to do or that breastfeeding comes naturally. But the reality is that being a parent is new for all of us. So of course, it’s understandable to not feel confident and to doubt yourself.

If your pre-baby life is predominated by feeling competent and confident this can be a big change. After a while baby care almost becomes second nature but it’s the steep learning curve that challenges many parents.

If you approach parenthood as learners, not experts, this helps you to frame looking after your baby with openness and flexibility. There are great resources and supports available for parents too.

2. Juggling housework with yours and baby’s needs

You can spend a whole day trying (and failing) to get one job done. Just as you start something, your baby wakes up, a nappy needs changing, or they need your attention.

Baby care tasks can take up your entire day leaving little to no time for household chores, rest, self-care, time for your partner, friends or family.

If you’re the type of person who likes to be in control, worries about getting things done or derives satisfaction from ticking things off the to do list, this can make you feel tense and frustrated.

As your baby grows so does their independence and your ability to “get stuff done”. Try to re-adjust your expectations and prioritise time with your baby. In the scheme of things the housework can wait, or you can outsource to a cleaner or family.

3. Financial Pressure

The cost of baby goods can quickly add up and who knew a pram could be so expensive.

You’re not alone if you feel like purchasing a large range of baby items or top of the range will make you feel more confident once baby arrives. Financial pressure is a very common stress, particularly for dads, and is a contributing factor to dads Postnatal Depression and Anxiety (2).

The biggest expense of a baby for most families is the loss (or significant reduction) of one parents’ income. Reducing your financial commitments where possible can take some of the pressure off.

4. Relationship Changes and (lack of) Sex

You have probably heard that your relationship will be different once baby arrives. But what we often don’t know is how it will change and why it happens.

How your relationship changes

The main challenges for your relationship may be increased conflict, limited time together (that is not focused on nappies, milk or laundry) and communication misunderstandings.

Why your relationship changes

Parenthood is the ultimate partnership requiring both parents to work together. This means bringing both parents hopes, dreams, fears and aspirations together. When there are differences in these for each parent conflict can arise. On top of this parenthood can change parents’ identity, what’s important to them and their view on life. As a result, there might be differences between the two of you that are yet to come.

Expect to have differences and conflict with your partner, this is normal and ok. The good news is, that if you negotiate them well your family will grow stronger.

Sex

Changes to your sex life doesn’t come as a surprise for most parents but what can be a shock is that it might take longer than the 6 week check up to start having sex again. Or a mismatch in partners libido is common and is a challenge for many.

Your body is changing, your sleep deprived, hormonal fluctuations, stress and trouble unwinding are some of the reasons for this. Minimising pressure, talking to each other every step of the way and focusing on connecting in other ways for now will help your sex life come back.

5. Sleep Deprivation

No surprises here that you will have a lot less sleep once your baby comes along. On average a parent loses 109 minutes of sleep every night for the first 12 months (3). But the challenge for new parents arises when you have unrealistic expectations of baby sleep. For most parents night wake ups continue long after the newborn stage. It is also normal for babies to “cat nap” (have 20-40 minute) during the day (4) leaving little time for anything else.

The other challenge for new parents comes from what a lack of sleep does to you. You may experience reduced concentration, agitation, exhaustion, conflict and difficulty regulating emotions (5).

Having realistic expectations of baby sleep and accepting that you will be exhausted for some time will allow you to let go of the struggle. Your baby’s sleep will improve with time and if you’re having trouble there are many ways to get help.

6. Unequal Parenting Load

Perhaps you have an egalitarian partnership now and plan to keep it that way when raising your baby. Quite often once you have a baby it is a challenge to maintain this. So much of the load of baby care and household chores falls on the primary caregivers’ shoulders (normally mum) and most of this work is invisible – planning, researching, anticipating, remembering.  Despite your best efforts this inequality is often a source of ongoing conflict and resentment for parents.

This challenge for parents is broader than their relationship. It is systemic in our culture. There are a multitude of mothers groups, but minimal dads groups. Dad’s can be shunned in parents rooms. Most workplaces offer some form of maternity leave (paid or unpaid) but are reluctant to provide paternity leave, or the duration is significantly less. Workplaces tend to have negative attitudes towards dad’s/partners requesting flexible working arrangements or taking time off for a sick child.

It’s important to keep talking, connecting and negotiating with your partner. Realise that this is a societal level issue and try not to blame each other. Together you will work out a way that suits your family.

7. Identity Changes

Caring for your baby can be all-consuming. Your camera roll will be full of photos of your newest love. But what has happened to mum and dad?

The realisation that you don’t know who you are anymore, what you like to do and when was the last time you did something for you, often comes a few months into parenthood but is a shock for many parents. By realising that this might happen for you it will take some of the shock out of it. Treat each other with patience, understanding and compassion. You’re both parenting together as a team and need each others support.

8. Extended Family

Depending on how you look at it, having your own family or in-laws involved can be a blessing or a curse. For a lot of new parents, your extended family can have different parenting styles, attitudes towards raising children or expectations for their involvement. This is often a source of conflict for new parents.

It can be helpful to pre-empt this challenge and have a clear plan for how you both want your families to be involved. Approach it with a united front between you and your partner.

9. Loneliness

One paradox of parenting is that you can have you baby with you all day but still feel so incredibly lonely.

Social isolation is a major contributor to difficulties adjusting to parenthood and mental health concerns for both parents (6). Quite often parents struggle to maintain connections with their childless friends and find themselves in the position of needing to find their parenting tribe. This can be challenging and as a result couples become more dependent on support from each other.

As you start to feel up to it prioritise connecting with others. Most parents are in the same position of needing to reach out to new mums and dads. There are many ways to connect with other parents and baby’s.

10. Lifestyle Changes

You can go into parenthood thinking that your baby will fit into your lifestyle – ‘baby will just come with us’. Often what we find is that baby’s have their own routines and preferences. Trying to juggle everyone’s needs can be a challenge.

Simple things such as grocery shopping, using the bathroom or going out for coffee become a planned exercise, primarily based around your baby’s sleeping and eating habits. Having the focus change from mum or dad to your baby can be a challenge for new parents and feel like a major sacrifice to your freedom or spontaneity.

Having realistic expectations that your lifestyle will change helps with adjusting to this. As your baby grows it becomes easier to get out and about. Give each other time to adjust.

 

Getting ready for your baby goes beyond the birth, buying a pram and designing the nursery. To give your family the best possible start it’s important to set yourselves up with realistic expectations of parenthood, an understanding of the common challenges faced by new parents and a plan to work together to manage them.

Parenthood, especially in the first 12 months is tough. In the first few weeks and months expect to be in survival mode and then the baby haze will lift. There is no need to do it alone: connecting with other parents and seeking support services wherever possible will help you and your partner.

I delve deeper into these topics and more in my Parenthood Preparation Program (click HERE for more information). By supporting and guiding parents I help their families thrive, despite the common challenges of parenthood.

Read How to Holistically Prepare for Parenthood for guidance on HOW to prepare for your baby.

 

 

References

  1. https://www.developmentalscience.com/blog/2015/11/30/the-transition-to-parenthood-what-happened-to-me
  2. Beyond Blue
  3. https://www.healthline.com/
  4. kidspot.com.au
  5. https://www.todaysparent.com/baby/baby-sleep/sleep-deprivation/
  6. Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA)