Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And Baby Makes Three Part 3- The Challenge of Change

In the first 2 installments of this series on parents' relationships, we talked about how having a baby can change couples' relationships and then we explained how one research study describes how couples become a family. In this installment, we'll talk about how these charming little beings can wreak such havoc on their parents. In what specific ways must couples change when their newborn comes along?

A New Orbit

When two people are at the start of their relationship with each other, they tend to feel as if they are the center of their own universe. They sneak away to their own special places, develop inside jokes, and smile secretly to each other among friends about shared experiences. Even during pregnancy, couples plan, fret, and dream together. Then, quite suddenly, the couple finds that their universe has shifted, they have a new orbit and this one, revolves around the baby. This reorientation can be tough at first but it doesn't take long before new routines fall into place. Children are an incredible source of inside jokes and shared experience - your new orbit will feel just as comfortable as the old one. You just need to give it some time.

No Solid Ground

Even if pre-baby couples felt confident in every other aspect of their lives, they often feel lost when it comes to the new baby. They recognize that the baby is so vulnerable but sometimes feel unsure about how to help when the baby is unhappy. We hope that our "secrets" are helping you feel confident that you understand what your baby needs, even if we can't help you catch up on all that lost sleep!

So Much to Do and So Little Time

Caring for tiny new babies takes an enormous amount of work. Feedings, diaper changes, baths, dressing, calming, and playing all take time. Using some very unscientific methods, we estimated that the average couple spends about 9 hours a day (24 hours) caring for their newborn - 300 minutes feeding, 45 minutes with diaper changes and cord care, 160 minutes calming (only at the peak of fussiness in the first 6 weeks), and 40 minutes playing and interacting. These activities don't include household chores, eating, showers, visiting, doctors' appointments, being with each other, and oh yes, sleeping. The baby will sleep 13-14 hours per day (in spurts of course). Let's say you manage to sleep 12 hours in bits and pieces, that leaves you about 3 hours per day for everything you did before you had the baby. So, when you feel like you have no time to get anything done, you're right! Things do get better as parents get more efficient and as babies get older and easier to care for, but those first few weeks are overwhelming.

Moving at Snails' Pace

Just when couples have more to do than they ever had in their lives, they find that even the smallest things, like going to the grocery store, takes forever. Going anywhere with the baby means packing and repacking, and checking and rechecking, using the unfamiliar car seat, the ever-jamming stroller, and everyone who knows you will want to stop and say hello (and tell you crazy stories about their own birth and newborn experiences). Unfortunately, it takes a long time before you feel like you can go anywhere quickly. With toddlers, the whole world slows even more (I used to like that!). But you can reduce your stress if you just plan for the time, including the time needed to deal with the big diaper blow out just as you get everyone settled in the car.

New Parents Need New Ways to Communicate

New parents may not believe me, but all the knowing smiles, the laughter, and the fun will come back, but while you're struggling through the early weeks, you need to be very careful with each other. When it was just the two of you, you may have thought that you could read each others' minds but don't assume that you can do that when the baby is young. You're both going to feel unsure, tired, and overwhelmed so you need to find new and direct ways to communicate your needs.

For those of you who have "been there" - we'd love to hear from you about your big changes and especially what you think of our 9 hour workload estimate! Let us know by leaving a comment.

Next time: And Baby Makes Three Part 4: How the Adjustment to Parenthood Differs for Women vs. Men

Fowles ER, Horowitz JA. Clinical Assessment of Mothering During Infancy. JOGNN 2006; 35: 662-670.

Deave T et al. Transition to Parenthood: The Needs of Parents in Pregnancy and Early Parenthood. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2008; 8:30.


  1. Our first few weeks with the new babe were different from many, because my husband already had two teenagers of his own. After we got hoem from the hospital, we still had to deal with homework and school for the teens. So our routine had to remain pretty much the same.

    We had OUR time with the new one during the day, but when the kids got home from school, we had to attend to other people as well.

    After he went back to work and it was just me and the baby, I found that I had NO time during the day for me. I slept when she slept, didn't have much time to eat because I wasn't adept enough yet to eat while nursing. I got a large glass of water and sat down on the couch or in the bed to nurse. If someone was home with me, I had help to make sandwiches or whatnot.

    We were very blessed with meals from church. While my husband could've done the cooking (as was our routine back then), it was nice to not worry about it.

    9 hours a day with the baby??? Yeah, I'd believe that. But my husband is so efficient at EVERYTHING he does, when he was home we probably were able to get more done than the average new parent.

  2. 9 hours! More like 18....at least it feels like that sometimes.

  3. We have twins! We have a big family and they live nearby. They help us all the time. That makes a huge difference.