Watch a clip of Samantha Kemp-Jackson sharing a few parenting tips below.
For anyone who has experienced the rush of emotions that accompany a baby’s birth, it quickly becomes clear that this parenting thing is life changing. Whether you have never before experienced the joy of 2 a.m. feedings, or whether you’re seasoned veterans of sippy cups and beyond, the reality of being the be-all and end-all to a tiny little person is profound.
In an “Information Age” where solutions to every conceivable parenting problem can be answered via a quick Google search, one would think it would be easy for new moms and dads to go online for help. Yet ironically, the glut of available information makes the quest for answers even more fraught with confusion. “Advice overload” can make even the most patient parent exasperated.
“Motherhood was completely overwhelming,” recalls Sharon Vinderine, President and CEO of Parent Tested, Parent Approved (PTPA). “As a new mom with two children 14 months apart, I would finish getting one to sleep through the night and then go straight to trying to get the next child to sleep. The first four years felt endless.”
Though it was rough at times, Sharon got through the baby years with a keen insight on what works and what doesn’t. Her advice? “Trust your instincts,” she says.
She encourages parents to look for answers wherever they can find them, but cautions that not every bit of advice provided is necessarily right for their own situation.
“Nobody’s an expert, not even your mom. But, asking for guidance is part of the parenting process. Keep in mind, just because you have been given advice doesn’t mean you have to take it.”
The first three months of new parenthood, known as the ‘fourth trimester’ as it's known can be stressful. General anxiety about one’s ability to parent well, along with the fear that a healthy amount of sleep will never be experienced again are common feelings with new parents.
“Parents’ main goal is to keep baby fed and rested, and to try and avoid over-stimulation, which can in turn make it difficult for baby to fall asleep,” says Alanna McGuinn, founder and senior sleep consultant of Good Night Sleep Site and Director and Representative for the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants (IACSC).
The lack of sleep that accompanies the birth of a baby can be a shock to unsuspecting parents who are used to a full eight hours or more of uninterrupted rest. During this time, Alanna encourages parents to remember that it’s important to set the stage not only for the baby, but for parents as well.
While many new parents feel the need to establish a sleep schedule for the baby, Alanna suggests a more relaxed approach.
“Take the pressure off in the beginning and understand that there are no sleep rules at this point,” she says. “Habits that get picked up along the way can be easily changed once baby becomes old enough to start formal sleep training at around four to six months.”
1. Accept Help: Many new parents are not only shocked by the amount of work that a new baby brings, but are equally appalled at the state of their home as a result of not having time to clean it effectively. When baby comes home to stay, they should be the priority, so don't hesitate to off-load cooking, cleaning and housekeeping to those who offer, in order to focus on your child. Don't feel guilty in accepting offers from friends and family who offer to cook, clean or babysit. Tired parents can either get a break or can spend more quality time together and with baby.
2. Sleep in the Dark: Jenn Pike, a Registered Holistic Nutritionist says a rested parent is just as important as a rested baby. To help along the sleep process in the early days, Jenn suggests sleeping in total darkness. "This is crucial to a good night's sleep. If there is any level of light coming in, your body receives signals to your brain to stay alert and ‘working’ while you sleep. Even the slightest bit of light in your bedroom can disrupt your biological clock and your pineal gland’s melatonin production.” Jenn suggests black-out curtains or a sleep mask if you're having difficulty nodding off due to worrying about baby. If your sleep issues progress to sleep anxiety, talk to your doctor about sleep supplements.
3. Take Time for Yourself: With the responsibility and work involved with bringing baby home, it’s easy for new parents to lose sight of their own needs. While it may be difficult to carve out “alone time” amidst late night feedings or frequent bouts of crying, it’s crucial to do so, for happiness and peace of mind. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It could be as simple as getting outside for 15 minutes to go for a short walk or to steal away for a few precious moments to enjoy a cup of tea. The key is for parents to support each other in carving out that time. For those who may not be in a parental partnership, take up those offers of help from family members and friends.
4. Use Technology Wisely: We live in a digital age, which can be a huge help for a new parent. From a video monitor in baby’s room to a wirelessly-controlled baby swing, technology can be a boon. Apps, online support and information can also be a great help during the early days. Look for trusted sources that have answers to some of the burning parenting questions, as well as the products that will make life for new moms and dads easier. But realize that technology can be a distraction that takes you down a rabbit hole. Don't get sucked in.
5. Start a Financial Plan Early: Everyone knows that children in general – and babies specifically – are expensive. One of the first questions that new parents ask themselves is “how are we going to afford parenthood?” Wade Stayzer is Vice President, Sales and Service at Meridian Credit Union. He understands the financial pressures facing new parents and suggests that they start early by putting away funds in Registered Educational Savings Plans (RESPs) so that when the time comes, funding for education won’t be a problem.
With the average cost of a four-year post-secondary school education expected to cost nearly $60,000, parents need to be proactive about saving for their children’s education,” says Wayne. “By contributing to an RESP, parents can benefit from government grants and invest up to $50,000 per child tax free.” Understanding that most new parents are on a tight budget, Wayne suggests directly investing the monthly Universal Child Care benefit into the new child’s RESPs.
6. Learn To Say "No": The changes to parents’ lives following baby’s birth often result in feelings of being overwhelmed. For this reason, now is the time to learn the power of saying “no.” Life is different as a parent, especially a parent of an infant. Time is limited, as is energy, so declining people’s requests to visit the baby, or commit to attending functions is perfectly fine. There will be time in future to revisit these options but in the early days of parenting, focusing on baby is the priority.
7. Build Your Support Team: Having a baby can be isolating, especially for the parent who may be on maternity or parental leave. During these times, support is needed more than ever. There are a variety of groups and local meet-ups that can provide both social contact as well as information for new parents. Check online (see tip #4) and find a neighbourhood group or drop-in. It can work wonders to alleviate new parent anxiety and isolation.
8. Work Within Your Financial Means: “Sticker shock” is part of becoming a parent. Baby items can be very expensive so it’s no wonder that new parents experience anxiety when setting out to purchase these goods. Thankfully, the online world provides a variety of options. From furniture, to clothing and toys anything needed can be found online, gently used and in many cases, in great condition. Sites such as Kijiji.ca or craigslist.ca have a range of locally based sellers who are looking for buyers for baby items they no longer need. Many items on these sites are new or almost new and available at a fraction of the cost of retail.
9. Eat Well: Staying nourished with healthy meals is critical to feeling well and having the energy to care for a baby. Healthy doesn’t need to mean expensive or difficult: simple meals that are balanced with protein, grains, fresh fruits and vegetables will go a long way towards helping you feel energized during baby’s early months.
10. Breathe: Take time to breathe, meditate, be mindful or just to be quiet. It is critical to one’s sense of wellness. And it doesn’t have to be a major commitment, either. A few minutes while Baby is sleeping or before the days' craziness begins can set your day off on the right foot. For new parents, this can make a world of difference in their state of mind as well as their happiness.
Samantha Kemp-Jackson is a Toronto-based parenting writer, blogger and spokesperson on all things parenting-related.Read her blog at multiplemayhemmamma.com.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April/May 2016.