What were we thinking! promote confidence and reduce distress in parents with a first baby

Newborn challenges

By John

Newborn challenges

For me, looking after our newborn was all too easy.

If you're reading this, and are struggling with feeding and sleeping patterns, you may want to hit me over the head with a nappy for boasting, but the boredom I felt when caring for our newborn presented me with my own set of problems – most notably how to communicate the way I was feeling.  

I have always looked forward to spending time with our son, but now that he’s a little older I am definitely more excited to spend time with him than when he was a newborn. It's not because he wasn't adorable, or because I didn't love him – that's so far from the truth. The problem for me was that I always craved something more mentally stimulating to supplement our time together.

When I said that I found things all too easy, I was referring to the level of challenge caring for our newborn presented. Whilst our son required constant time and attention, I didn’t find myself being challenged. I was used to working a full time job, as well as keeping myself busily occupied with many hobbies and activities, so looking after our son sometimes felt like I was sitting in the naughty corner and had to stay there until I was released!

Aside from the obvious basics (maintaining the surrounding temperature, preventing harm, respond to crying and managing inputs and outputs as required), there wasn’t much happening and there wasn’t much to do. I didn’t find caring for a newborn very mentally stimulating and I felt that my ‘my’ time got replaced with babysitting. 

For the dominant species on the earth, it's quite surprising that it takes over a year to learn how to walk but for some species it only takes a matter of minutes. Progress is really slow and there must be an enormous amount of development occurring that just doesn't present itself when a baby is growing up.

Maybe seeing the world for the first time is a lot to comprehend, or growing up and doubling or tripling your weight, is fully consuming? Sure, there are milestones (seeing more than a metre away, smiles, expressions, sounds, grips, tickles, rolling, sitting and crawling etc.) but these are few and far between compared to the plethora of new and interesting things older babies will surprise and excite you with each day.

I am now rejoicing that our son has become a little older and has entered into the phase of cognitive, emotional and social development. There is a real sense of interaction and we can spend time together doing things that are fun and interesting. It's great to see his personality evolve, to discover who this little person really is and to be surprised by how impressionable he can be. I love hearing him mimic what I say and attempt to copy my every gesture and look forward to our Duplo time evolving into Lego time.

I didn't really find a way to make the ‘babysitting’ stage more stimulating and wonder if any other parents were able to? I can only assume that I'm not the only parent who found the monotony of life with a newborn challenging.

Expert response from What Were We Thinking! expert, Sue Doogan

I can categorically say, John, that you certainly aren’t the only parent that has found the newborn period not quite the challenge you were expecting. For most people, the newborn period can be nothing like they expected – challenge or otherwise!

You are correct in saying that the amount of development that takes place in the first 12 months is astounding – even when the babies are sleeping they are growing and developing! Initially trying to develop the feed, play, sleep routine leaves little time for much else, yet the expectation of couples is often that life won’t change when they have a baby.

Over the years, when I have initiated some open conversation with individuals/couples, it is wonderful how honest some will be. With the value of hindsight, some people have wished the fathers in the relationship had not taken time off work directly after the birth of their child and had actually waited until their newborn was 6 – 8 weeks old. At this time, as opposed to being straight out of the hospital, both mother and baby had settled into more of a routine.

Some women have said that their partner was ‘under their feet’ in the first few weeks of parenthood looking for guidance on how to care for a baby when they, themselves, were learning what to do. “It put more pressure on me,” some mothers have said.  Others said that the father in the relationship took paternity leave to build a deck or attend to other projects they had on their to-do list!

Some of the dads, just like you John, have said they too felt like a babysitter – particularly when breastfeeding was being established. Others stated that they felt they were being judged if they didn’t feel the same range of emotions as their female partner. Other fathers have said that it was automatically assumed that, “of course he’ll be taking paternity leave the minute the baby is born.”

As a society we can sometimes be quick to judge dads. Will they or will they not take paternity leave? Will they contribute to parenting and an equal share of household/baby duties? Will they have the same degree of love and affection for their baby as their partner does? In no way am I saying men are absolved from having any responsibility in day to day care of baby, but they are undergoing a radical change in their transition to parenting that women don’t generally have time to think about. 

Many dads have real fear as they suddenly realise they have sole responsibility for supporting the family financially (whether that be short or long term.) It’s also a time when many men reflect on the way they were parented and changes that they wish to make for their own child. I am not advocating that women attend to the newborn all alone (although some women may need to look after a baby alone for various reasons), I am instead suggesting that the mother has a supportive team around her that includes the partner along with family and friends.

For some, the newborn period can be a huge challenge with its stresses, lack of confidence and anxious moments. Being open and honest with your partner (along with family and friends) in regards to your fears, emotions, physical and mental health is the best way to overcome any challenges you may be experiencing. Remember that you are not alone and that there are numerous professionals and support networks out there if you require assistance.

The challenge to parenting is constantly talking and checking-in with your partner! Knowing that as individuals you will experience different joys and different sorrows at different times in your role as a parent is especially important to talk about and acknowledge.  Your own family shaped who you are as individuals and it’s some of these traits, values and morals that drew you to your partner in the first place! Together you will create new family traditions while you witness the physical, emotional and cognitive growth of this little person you have brought into the world (even if some stages can be a bit boring!)

Keep communicating John. Not only will you be happy, your baby will be happy and will thrive too.

Posted in:  Baby 0-4 weeks  Baby 5-8 weeks  Baby 9-12 weeks  A new reality  In this together  Your needs  Dads