Congratulations! Your baby's schedule is now your schedule. Newborns sleep up to 18 hours a day. That's broken up into small chunks, and in between, there's feeding, changing, and a whole lot of holding and cooing going on.
Tip: After the first hectic weeks, babies take longer naps at predictable times. You'll become a pro at managing your time.
You've Joined a Worldwide Club
It's called parenthood. Suddenly you've got a lot of friends. Strangers smile at you. Mothers at church or temple ask if you want to join them for a play date. Your boss wants to know how baby's doctor visit went. Enjoy the good company!
Tip: You'll develop a unique parenting style that's right for your family.
Your Relationship Changes
There's one more person to interact with, and that means less time for "us." The relationship dynamic is different, and you can get so busy you'll forget to talk. If one of you provides most of the baby care, the other can feel slighted.
Tip: Set aside time for just the two of you. Make a date and share what's happening in your lives.
A New Nighttime Schedule
It's true. Your new baby rarely means a good night's sleep. That shouldn't last long, but until your newborn dozes through the night, you can take turns with your partner in getting up.
Tip: During the day, don't try to catch up on chores while the baby sleeps. Lie down and rest.
You'll Have Tons of Visitors
Of course family and friends will want to see the new baby. (And they'll bring stories about raising their kids and advice about raising yours.) Be sure guests aren't sick, and have everyone wash their hands before holding the little one.
Tip: Feeling overwhelmed or tired? It's OK to say, "Let's make it another time." Most people will understand.
Your Face Can Do Weird Things
Babies learn by watching and interacting with their environment. You'll find yourself acting goofy to encourage your newborn. After the first few weeks, you'll see your baby studying and eventually imitating your silly faces.
Tip: Smile, stick out your tongue, or make a funny sound to attract their attention.
You Need Help
Babies are a joy, but they also take a tremendous amount of attention. Don't try to go it alone. Both you and your partner should have time each day just for you while the other is taking care of the baby. Watch a favorite TV show, read a book, go for a walk, take a bath.
Tip: If you're a single parent, ask a friend or relative to step in. Time away lets you recharge.
Babies Need Conversation
When you talk with your baby, two things happen: The baby learns, and you bond. And the more you talk, the more those things happen. But remember. Your baby needs to hear real words in order to learn to talk.
Tip: Imitate your baby's sounds -- "ba-ba" or "goo-goo" -- then wait for them to make another sound, and repeat that back. This helps them learn the give and take of conversation.
Guilt Is Normal
You told yourself you'd be a top-notch parent. But you may long for your old life sometimes, then feel guilty that you aren't enjoying every second of parenthood. You're not alone! It's natural to want a break from the baby.
Tip: When they are safe in the crib, call a friend. Give yourself a break -- and credit for all the things that are going right.
Children's Books Are Literature
If you didn't know children's books before, you'll fall in love with them now. Many are written with both parent and child in mind. They entertain while they educate. Babies love to be read to, and it's never too early to start with yours.
Tip: Reading aloud will help your baby recognize words when they're older.
You'll Make Mistakes
Maybe in a perfect world there are perfect parents. In the real world, the general rule is: Do what works. If your child's too old for a pacifier but it helps them sleep, you'll want to go along with it. Let yourself off the hook -- it won't hurt them.
Tip: When in doubt, ask your pediatrician.
You Become a Judge
As your child grows, so does your role as mediator. There'll be boundaries to establish, disputes between siblings to settle, timeouts to monitor. Discipline isn't the easiest thing to administer, but it's part of the job. And it's healthy for your child.
Tip: Set aside time with your kids individually, so each gets your undivided attention and feels special.
You Gain a Bathroom Buddy
It'll be a couple of years before you start potty training your new baby. When you do, either you or your spouse can expect an audience when you go. It's called parent modeling, and it's one way to teach what using the bathroom is all about.
Tip: Kids learn from your actions as well as your words.
Baby Love Is Real
For some parents, it's instantaneous; for others, it may take a while. Someday you'll look at your child and feel a depth of emotion you hadn't known before. Just how boundless that unconditional love is can come as a pleasant surprise.
Tip: Relish it, and build on it for a lifelong relationship.
Your Child Is an Investment
The average middle-class family spends more than $225,000 in the first 18 years of a child's life. That's just to provide food, shelter, and other necessities. It doesn't include things like increases in health insurance -- or college.
Tip: Start your financial planning now so you're well prepared.
Parenting Is Letting Go
Every milestone is an accomplishment, and you can be proud you helped your child get there. At the same time, each one means your child is more independent and needs you a little less. It's the bittersweet of being a parent.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
(1) Frida Marquez
(2) Chris Carroll / UpperCut Images
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(5) LWA, Taxi
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(10) Ryan McVay / Stone
(11) IAN HOOTON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
(12) Cal Crary / Taxi
(14) Ryan McVay / White
(16) Jan Eickhoff / Photographer's Choice
KidsHealth: "A Guide for First Time Parents," "How Becoming Parents Can Affect Your Relationship," "Learning, Play, and Your Newborn."
National Sleep Foundation.
News for Parents.org: "8 Ways Parents Can Promote Reading at Home," "Baby Talk," "In the Afterglow of Birthing Circles."
Parenting.org: "Communicating with Your Child," "Sleepless in Parentville!" "Who’s on First? Giving Kids Their Fair Share of Attention."
University of Georgia Extension Services: "Why Read to Infants Before They Can Talk?"