Adjusting to parenthood: How to cope in the first few years

Life with a new baby takes a huge amount of adjustment so it pays to be kind to yourself, says Social Scientist Dr Ali Walker.

Dr Ali Walker explains new parents have a huge amount of adjusting to do, not only to the new miniature person in their lives, but also each other and their new selves.

“Having a child changes you fundamentally and forever,” she says. “Not only that, the changes are happening while you’re sleep deprived and you’re trying to keep your new baby, and yourself, alive.”

Dr Walker warns that while everyone has heard of postnatal depression, which is suffered by one in seven women or almost 16 per cent of new mums in Australia, there’s a wide gap between being depressed and feeling happy with yourself and your new baby all of the time.

“Everyone goes through an adjustment phase and we need to normalise that so that new parents don’t automatically assume the conflicting feelings they are experiencing are abnormal,” she says.

“Every parent experiences the highs and lows of having a baby. You suddenly feel like your heart and soul has been divided between you and your baby, and this comes with a huge loss of control and autonomy.

“Not only that, your relationship with your partner goes from being friends and lovers, to being doubles partners in a crazy tennis match!”

Dr Walker, herself a mum-of-two, has three tips to help new parents adjust in those tricky first few months:

  1. Avoid any comparisons that bring you down – your baby is different from everyone else’s baby.

“Yours is a completely different situation,” she says. “It can be helpful to go to mother’s group and talk to family and friends but when someone is gloating their baby is sleeping through the night at three months and you haven’t slept in weeks, you need to put that comparison into perspective.”

  1. Have no expectations of yourself in the first 3-6 months.

“Expect your life to change irreversibly, you’re basically in survival mode. It’s okay to feel temporary grief around that, and sleep deprivation doesn’t help. Don’t push yourself. I found having a second baby much easier than the first because I didn’t have the psychological challenge of parental adjustment.”

  1. Love yourself, love your partner and love your baby. Do your best.

“This was the one piece of advice I received from a midwife in the hospital and it’s the only thing I remember,” Dr Walker says.

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