Be the best mom and dad you can be — but cut yourselves some slack!
First-time parents bringing their newborns in for their first visit are a special group. They naturally all have different styles, but no matter how they are weathering new parenthood so far, one thing is universal: Life as they knew it has changed.
As you become acquainted with your “new life,” many people will likely offer you advice. Some of it may be of no use to you, but you will no doubt embrace some advice wholeheartedly. Remember the following five points to help you through the early days at home with your little one – and beyond.
1. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT
You are responsible for the basics, like providing nourishment and care to your newborn. You are not required to make sure that your child has the best toy/stroller/sling on the market, or that you respond to every new challenge with the perfect solution. When it comes down to it, you don’t even have to make sure that your baby’s socks match. Your baby will be fine with a parent who is “good enough,” especially one who realizes that perfection doesn’t exist.
2. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
One analogy is that of the flight attendant explaining what to do if the cabin pressure drops. “Put your own mask on before you put one on your child.” The message here is that you will not be able to take care of your child if you are not operating at your own full capacity. For example, if you are breastfeeding, remember that you need to eat and hydrate well to produce all that breast milk (nearly the amount in a wine bottle!) in a day.
Pay attention to your mood, and if you think you might be experiencing postpartum depression, get help for your own sake and for the good of your child.
3. PROTECT YOUR TIME
Now that you are a parent, your time is even more valuable a commodity than it has ever been. There are a thousand things in a day that can demand your attention, and learning to tune out things that aren’t urgent will help you tremendously. For example, if the phone rings while you are spending time with your newborn — whether you’re changing a diaper or having a quiet nap together — let whoever is calling leave a message.
4. ACCEPT THE HELP THAT OTHERS OFFER
Although you don’t need to answer the phone every time it rings, keep in mind that sometimes it’s ringing because someone wants to help you. Don’t be shy about accepting offers from family and friends to come and bring you food and to do your laundry, or to watch the baby while you take a refreshing shower.
Also keep in mind that these visits are meant to be helpful, rather than overwhelming. You might want to limit how many people come by, and how long they stay. And, to prevent your baby from getting sick, make it clear that anyone who is ill should not come over.
5. TRUST YOUR DEVELOPING PARENTAL INSTINCT
New parents wonder constantly whether their newborn is behaving and developing normally. Is he sleeping too much (or too little)? Is that stool a normal consistency? With one’s first newborn, the list can be endless. New parents often worry about bothering their pediatrician with these concerns, but pediatricians expect these questions. A parent’s sense that something is “not right” is one of the most valuable things a pediatrician can work with, and often-serious illnesses are recognized because of a parent’s instinct that something about her child is amiss.
So though you may feel unsure and need guidance in the beginning, remind yourself that you are simply cultivating your parenting instinct. In time, you will be the expert on your child.
June Tester, M.D., M.P.H., is a pediatrician and researcher in Oakland, CA.
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