New baby? These expert tips will help you navigate the eight common mistakes made by new parents.
Nine months later, a brand new bundle of joy, and the full impact of being a new parent hits you and your partner. No matter how excited and prepared you may think you are for parenthood, being a newbie parent isn’t easy and you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way.
In the absence of enrolling for a learn-it-all course or implanting a brain microchip that guarantees hassle-free parenting, here are what experts say are some of the most common mishaps new parents make and ways to learn from them.
#1 Distrusting your own instincts
Let’s face it, those first few weeks with your tiny newborn can be daunting, if not downright terrifying. You might frantically search the internet and ask around for advice before some well-meaning friends or family members share their own parenting pearls of wisdom.
In a Parents Magazine article by Karen Benfield, child psychiatrist and author of Hyper-Parenting, Dr Alvin Rosenfeld says the first mistake newbie parents make is to believe everything they hear. He stresses that if parents follow everyone else’s advice, they’re giving up the most creative role in their lives.
The best baby guide is still your own opinion and intuition, so don’t ignore it, adds Dr Rosenfeld. Author and founder of Babycalm, which offers parenting courses in the United Kingdom (UK), Sarah Ockwell-Smith agrees, saying that parents should be listening to their baby rather than to other people.
But perhaps the best tip comes from paediatric nurse Dawn Kelly, who says with the overload of parenting information out there it’s difficult to work out what’s correct. “Trust yourself. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t,” she says.
#2 Worrying non-stop about everything
We live in a society where we want to control everything, so when things seem wrong or beyond our control, we worry. This is especially relevant to new parents, who often panic about anything and everything regarding their babies. And who can blame them? They’ve got no experience and have never had such an enormous responsibility before.
South African mother-of-two Karyn Gibson advises new parents to accept that they cannot control
everything when it comes to their baby. “Things will happen and it’s natural to worry, but try not to sweat the small stuff and go into a flat spin every time your baby spits, cries or vomits. That’s what babies do.”
Naturally, if you’re really concerned about certain aspects or are worried your little one has developed a serious ailment, don’t hesitate to see a doctor or paediatrician, but try to keep things in perspective and don’t panic.
Paediatricians point out that babies are far more resilient than we give them credit for, and that new parents who continually worry about everything can miss out on being spontaneous, having fun interacting with their babies and savouring all their special baby milestones.
#3 Not accepting there’s no going back to your old life
One of the unrealistic assumptions many new parents make is that they’ll simply slot back easily into their “normal old” life with a cute, smiling baby in tow. It doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. Your new baby boss is tiny, but he or she may be more demanding, scary and outspoken than any adult boss.
Accept that a new baby is high maintenance. Being on call 24 hours a day can be totally exhausting and will definitely mean you won’t have as much free time as before.
Prepare yourself for a completely new life, where your plans to socialise, sleep, spend time with your partner or even do simple chores often won’t fit in with your baby or your baby’s schedule. Trying to be a perfect parent and get back to normal too fast after giving birth could well jeopardise your relationship with your little one or affect your own health.
Unless you’re truly superwoman, don’t beat yourself up with guilt if you don’t have a spotless house, lose that baby weight in no time, prepare a gourmet cooked meal for your hubby each night, and stay beautifully groomed 24/7.
Instead, try to set one realistic task every day, like catching up on a few emails, returning a call or buying groceries. It’s okay if you’re able to only tick one thing off your to-do list.
#4 Forgetting to nurture yourself
Psychotherapists such as New York-based Elizabeth Silk, who specialises in counseling new mothers, stress that making time for yourself after your baby is born is a necessity, not an indulgence. The worst you could do as a new mom is to feel guilty about nurturing yourself as it’s actually vital to preserve your sanity.
Karyn learnt the hard way with her first baby. “In the first year, parenting was honestly more a nightmare than a joy. I forgot about myself and turned into a snarling, stressed mom with serious post-natal depression. Fortunately, I learnt from that experience and things were so much easier the second baby around.”
Parentdish.com suggests some nifty self-nurturing ways to keep sane:
- Recharge your batteries. Just taking 30 minutes for some me-time while baby is safely tucked away in the cot makes a difference. Reading a magazine, catching up on social media, relaxing in the garden, or enjoying a cup of tea will help you feel “normal”.
- Have a long bubble bath and listen to your favourite music.
- Ask your partner or someone you trust to watch baby so you can nip out for a pampering massage, pedicure or haircut.
- Don’t be afraid to accept offers of help from family and friends. Try to be specific about the help you need most, whether it’s changing the bed linen, popping out to buy a few groceries or helping with house chores.
- Resist the urge to slop around all day in pyjamas. A quick shower, washing your hair, putting on some lip gloss and dressing when you feel up to it will lift your spirits and make you feel more in control.
- Don’t fret about having a spotless house or cooking fancy meals. Keep things simple, ditch the guilt and give yourself some slack.
#5 Having unrealistic sleep expectations
One of the most difficult challenges for new parents is sleep deprivation. There’s a good reason why it’s routinely used as a method of torture. For starters, remember that it may be many years before you can actually get back to some semblance of normal sleep. Forget about expecting a smooth sleep routine with a baby. According to psychologist and author of Power Sleep, Dr James Maas, new parents lose between 400 and 750 hours of sleep during their baby’s first year.
You may be lucky to have a little cherub that sleeps for hours, but very few babies sleep through the night by the time they’re four to six months old. Some new parents even start comparing their sleep ability (or lack thereof) with other newbie parents, stating proudly that they actually “managed to get four hours undisturbed sleep” the previous evening.
The trick is to realise your baby is an individual, so it’s really pointless to compare your little one to your friend’s baby.
Mums who have been through the baby mill, give the following advice, reinforcing the notion that you have to grab whatever time you can to sleep to prevent exhaustion. For example:
- Sleep every time your baby sleeps. Get back into bed, pull your baby’s cot closer to the bed and take full advantage of baby’s nap time.
- Try to have a daily 30-minute power nap. Set your alarm if you’re worried about oversleeping.
- Have at least one long snooze over the weekend.
- Remember that keeping up your strength and maintaining your sanity through adequate sleep is more important than washing dishes or tidying your house.
#6 Neglecting your relationship
When the new baby whirlwind hits your life, even the most diligent mom can lose focus on other aspects of life, like her relationship and partner. Nobody’s pretending it’s easy to make the smooth transition from being a freedom-loving, carefree couple to responsible parents. In fact, it’s the biggest challenge to many marriages, says marriage counsellor, psychologist and co-author of The 7 Worst Things (Good) Parents Do, Dr John Friel.
If it’s any consolation, Dr Friel adds that having personal stress, marital troubles and depression with small children isn’t abnormal. However, he stresses the importance of prioritising your marriage or relationship and making it a habit to focus on each other.
Make a point of regularly spending time with your partner without your baby, even if it’s going for a pizza or quick coffee. It may take some extra effort and planning, but try to schedule one date night a week and hire a babysitter (or rope in a willing grandparent) so you can spend some quality time together speaking about other things too.
#7 Ignoring loneliness
Ask most new moms what they struggle with and many will mention loneliness. Trying to cope alone at home without any support can take its toll on any person. Make your life easier by building a trusted support network.
Here are some ideas:
- Join a post-natal group by asking your GP, baby clinic or antenatal class teacher about groups of moms that meet on a regular basis.
- Hang out at places new moms might frequent like mother-and-baby exercise classes at your local gym or coffee shops or parks where you’ve noticed other moms gather. Starting a casual conversation isn’t that hard – after all, you’ve already got something in common.
- Do some research on social media platforms such as Facebook to find online mom-and-baby friendship or support groups. Even interacting online can help to reduce the feeling that you’re alone.
#8 Not sharing the load
Nobody needs to tell new parents that having a baby can be a steep learning curve. That’s why it makes sense to share the load when it comes to caring for your precious bundle. Sure, you may feel that you’re able to feed, bath or change your baby more confidently and easily than Dad, but if you don’t give him a chance to learn, you can’t expect him to master parenting, right?
From the start, encourage your partner to get involved. After all, caring and experiencing all the ups and downs of parenting will help to develop a strong bond and make you both feel more confident around your little one.
Be careful not to linger and constantly instruct, prompt or criticise your partner while they’re getting the hang of parenting. Allow time for him to practise, learn his way around (by trial and error, just like you) and become more confident in handling your little one. With any luck you may find Dad discovers a magical method to soothe a colicky baby or burp her better than you can. So grit your teeth, be patient and appreciative that he’s helping.
Lastly, remember that making mistakes is part of parenting, and especially when you’ve just had your first bundle of joy. We all fluff sometimes, so trust your instincts, ask for help or information when you need it, and stop beating yourselves up for not being in line for the perfect-parent-of-the-year award!