Newborn babies are amazing, cuddly, and deliciously adorable, which is what makes near round-the-clock care for them more bearable. But the reality is also that taking care of a new baby creates stress for parents.
Stress is an inevitable component of the newborn period (and parenting in general) -- in fact, stress is our body's biological response to threat and can be important in helping us to respond to our child's and our own needs. When stress becomes chronic, however, we reach what is known as the "exhaustion stage," the final stage of the stress response (the first is "fight or flight," the second is "resistance"). This stage is aptly named when describing new parents! If left unresolved, the exhaustion stage ultimately leads to a bodily break down, usually seen in the form of illness.
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 (or, daze -- whichever is more appropriate).
Tips for Reducing Stress When Caring for an Infant
Redefine your priorities - When you're caring for a newborn, it's critical to take a look at your priorities and move some of them to the back burner or farm them out to others. When it comes down to the nitty gritty, your top priorities in this phase are: care for yourself and your baby. Breaking that down further, you're looking at eating, sleeping, and bodily care. Of course, you'll also have to maintain certain household management tasks like paying bills (hello, automated bill pay!), grocery shopping (hello, friendly neighbor who wants to help!), and light/basic house cleaning (hello, mother-in-law!), but even those can often be delegated.
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 (and frantically searching the internet for tips), sit down now, with baby nearby, 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 working with your partner, alternately assign a parent to the each of 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. Get sleep however, whenever you can. Even broken sleep is better than no sleep. Put off your to-dos that can be put off. Allow friends/neighbors to stop by and hold the baby... and let you sleep. 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, invite 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 truly works -- as long as you are disciplined enough to 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, consider that you and your baby's health is at stake. Also consider that 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. If you're able, look into 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) 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, or endorphins. Some new parents bristle at the thought of exercise, but keep in mind I'm not talking about a rigorous CrossFit session. Even a short walk around the block counts! 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 her 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.