How to Transition into Parenthood: Realistic Expectations of Postpartum Life

Tips & tricks to help you transition into parenthood. Part 1 will focus on realistic expectations of postpartum life and a preparation list.

Let’s be realistic – having a baby is not easy!

We all have beautiful expectations of what having a baby is going to be like: moments of laughter, warm sweet cuddles and a shower of love. However, most parents experience the reality of parenthood very differently. And when they do, they think there is something wrong with them. These overestimated positive expectations of postpartum life cause unnecessary emotional discomfort.

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It’s generally presumed that nothing can prepare parents for parenthood, but that’s just not true. Actually we need to stop saying that and start taking action. Parents need (and deserve!) to be prepared for life with their beautiful, precious new addition(s) to the family.

There are three things you can do to make the transition into parenthood more comfortable:

  • Create realistic expectations of the 4th trimester
  • Build a reliable support system
  • Prioritize self-care

Let’s start with the facts. Statistics don’t lie!

Worldwide 1 in 5 women experience some type of perinatal mood or anxiety disorder after giving birth. More than 70% of those women downplay or hide their symptoms. Further studies have shown that particularly expats are more likely to suffer from postpartum anxiety, depression and/or experience emotional and social isolation.

There’s a big gap in the existing support

Most preparation is focused on the practicalities of birthing and physical cues you have to pay attention to in mom and baby. Curiously, existing courses and blogs pay almost no attention to the preparation for parenthood itself, nor do they create space for the whirlwind of emotions you go through before, during and after childbirth in your postpartum life.

 

It all continues after the baby is born

Baby in Madrid

Pregnancy apps and prenatal courses will overload you with everything that can happen and how to deal with it up until your baby is born. This creates the belief in most parents that giving birth is the finish line where all worries stay behind and that they will enter into a pink love cloud. As if the moment your baby lands in your arms is considered to be the medal you receive after the marathon you ran and from now one it’ll be a calm and smooth road ahead. This idea of the and-they-lived-happily-ever-after-ending can’t be further from the truth. Most of the worries you felt during pregnancy might dissolve when you hold your healthy baby in your arms, however, now that you are becoming a parent, you’ll be faced with other new kinds of worries.

 

Realistic preparation is key

So how do you prepare yourself for basically everything that happens in your postpartum life? Let’s first tackle the most common and unrealistic belief that states: “once you hold your child in your arms everything will be ok”.

Not feeling great is the real “normal”

Usually the answer we expect to get from a new parent when we ask how everything is going is: “great!” Or maybe we expect them to say: “I’m tired but happy.” Now, what would happen if a new mom were to say: “I feel awful. My body is aching terribly. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m not enjoying this at all. I’m not even sure I totally bonded with my baby yet.” My guess is you’d be at least surprised by this answer. Well, unfortunately the fact is that most new parents do have similar thoughts to this, but almost never feel like they can say it out loud. First of all, because saying it out loud requires them to actually be aware of these feelings and have the courage to own them. And secondly, most people probably fear judgement and lack of understanding from others.

New parents rarely feel completely happy

The truth is that new parents rarely feel completely happy during the period after childbirth. Mom is facing physical changes from hormonal shifts, vaginal tears, low blood pressure, bleeding, exhaustion, upcoming milk production, nipple pain and so much more. On top of that, she is supposed to bond with her new baby while managing the hospital personnel, visitors and answering messages and phone calls from her loved ones. The partner, on the other hand, usually feels powerless through it all when actually they want nothing more than help out. They see the struggle moms go through but can’t always do anything about it because the main thing baby wants is closeness with the mother. Although the partner can take on some of the baby-care, like skin-to-skin and changing diapers, their most important role is to take care of mother’s needs (as well as their own).

From the hospital to home

Baby in Madrid 2And these are just some of the many challenges new parents face when they’re still in the hospital. Once they go home, it doesn’t get better. The whole coordination of sleep, food and household generally feels very overwhelming and even impossible at times. And after this long list, we haven’t even touched the challenges related to “discovering how to take care of this little baby” and “what does it mean to be a parent”. Why is the baby crying? Did they get enough milk? Are they tired? Are they hot/cold? How do I make sure they have everything they need? Is this sleeping position safe? Is my baby still breathing? In other words, it’s to be expected that any new parent is faced by a never-ending list of worries and doubts.

Accept the feelings

So for the general good, let us stop expecting new parents to feel great. Yes, they are lucky to have a healthy baby and yes, they are happy about it. But those positive emotions go side by side with all the more difficult feelings that appear when entering parenthood. Thus, let’s establish this for now and forever: it is totally NORMAL to have a mix of positive and negative thoughts and emotions while becoming a parent!

So, what to put on your postpartum life preparation list?

 

  • Become aware of what you are expecting from parenthood and talk it through with your partner/family/friends.
  • Adapt those expectations to knowing they probably won’t come true and that’s ok and perfectly normal.
  • For tips & tricks on building a support system and preparing for self-care stay tuned for part 2 and 3 of this article coming in the next weeks.

About the author:

Laura Vanderputten  is a social worker, life coach and founder of Nurture to Grow.

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