Reducing the stress of parenthood

10 ways to reduce both the mental and physical stress of bringing a new baby home

By Emma Biggar, IBCLC

Last updated 18th of September 2019

The early days, weeks and even months after bringing a new baby home can be a time of high stress as families adjust to the new routine and family dynamics. Things may feel manageable at first but as time passes our partner returns to work, family members that may have been staying with us need to go home suddenly leaving us solely responsible to care for the baby. We may need to juggle the needs of our older children as well as the new baby. Most mothers report feeling tired in those early weeks with many, at times, reporting they feel overwhelmed and isolated.

It's common to hear advice such as "sleep when the baby sleeps" and to not worry about the mess as it builds up around you. But what happens when this isn't an option for you or the mess just adds to your anxiety? It's of little wonder parents welcome any plans that help make life feel that little bit more in their control. The following is a list of things other parents have found helpful in minimising the mental and physical load of of all the other "stuff" so you can get on with enjoying your time with your precious baby. You might find some suggestions more helpful than others or you may even build on from the suggested ideas making them your own.

1. Accept offers of help

Caring for a new baby or even just children in general can take up a lot of time. In the early weeks the offers of help from friends and family are likely abundant. Offers might include help to catch up on cleaning, to provide you with some cooked meals, or offers to mind older children. Sometimes it can feel like we are burdening others by accepting this help. Try to remember that these are people who love and care about you. The last thing they want to see is you struggle. Accepting others helps strengthens relationships and often makes others feel good about being in a position to help you. Plus if it means they get new baby cuddles then really you might be doing them a favour too. Some mums might create a to-do list and place it in a prominent area where guests are likely to see it. When guests ask if there's something they can do to help you can direct them to this list. Sometimes this can reduce some of the awkwardness of turning down unhelpful offers and allows our guests to pick something that is within their interests and/or capacity. If we're really lucky, sometimes having a list in plain sight can result in friends and family taking the initiative to just get some of those things done without any further dialogue needed.

2. Meal planning

Knowing when and where your next meal is going to come from can be a huge weight lifted off your shoulders. many people find it helpful to spend a little time planning out meals they can cook or prepare food ahead of time, ready to eat. There are many ways to organise yourself and ways to plan meals that allow you to continue eating healthy and nutritious meals after becoming a parent. Click here to read about suggestions that can work for you.

3. Online shopping

Sometimes just the thought of getting everything organised to even get out the door feels overwhelming. Unfortunately our need to purchase groceries and other household items doesn't get placed on hold just because we are struggling to physically get to the shops. Thankfully we can purchase just about anything without ever leaving the house. Groceries can be purchased online and delivered right to our front door. Many of the big retailers even offer free first time delivery and variable delivery prices depending on the window of time you agree to be home to accept the delivery. There are even apps such as Paprika recipe manager where you can upload your favourite recipes that will generate a completely modifiable shopping list with just a click of a few buttons.

4. One chore per day

Bear in mind that "keep the baby alive" is a very important and time consuming job. It's okay if this is the only thing you manage to cross of your to-do list each day. However, perhaps you're one of those people that feels restless and uncomfortable allowing the dishes or washing to pile up. You might be one of those people that feels more productive and fulfilled knowing you got at least one thing done around the house to keep the household afloat. Some people find setting a timer for 15 minutes and limiting yourself to dealing with one task such as decluttering, loading the dishwasher or folding some washing etc brings a little peace of mind. Once the timer has gone off you can decide whether you are in a position to continue (because the baby is still asleep and you have the energy) or whether that will be enough until you next get an opportunity. You might find this helpful to do a couple or more times a day or every few days depending on how your day is panning out. You might not complete all of the task in that time frame but using a timer might help motivate you to get started. Sometimes knowing there's an end point when the timer goes off can help you feel less overwhelmed by the size of the job.

5. Hire a cleaner

If this is within your means, outsourcing some or all of the cleaning can lift a huge weight off your shoulders. It might just be a one off to help you get back on top of things or something you consider as an ongoing support. The financial cost of having a cleaner can vary quite considerably but the time saved and reduced stress can prove invaluable. There are cleaning services you can look into that do all the hiring for you. They do tend to be a bit more pricey but often come with more guarantees such as reduced risk of cancellations and potentially better quality control, however, it doesn't have to be expensive either. You might find someone through a community platform such as Airtasker or know a friend with a teenager looking for a little extra income.

6. Auto-pay bills

Avoid the mental load of needing to remember what needs to be paid when or the embarrassment (plus late fees and stress) of having your power or services cut off because you've forgotten to pay the bill by setting up your online banking account to automatically pay your bills each month. If this feels overwhelming or a little too intimidating you might have a tech-savvy friend that can help up set it up. It usually only takes 30 minutes which can be a small time investment but pays off big each month.

7. Reframing the way we talk to ourselves

This one might feel odd but can be hugely beneficial. It can be helpful to change "I can't" to "I can't, yet". Adding in the "yet" gives a sense of impermanence. Sometimes the issue is really that we feel like it's going to be like this forever and the weight of forever becomes so overwhelming. You will find your new rhythm as a parent, and again when you become a parent to multiples. You will find ways to organise yourself so that you can get out of the door on time. The house work will get done eventually. You can give yourself permission to slow down and just be present with your baby as you are right now.

8. Plan ahead

This one might seem obvious but planning ahead can really save last minute stress. This might be putting things in the diary, packing the nappy bag and so on as some of the major obvious ones but it's adding in time for the little things that can be a real life saver such as allowing extra time just to get in the car (because getting in the car seems to just about always include a vortex where time inexplicably vanishes).

9. Communicate with your partner

Caring for a baby really is a full time job. Just because you are home doesn't mean you have the time or energy to take on all that is required to keep the household running. It's an unpaid, 24/7 job with no guaranteed breaks. No paid profession would allow some of the working conditions placed on the stay-at-home parent so don't for a minute think that what you are doing is any less important or valuable than your partners paid employment. Discuss with your partner about realistic expectations and come up with plans on how you can share the workload.

10. Practice gratitude

Sometimes we need to consciously make the effort to stop and enjoy our time with our baby. If we only focus on the problems then all we are likely going to see are problems. It can be helpful to purposely direct our attention to the things we do have in our lives, the things that make us smile, the things that make our life possible to remind ourselves of all the abundance around us. Research shows that having an attitude of gratitude can lead to a life of joy and happiness. However, leading researchers in the field, such as Brené Brown, argue that for it to truly work you need to have more than just this mindset. It requires you to actively practice gratitude through things like keeping gratitude journal, doing daily gratitude mediation or prayers, creating gratitude art or even stopping during stressful/busy days to actually say the words "I am grateful for..." outloud.

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Emma Biggar is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Registered Nurse and mother of three. Emma provides in-home breastfeeding and early parenting support to families in the Eastern and South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Click here to read more about the types of services available or here to visit the online booking page. Contact Emma by email here or visit her website or Facebook page.