As a new parent, the experience of bringing home and caring for your new baby in the first few months is the first true lesson in co-parenting, compromise, and communication. Now, as a parent of older children, let me also add that parenting in a child's first few months involves an extraordinary set of challenges. Even though you don't yet have to worry about backtalk and discipline, you will likely never be parenting in the same conditions again as you are with a newborn (until of course, you have more kids!). Think about it -- you're running on very little sleep (lack of sleep does wild things to a person's brain function and mental well being); you are completely responsible for keeping another human alive and cared for; everything is brand new (assuming this is your first time) and can feel like entering foreign territory; and, if you're the one who gave birth, your body is undergoing a major transition and healing phase, which is physically taxing.
With all of that said, it's critical to think about how you and you partner will handle -- together -- the job of parenting in the first few months. Consider it like planning a vacation before you go, except this vacation isn't likely to include white sandy beaches and fruity drinks. Open, honest communication, before and during, will be your most important tool and most valuable asset. With communication as your foundation, go through the following list and consider how you will plan for parenting in the first few months.
Expectations - What do you expect of each other in your roles as parents? Does your partner believe that baby care is a (mostly) 50/50 job, or do they have other expectations when it comes to division of responsibilities? What kinds of things do you do for each other now that may take a back seat or be redistributed when baby comes?
Philosophy - Do you know your partner's philosophy on child rearing? While this is one area that is likely open to change and will mold as your child grows older, it's important to discuss early on how you will address parenting challenges, especially if the two of you have differing views. Will you take parenting classes? Will you talk to a therapist? Do you aim to raise your children like you were raised, or, perhaps go as far away from that as possible?
Support - Caring for a new baby is a lot easier with a village -- how will you get support when it's needed? How does your partner feel about inviting family or friends to help out? How does your partner feel about hiring a professional, like a postpartum doula, housekeeper, nanny, or sitter? What kinds of professional resources do you have at hand to help with medical, physical, and mental difficulties or issues? Plan together and create a list of go-to resources for all things that you may need during the first few months.
Boundaries - How does your partner feel about visitors in the early days? How do you feel? Does your partner know? Will you partner help you set boundaries for visiting and imposing with friends and family? What about boundaries with each other and the baby? How will you communicate to your partner that you need some time alone or some personal space? It's easy to feel "touched out" when you're a new parent, and it's important that your partner know that lack of intimacy is not necessarily a reflection of how you feel about them.
Finances - No matter what the situation, finances are usually a hot topic (or worse, an ignored topic) for couples. In the first few months after baby is born, your financial situation may be different or even strained. One or both of you may be on leave and one or both of you could be without a regular paycheck. Ideally, it's best to plan well in advance and put money back before either of you go on maternity or paternity leave. That way, when you're finances are tighter, you have money to pull from without feeling more stressed during a time that already feels stressful. If you are unable to save money in advance, plan for how you will adjust your monthly budget during that time and then be sure to follow through.
Connecting - For many couples, their relationship -- closeness, date nights, and intimacy -- take a back seat for a period of time after baby is born. This is to be expected as the new family dynamic takes shape. It's important, however, to make even small amounts of time for and gestures toward each other to show that they are appreciated and still loved. Newborn days aren't usually a time for romance and rocking between the sheets, but there are so many other ways to show love. It will help to talk through these changes before baby arrives and discuss ways in which each of you would like being shown affection.
For more in-depth information on parenting and relationships after baby, including how to handle conflict, I highly recommend picking up a copy of And Baby Makes Three by John Gottman, PhD, and Julie Gottman, PhD. Some of the biggest challenges and relationship stressors occur after baby is born, and very few of us are naturally equipped for how to deal with them. The Gottmans have relationship advice down to a science (check out The Gottman Institute, too) and provide you with a manual for your relationship as it transitions through parenthood.
Lamaze has created a new online class, just for new parents, called "Parenting Together: Starting Off Strong." The interactive online class is designed for partners to engage in together—whether or not you are married, living together, or even romantically involved. Tested and brought to life by the real parents, it introduces the top challenges that new families face and solutions for overcoming them. Topics covered include preparing for parenthood, working as a team, managing conflict, dividing responsibilities, and adapting to life with baby.