Diapers and sleep deprivation: The challenges of first-time parenthood

Many first-time parents are overjoyed when they first find out the news that they are expecting a baby. They excitedly share the news with family and friends, and dream about what their new life as a parent will look like. However, no matter how many parenting books mothers- and fathers-to-be may read, the reality is that until their child is born many first-time parents are unaware of the significant challenges and changes that come with the transition to parenthood.

In addition to experiencing the joys of being a new mother, it is not uncommon for women to struggle with hormonal changes and the demands of breast feeding. New parents frequently find it a challenge to cope with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, needing to be constantly available to their child, and changes in their social lives, friendships, and relationships with their partners.

Added to these challenges is the fact that some parents – particularly mothers – may feel guilty for not falling immediately “in love” with their child, or not feeling completely happy in their new role as a parent. In particular, men often report having to work at developing a relationship with their baby after the child is born, and having to learn how to become a father. For example, in an article published in The New York Times Andrew Novotny writes about his experience becoming a first time father. Writes Novotny:

When my wife was pregnant, my son would kick and cough, change her body, tastes, routines. She had a visceral, constant reminder of his presence. For me, it was completely different. My son was a notion. I looked the same, felt the same and could easily forget he was on his way”.   

In contrast to his wife’s journey which he saw as “a steady sequence of letting go (giving birth, going back to work, weaning from the breast),” Novotny reflects on his journey into fatherhood as being “a steady sequence of getting closer.”

There is no question that the transition to parenthood presents new experiences and challenges – both individually, and as a couple. It is associated with the full range of human emotions, from absolute joy on one end of the spectrum, to worry, fear, and sometimes despair. If you are experiencing difficulties adjusting to new parenthood, you are definitely not alone. Most individuals and couples find this transition to this new role to be challenging. What is most important is that you don’t keep your feelings to yourself. Rather, share them with your partner, or a trusted friend or family member. Or you may want to join a local or on-line support group for new parents. If you are concerned that you may need professional help, speak with a counsellor in your area who specializes in reproductive health.

Read Andrew Novotny’s experience of becoming a father here.


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