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Get Ready -- Baby's on the Way!

Whether it's your first child or a new sibling for other children, there's so much to think about and get done. We help you sort through the to-do list.
WebMD Feature

Baby's on the way and you're seeing the doctor, taking your prenatal vitamins, and getting the nursery ready. Fine, so far. But don't overlook the fact that having a baby -- whether it's your first, your second, or even your fifth -- is going to have a profound effect on your life and the lives of those around you.

"It's a huge change," says Claire Lerner, LCSW, child development specialist at ZERO TO THREE, a national nonprofit organization devoted to promoting healthy development in a child's early years.

"Having a baby is life-altering," Lerner continues, adding that it's important for parents (especially first-timers) to know this ahead of time. Otherwise, she says, they can be thrown for a loop when they're confronted with feelings of insecurity, jealousy, being left out, or misunderstood.

"Anticipate the feelings that most new parents experience," says Lerner. Moms, for example, are frequently exhausted and overwhelmed, and can feel that "nobody does it better," so they have to do everything themselves. Dads might feel that they can't do anything right, and have no place in the newborn's life. This may be especially true if the mother is breastfeeding, says Lerner, who suggests that mom use a breast pump so that dad can feed the baby, or have dad sit with mom and baby during feeding times, perhaps even singing or reading to the infant.

Brainstorm before the child is born, says Lerner, to come up with ways of coping with the situations that are bound to arise once the baby has arrived. "If you see this as an opportunity to become closer, and not an obstacle that is going to drive you apart, you'll be able to minimize the sense of aloneness that many new parents feel," says Lerner. "Try to feel what the other parent may be feeling, and then figure out ways together to deal with those feelings."

No matter how much a couple wishes for a baby and feels that their life is in order, the reality is always a major challenge, adds Mary Margaret Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, president of the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners.

"Your life becomes completely disorganized and many fond prenatal dreams are not realized because of physical exhaustion from the work of labor and delivery, as well as the stress of trying to meet all of the new baby's needs and be 'perfect' parents," says Gottesman. "Babies change the very fabric of everyday life."

Babies are, however, worth all of the hard work at adjustment, Gottesman adds, and she offers these tips to smooth the way:

  • Read together about baby care and baby parenting from reliable sources such as Penelope Leach, Barry Brazelton, ZERO TO THREE, and Johnson and Johnson Pediatric Institute.

  • Attend prenatal classes together. Attend more than just the classes for coping with labor and delivery. Look for classes on early newborn care, breastfeeding, infant and child CPR, home safety during infancy, and anything on parenting in the first year of life.

  • Be sure you know how to use your car seat, stroller, and other equipment. Have the car seat installation checked by a knowledgeable safety-seat expert.

  • Talk about those things in your daily life that you cannot change and think about how to preserve them with the least stress. If it's pressed dress shirts, hoard coupons for the dry cleaners. A clean house? Put coupons for home-cleaning services on your baby shower list or accept vouchers from friends to come and help with household chores. In fact, some of the best shower gifts cost little in terms of money (babysitting for a specified number of hours, help with grocery shopping, babysitting while mom takes a nap during the day, volunteering to collect older children from school or take them to sports activities). Like home-cooked meals? Experiment ahead with frozen items to see what you like and stockpile these items, enough to carry you through at least two weeks by just adding prepackaged salads or fresh fruits.

  • Commit to making your new family the priority for at least the first two weeks at home, longer if possible. Learn about and care for your baby together. Encourage each other in your new roles.

  • Make time to go out as a couple to do something you both love. Take the baby to a reliable sitter and cuddle together at home. Talk to each other about what is hard, what is joyful, and what is satisfying about your new lives. Make "parent play time" a priority. You cannot give to your new baby if you are running on empty yourselves.

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