25 Ways to Handle the Stress of a New Baby

Bring some calm to the chaos with first-year survivor strategies that work.

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on December 01, 2012
8 min read

Jen Singer, author of You're a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren't So Bad Either) andcreator of MommaSaid.net, isn't particularly fond of babies. "That's because both of my sons' first years were the most stressful for me," she says. "They were colicky, one had reflux, and neither one slept through the night for a whole year."

Tammy Gold understands Singer's sentiments. Gold is a New York-based psychotherapist and a certified parenting coach and mother. She launched Gold Parent coaching in November 2007 to help distraught parents like Singer. "There are nannies, doulas, and lactation specialists," she says, "but no service helps parents with this gigantic change. Everybody's learning, everybody's struggling."

"It's not just the actual time and effort involved in caring for this tiny creature that makes it so tough to find time for yourself," says psychologist and mom Pamela Freundl Kirst. "There's also an instinctually based psychological drive called primary maternal occupation that focuses your life on the relationship with your infant. Appreciating this can help you find ways to nurture and care for yourself directly."

One minute, you’re child-free, and the next your life is 12 diapers a day, cuddles, cries, coos, and a fuzzy memory of what life was like BB -- Before Baby. It might be a shock to the system, but having a few basic guidelines can help ease your mind.

1. Establish a Parental Plan

Gold recommends parents discuss how they will address a wide range of issues. How are you going to handle visiting in-laws? Who's going to get up in the middle of the night? And how does each of you feel about letting a baby cry?

"Once you get on the same page physically, emotionally, and philosophically," Gold says, "things will be smoother." But, she says, "you must do it before chronic sleep deprivation and physical and emotional exhaustion set in."

2. Postpone Energy-Draining Projects

"I would warn that extreme demands like marathon training should be put on hold by both parents until after the baby's first year," one mom, who requested anonymity, says.

"The combination of new baby and his training schedule did not mix well. I did a lot of single parenting, felt lost as a new mom, and had no time for taking care of my own exercise needs post-pregnancy. It takes time to adjust. And if that adjustment is not a team effort, it can cause tension that will impact the whole family for years to come."

3. Plan for Baby's Arrival -- Now

Before the baby is born, create a schedule of day care drop-offs and pick-ups, planned down time, and date nights. "It sets the pattern for the next 18 years of schedule juggling," one mom says.

4. Stay Flexible

The first year of a new baby's life requires a huge level of adaptation on the part of parents, Kirst says. "Let your baby teach you about structure, flexibility, and creative problem-solving," she says. "Babies are life-altering in the challenges they present. Learning to respond and adapt to the issues babies bring to your life can be life-enhancing. You learn to think on your feet."

5. Keep a Log

Gold suggests writing down baby's feeding, sleeping, and crying habits. It will help you identify patterns and give you a record you can use for instructing caregivers.

6. Rethink Priorities

Jennifer Shu, pediatrician and co-author of Heading Home With Your Newborn, says to "only put on your (regular) to-do list tasks that absolutely have to get done." How do you know what kind of task to put on that list? Shu says, "If it doesn't get done, your family's health, safety, and well-being would be at risk. Outsource things that you dread doing -- yard work, grocery shopping, laundry -- or that can be done just as well by someone else."

Singer seconds that notion, saying, "They'll appreciate helping and you'll appreciate the break."

7. Farm Out Meals

Sign up for a meal delivery service for the first year or even the first month if financially feasible. Prepared meals are nutritionally balanced, healthy, and tasty, and they provide variety. They also eliminate the need for grocery shopping, menu planning, and cooking. Likewise, stock up on takeout menus.

8. Try a Little TLC

"Get hugs from your partner when you can," Karen Deerester, owner of Family Time Coaching & Consulting, says. "Fall into grown-up arms when you're exhausted and overwhelmed. You're entitled to a whole year to rebalance your family around the baby."

9. Leverage the Internet

Online forums provide a sanity check for new parents, but beware of information overload. Parents need to keep in mind that not everything they read is reliable or a good fit for their family.

10. Stay Connected to Your Partner

Shoshana Bennett is a clinical psychologist and author of Postpartum Depression for Dummies. She says dates every other week "like clockwork" can keep a relationship ticking. Mom can slip out of sweats and into silk to aid in the transition. "One ground rule," she says, is "you are only allowed to talk about the baby for the first 10 minutes."

11. Beware the Risks of Comparing

Resist the urge to "compare and despair" when it comes to your baby and anyone else's.

12. Find the Humor

Making sure to laugh is mom Karen Deerester's strategy. "Laugh a lot," she says. "Imagine you are in a sitcom."

It's not that you want to stay awake. It's just that in a large part of that first year, sleep is a rare commodity.

13. Sleep When Baby Sleeps

Sleeping when the baby sleeps is time-tested advice, and it works. Bennett says, "Sleep is a medical necessity even for new moms." Sleep is also an important way to guard against postpartum depression.

"When one parent is up, the other one should be sleeping," Bennett says. The one on duty can sleep with the baby; the other one in a separate part of the home with a white noise machine and earplugs. Even nursing mothers can protect their brain chemistry from crashing as long as they get a few uninterrupted hours of sleep each night."

14. Don't Be a Super Hero

"It's tempting to try to take on the Super Mom role, insisting on doing everything for the baby from diapering to handling pediatrician's appointments," Singer says. "But you wind up exhausted, which won't help the baby -- or you."

Neal Patrick, father of two and a vice president of marketing, says he and his wife survived the first year with the use of a "night nurse" a few times a week. "Our first baby did not sleep well through the night, causing us to be completely sleep deprived. When the second child was almost due, we were able to find a pair of RNs who needed some extra money." The nurses each took one night a week where they stayed overnight with the Patricks. "They 'owned' the monitor and we were able to sleep with it turned off in our room. This one thing allowed us to feel refreshed in the morning -- at least for two days -- and able to keep up with two little ones!"

15. Let It Go -- Without Guilt

Babies don't notice dirty dishes in the sink or laundry piled high. Let things slide in exchange for taking a break or catching some ZZZs. "Teach the baby to draw in the dust on the shelves," Paula Polman, a mom and business owner in Edmonton, Canada, says.

16. Try a 'Baby Burrito'

A baby burrito is a special way to wrap a baby in a blanket so they feel more secure and may sleep better. You can find instructions for how to do it online.

17. Address Baby's Sleep Issues Sooner Rather Than Later

Singer says to work with your pediatrician to get baby to sleep through the night. "Get a good book on sleep techniques and get started on getting your nights back."

18. Rotate Night Duty

"I waited until I was 38 to get married and then had two boys back to back," Lisa McDonald, director of marketing for George Washington University Hospital, says. "I work full time and my husband is home with the boys and also a consultant. The first time around, we took shifts throughout the night, one of us getting up for the 2 a.m. feeding and the other for the 4:30 a.m. feeding. We were both sleep deprived and cranky all the time."

The second time around, she says, they got smarter. "We rotated the nights of the week. One took Monday night and the other took Tuesday night. In this way, one of us always got a good night's sleep. Then, if the opportunity presented itself to take the boys out of the house the next day, the parent who did the 'night shift' might even work in a nap."


Everyone knows exercise is good for stress. But just exactly how do you manage to get a good workout, when you've got so much to do taking care of a baby?

19. Rethink Your Routine

Fitness expert Kathy Smith, creator of the exercise DVD Tummy Trimmers, is the mother of two daughters. "The first year is very disruptive to your schedule," Smith says. "It's physically and emotionally demanding. It's really a time to nurture the baby and yourself, not to add the extra burden of getting back into shape."

Smith says new moms can "think outside the box." You can do pelvic or isometric exercises while you cook or abdominal contractions while you nurse. "A pre-dinner walk with spouse and baby," she says, "sets the tone as a family for a lifetime of exercise."

20. Exercise With Baby

It seems counterintuitive, but when you're dead tired, exercise can boost your energy. Try Mommy and Me swim or yoga classes. Get outside into the sunshine -- a guaranteed mood enhancer. Take your baby for a walk or a run in the jog stroller or on a hike with a front pack. Just always protect your baby from the sun’s harmful rays.

21. Work Out In Short Bursts

Daniel Iverson, a dad and personal trainer, says you can stretch or do squats when you are diapering your baby -- up to 10 times daily -- for a fitness boost. "When the child is old enough to see you, you can do squats with an overhead 'baby' press. As the baby gets heavier, your muscles adapt to lifting the progressively heavier child. It's like dumbbells that grow."

22. Spread Your Workouts Throughout the Day

Smith points out, "Exercise is cumulative. So 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 minutes at night add up and boost metabolism." She recommends strapping baby into a front pack and jumping on the stationary bike or treadmill. "The motion often puts baby to sleep -- an added bonus."

23. Exercise in the Evening

Jennifer Walker, RN, co-author of The Moms on Call Guide to Basic Baby Care, likes evening exercise. "Babies have a certain amount of energy that they have to expend before settling down for that long stretch of nighttime sleep. In the inevitable evening fussy time, take them on a stroll or exercise with them."

24. Find a Gym With Child Care

Many places accept babies as young as 12 weeks; the sooner you go, the more comfortable you and baby will be in that environment.

25. Maintain Perspective

Remember, this phase will pass -- all too quickly as most parents attest. Donald Martelli, a father and vice president of a public relations firm, says, "Have patience; the joys of having children far outweigh the stresses."