"Love hurts" is a great way to describe break ups... and parenting a newborn. Babies are so cute and amazing and adorable... and absolutely and utterly exhausting. They [lovingly] cause the kind of tired that hurts (ie, "love hurts"). And while all that new parent tiredness is expected, it's not easy. And you never really know how bad it will be until you're in the thick of it.
Exhaustion combined with near-constant newborn care creates the perfect recipe for stress. Of course, stress is an inevitable part of parenting a newborn (and throughout parenting, for that matter). In fact, stress is our body's built-in response to threat, and it helps us respond to our child's and our own needs. When stress becomes chronic, however, it creates problems. Chronic stress is known as the "exhaustion stage" in a three-stage human response to stress (the first is "fight or flight," the second is "resistance"), and if it's not resolved, it can lead to a bodily break down (often resulting in sickness).
So the question is, how does a new parent find balance and reduce stress when caring for a new baby in order to maintain health and well being? We've prepared a list of go-to tips for lowering your stress during the newborn days (daze).
Tips for Reducing Stress When Caring for an Infant
Redefine your priorities - When you're caring for a newborn, your priorities change. Ideally, your priorities during this time are two-fold: taking care of yourself and taking care of your baby. Of course, not everyone has that luxury. But when possible, delegate or put off as much possible. Automated bill pay, grocery store delivery, friendly neighbors and family who want to run errands/help out are keys to your ability to focus on the basic and most important priorities.
Create a responsibility plan - If you're in a two-parent household, create a division of responsibilities plan for the days, weeks, and months after baby is born. Ideally, you'll sketch out a plan before baby arrives and tweak it as needed. But if you're in the thick of it right now (and frantically searching for tips), sit down now and create a plan going forward. List out what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis (baby care, household care, meals, sleep duty, etc.) and work with your partner to alternately assign the responsibilities.
Sleep - A pretty obvious tip, and of course, difficult to come by when you're a new parent. The importance of sleep should not be underestimated. When your body is deprived of sleep, your ability to cope with even the smallest things is diminished. During this time, you should try to get sleep however and whenever you can. Even broken sleep is better than no sleep. Put off to-dos that can be put off. Allow people to help. Allow your older kids to have more screen time so you can snag more sleep time. Switch off with your partner to guarantee at least a few uninterrupted hours of sleep at night. If you're a single parent, consider inviting a good friend or family member over to spend the night and help out while you get a little more sleep. And of course, the most simple (but somehow hard to follow through with) advice is the tried and true, "sleep while the baby sleeps." Sounds cliche, but it does work -- as long as you actually do it.
Get help - Stress from parenting a newborn often arises when you become overwhelmed with the fact that you're doing all or most of the work alone. Even if you're a single parent, you should not try and do everything by yourself. There are many sources that can provide help in the form of errands, favors, help with the baby, meals, and even some laundry and housework! The biggest roadblock to getting the help you need is not the availability of people willing to help, but the hesitation or resistance in your asking for help. If this sounds like you, remember that your health (and your baby's) is at stake. Most people want to help but don't know what you need. Reach out to family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, your church community, and others in your wider circle. You can also consider hiring a postpartum doula for help.
Don't try to do it all - Some new parents feel the need to handle and control everything, all the time. Call it the "I've got this" syndrome -- a kind of self-deceit in which you trick yourself into believing that despite monumental changes in your life, you are more than capable of handling it all. This may work for a period of time, but eventually (usually sooner rather than later) the bottom falls out and you are left depleted, or worse -- struggling with a postpartum mood disorder, like depression or anxiety. It's more than ok to admit (to yourself and others) that you can't -- and shouldn't -- try to do everything. Knowing your limitations, and respecting them, is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Get outside - Sunlight and fresh air are known natural stress fighters. It's easy to get cooped up inside the house, day in, day out, when caring for a new baby. Even though it might feel like a hassle, especially if you're dealing with colder weather, getting outdoors with your baby will help boost your mood and improve your sense of well being.
Move your body (aka, exercise) - Similar to the effects of being outside, exercise also has been proven to reduce stress by increasing your body's feel-good hormones, also known as endorphins. Some new parents bristle at the thought of exercise, but it doesn't have to be a rigorous, high intensity workout session! Even a short walk around the block gets your heart rate pumping and helps! Get started at a pace that's comfortable for you and in line with your doctor or midwife's recommendations for postpartum.
Take a break, regularly - We all need a break from our responsibilities, and that absolutely includes parenting. Ideally, your break will involve you getting out of the house, because realistically, you won't totally get a mental break if you can hear your baby in the other room. Getting away for 30 minutes or an hour can go a long way to helping you recharge and recuperate from the mental and physical load that is parenting a newborn.
Stress as a new parent is common but when it becomes chronic and overwhelming, it's important to seek out ways to lower your stress, for the good of your mental and physical health.
TagsParenting New Parents Parent resources Stress Infant Care Newborn care New Dad Parenting Resources New mom New parent stress