When preparing yourselves for parenthood this time can be full of anticipation, excitement, uncertainty and plenty of things on your To-Do list. Unfortunately, many couples are poorly prepared for how parenthood will impact them and their relationship. Enlightening expectant parents with a plan for holistic preparation for parenthood that is based on what the research is telling us REALLY matters and sets families up for the best start to parenthood.

Below are 5 key areas for holistic preparation for parenthood and will give you guidance on how to integrate healthy and effective coping strategies into each to increase your adjustment and joy in parenthood.

Before delving into the holistic parenthood preparation model it’s important to mention how important your expectations of parenthood are.

Expectations

Expectations shape what you think and feel, how you cope and adjust. The gap between your expectations of what life with a baby would be like and the reality plays a huge role in how you cope and adjust to parenthood. In fact 30% of women say that unrealistic expectations of parenthood contributed to their Postnatal Depression (BeyondBlue).

When you go into parenthood expecting it to be a certain way, but the reality doesn’t quite measure up this can lead to confusion, distress or anger.

 

 

 

 

 

To prepare for parenthood it is important to check in and reflect on your own expectations of what life with a baby will be like and how it will affect you and your relationship.

To help you identify your expectations check out my FREE downloadable Expectations of Parenthood Guide.

 

5 Key Areas for Holistic Preparation for Parenthood

 

1. Physical Preparation

Recovery following birth takes time. Your priority for the first few weeks (at least) needs to be recovery, rest and bonding as a family. These are also important for partners.

Caring for a newborn leaves little time for your sleep, eating, bathing, and leisure time so conserve your energy where possible.

Some couples have found the following helpful, but each family is unique:

  • Limit visitors in the early weeks so that mum, partner and baby can bond
  • Pre-cooked or pre-arranged delivery of nutritious meals
  • Housework – time limitations mean your expectations may need to shift for a while.   
  • Breastfeeding is a learned activity and will take up a lot of your time and energy early on. Partners can provide mum with healthy snacks, frequent drinks to maintain hydration and cutting up meals.
  • Support from others improves coping. When you all feel up to having visitors ask them to bring a meal or help around the house. Most like to help and it can be compensation for baby cuddles.
  • Exercise has many positive benefits for your health and well-being. Start a family friendly exercise routine now that you can also include your baby in later.

2. Mental Preparation

For expecting parents, it can be challenging to think beyond the birth and preparing your home for baby. To enhance your coping and adjustment to parenthood spend time thinking about the ways your lives might change once your baby arrives.

Some of the changes that new parents experience includes:

  • Limited control of their time, sleep and availability for basic hygiene
  • Social life – reduced availability and changing to family-friendly activities
  • Relationship with your partner – more on this below

 

 

 

 

 

 

Download your FREE Holistic Parenthood Preparation Checklist

Cognitive Changes

A mother’s brain changes during pregnancy and motherhood to such as extent that scientists can accurately identify a mother through brain imagery alone. Scientists outlined that these changes serve a functional purpose helping woman adapt to motherhood, bond and respond to her baby (1). Mothers can experience difficulty concentrating, following conversations and making decisions as well as increased empathy, anxiety and social interaction (2).

It can be confronting to experience difficulty holding a conversation or making decisions, to be particularly emotional and worrisome at times but realise that this is a part of your brain re-wiring to cope with the demands of parenthood and with time it will improve.

Identity & Self-Esteem

After the birth of your baby there may be times when you don’t feel like yourself, that’s because parenthood may require you to change parts of yourself or your life. These changes are normal and are a part of adapting.

Common changes to mum’s identity:

  • High control in pre-baby life – post-baby reduced control of many aspects of life
  • Independent in pre-baby life – post-baby dependent on partner and depended on by baby
  • Your appearance, abilities, lifestyle and relationships are likely to change to some extent.

Common changes to Dad’s/ Partners identity:

  • Post-baby both partner and baby dependent on you
  • Torn between being home to support partner and baby and being at work to financially support your family
  • Loss of downtime or stress relief activities that define who you are.

Changes to your identity can impact your confidence and self-esteem. Give yourself time to learn, adjust and begin to feel confident in this new stage of life. Continue to do some activities that are aligned with your interests either with baby or as a break from your parenthood responsibilities.

3. Emotional Preparation

Mixed feelings are understandable as you’re both going through substantial changes in your lives. Other positive changes such as getting married, moving house or changing jobs all would have come with both positive and negative emotions. Parenthood often comes with a range of emotions including love, joy and connection as well as exhaustion, frustration and boredom.

Emotions indicate your unmet need and it helps to embrace your emotions rather than work against them.

How to embrace your emotions in parenthood:

  • Share your feelings with your partner or a good friend
  • Cry to relieve tension
  • Watch a funny movie
  • Get a big hug
  • Connect with yourself to become aware of your thoughts, feelings and desires
  • Connect with your partner as you’re both going through huge mental and emotional adjustments
  • Incorporate relaxation into your day.

4. Relationship Preparation

Having a strong connection with your partner helps you both support each other and adjust well to parenthood. Work together to consider how your relationship might change in parenthood, your needs and ways to remain connected.

Changes in Relationship Needs

Your relationship needs might change as you prepare for and adjust to parenthood. Mum’s can feel vulnerable and need their partner’s support to feel safe and secure. Support and understanding from their partner are extremely important for mums as it can reduce their emotional distress, help with establishing and maintaining breastfeeding and contribute to them deriving meaning and satisfaction from child rearing duties (Elly Taylor).

Dad’s/ partners often need the opportunity, patience and acceptance of their partner to establish a bond and carve out their role for baby care.

Changing needs are understandable and it is important to communicate them with your partner. This is a wonderful opportunity to strengthen your relationship and bond with each other.

Communication

Communicating well together is the basis of a bond that will connect the two of you through the changes of parenthood.  Due to increased sensitivity, exhaustion, hormonal and brain changes and various life changes, communicating might be difficult at times. It is helpful to be aware of this and to develop a simple communication strategy.

Helpful tips for intimate communication include:

  • Become aware of what’s going on internally for you. Get in touch with your inner struggle and your needs so that you can give them a voice.
  • Turn off distractions and maintain comfortable eye contact
  • Silence allows you both to process and interpret what’s being said
  • Take turns to allow each person to explain themselves fully
  • Keep to digestible chunks and a reasonable time limit. Most people can concentrate for about 40 minutes before needing a break. This timeframe may be less due to sleep deprivation.
  • Start the conversation gently to minimise reactivity and defensiveness from your partner
  • Aim for understanding and empathy
  • Respond, don’t react.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Download your FREE Intimate Communication Guide to help you say what you need, in a way that your partner can hear and respond positively.

Maintaining a Connection with Your Partner

Most expectant parents learn how to bond with their baby but it is equally important to bond with each other also. Parents can find themselves on different paths as one may be at home caring for the baby while the other is working outside of the home. In order to maintain connection and understanding of each other it is important to regularly talk about your day and check in with each other. Where possible plan time together doing something that you both enjoy, even if that also includes baby (e.g. spending time in nature, going out for a coffee).

Sharing the Load of Parenting

A major cause of stress for parents is perceived inequality in baby care and household chores. In parenthood there is a tendency to gravitate towards gender stereotypical roles (mum at home with baby and dad working). Whilst men tend to experience increased levels of relationship satisfaction with gender-based roles, women can experience lower satisfaction. But when couples can share experiences, attitudes, baby care and household tasks both partners are more likely to enjoy parenthood and report having a strong relationship (3).

To prepare for and adjust to parenthood it is important to develop a plan for each parents’ responsibilities that you’re both happy with. Check in with each other regularly and renegotiate roles where necessary.

5. Lifestyle Preparation

Parenthood is about creating your “new normal” rather than rushing to get back to normal.

Some changes to parents lifestyles include:

  • Work/career – Leaving work to care for your baby is a big adjustment. For the parent remaining at work consider putting off extra responsibilities at work, investigate flexible working arrangements and leave availability where possible to increase your availability to help at home.
  • Finances – downsize rather than upsize to minimise stress or financial burdens for now. Perhaps create a financial plan for the first 12 months of parenthood and reduce unnecessary expenses in pregnancy to adjust.
  • Family Priorities – in the early weeks and months of parenthood mum, partner and baby need to be priority. Everything else can wait.
  • Social life – saying good-bye to co-workers, friends who don’t have babies and needing to find new friends can be confronting. Your social life may need to scale down or be postponed for a while too. However, it is important to maintain your support network to help you manage the demands of parenthood.

Receive your FREE Holistic Preparation checklist to help you and your partner focus on what REALLY matters when preparing for your baby.

People often say ‘nothing can prepare you for parenthood’ and yes somethings you can’t anticipate or conceptualise in pregnancy. But there are many aspects of parenthood and changes to parents lives that you can prepare for. By having awareness of the common changes for parents, realistic expectations and a holistic plan for parenthood supporting you and your relationship you can rise above many of common challenges nearly all parents face.

 

I delve deeper into these holistic preparation for parenthood topics and more in my Parenthood Preparation Program. This program is created from Elly Taylors award winning book “Becoming Us: The Couple’s Guide to Surviving Parenthood and Growing a Family that Thrives” and is based on over 20 years of research and the experiences of thousands of parents.

 

 

References

  1. https://www.itnonline.com/content/mri-shows-pregnancy-leads-changes-mothers-brain
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/pregnancy-causes-lasting-changes-in-a-womans-brain
  3. Adjustment to parenthood and partners’ satisfaction with their relationship after the first child in Australia. Francesca Luppi, Pompeu Fabra & Collegio Carlo Alberto