Having a baby is a game changer. I was taught in medical school that once you have a baby, life will never be the same. And it was more than true.
Bearing total responsibility for another human’s life is a daunting task. Nothing can totally prepare you for it. But some planning and foresight may make the process easier.
First, a caution: DO NOT DRINK DURING PREGNANCY! The March of Dimes slogan is “not a single drop.” There is no safe alcohol intake during pregnancy. Binge drinking is especially toxic for a growing fetus, as the undeveloped liver cannot handle the stress of a lot of alcohol at once.
If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, and cannot commit to nine months of total sobriety, please rethink that decision. If you are pregnant and drinking, please tell your doctor.
Expect that you will be able to do nothing but care for your infant for at least the first eight weeks of his/her life, and more likely the first four to six months. The more you can let go of other responsibilities and expectations, the better life will be for both of you.
Know that this is a time of giving and giving and giving more. Nature designed it that way to secure bonding which, in theory, should make the rest of the journey a little easier. You will be tired, overwhelmed and probably tearful.
You may find yourself asking, “What have I done?” or “Can I really do this?” All of this is normal, and should get better as you and baby settle into a routine.
Caution two: If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, or this overwhelmed phase does not go away, seek immediate help. (See the May 2011 issue of Parent Express for an article on postpartum depression.)
This is a great time to be selfish. Take a nap when your baby naps, do not put any expectations on yourself and fight other people’s attempts to do so. Ask for help and receive it graciously and gratefully. Hire help if you are in a position to do so.
Many women find themselves experiencing “a nesting phase.” For some, this occurs around the fifth month of pregnancy, for others it occurs shortly before labor. This term comes from the avian world, when mother birds prepare by building or lining their nests with comfortable material, before they hunker down to sit on their eggs.
Take advantage of this last burst of energy by doing things that will make your life easier after baby arrives, like making and freezing dinners, stocking up on diapers, wipes and other baby supplies and lining up a doula, birthing coach and lactation consultant.
Buy a top-of-the-line car seat and practice putting it in, or attend a clinic – it isn’t as easy as it looks. If you have more than one vehicle, or another person who will be responsible for a lot of child care, a second car seat will be a great investment.
Now is the time to interview and choose a pediatrician or family doctor if you don’t have one already. These are better uses of your time than washing the windows! Ask yourself, “Will this make life easier for me and the family after the baby comes?”
The rest of the family could benefit from some preparation as well. It’s normal for older siblings to be very excited when a baby is coming. Unfortunately, that tune may change when they realize the center of the universe has shifted from them to the wrinkled, squalling, deregulated being that is taking up all of Mom and Dad’s time and causing people to stop by with presents, ooohs and aaahs.
Try to find ways to involve them in the process. I’m personally very fond of the shirts that say “I’m the Big Brother.” It defines a new role for them. Think about buying them a present, and encouraging extended family members to do this as well.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a highly recommended book, “My New Baby and Me,” which is a year-long workbook that the big sibs fill out. It encourages them to be part of the journey. If the older sibs can safely hold and/or feed the baby, most children enjoy and take great pride in that.
And then there’s Dad. It’s a big role shift for him as well. Dad may be struggling with his anxiety for providing for his family, adapting to getting less attention and trying to find his place in this new family constellation.
While Dad may not need a T-shirt, he may need some guidance on how he can be most helpful. Hopefully, he’s been taught before baby arrives how to do the laundry and pick up the house.
Additionally, remembering his mantra “What can I do for you, Mom?” will keep him in the loop. Having some special time alone with the big sibs will be great for all involved.
Sharing the midnight feedings will allow Mom to have some much needed rest. Check out the highly recommended book “Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad” for an on-target and humorous look at this situation.
Enjoy the journey, and remember to stop and smell the baby powder.
Dr. Dorothea DeGutis is an outpatient clinician at The Brattleboro Retreat's Anna Marsh Clinic.