Few events in life are as rewarding and terrifying as giving birth to a child. The decision to love, provide for, and nurture a vulnerable human being is a responsibility and privilege that comes with high expectations. No matter how much new parents prepare and anticipate the arrival of their baby, the bundle of joy comes with many surprises and even more questions.
Which parenting strategies are most effective? How should I discipline my child? How do I know if the baby’s behavior is normal? These and so many other parenting concerns have been studied by experts across the fields of psychology, pediatrics, and child development. This guide provides evidence-based information and resources that will be most helpful to new parents
Chapter 1: Information to Help Prepare for Parenthood
Long before the baby arrives, expecting parents can arm themselves with information and resources. Soon-to-be moms and dads should understand such matters as the benefits of breastfeeding, the impact of parental leave laws, and the steps they need to take during each trimester of the pregnancy. The sooner expecting parents start to learn about parenthood, the sooner they will be on their way to chart their own course on this exciting journey.
According to Think with Google, 75 percent of millennial parents “have continued to pursue their personal passions since having children, which is significantly higher than Gen X parents.” This is only one of the many indications that parenting and parenthood have changed significantly over the past few decades. So have parent demographics.
Profile of Mothers
Today, mothers are generally more educated than in the past. They are also more likely to be employed and to be raising their children on their own, according to figures released by the Pew Research Center.
- Education: In 2014, 80 percent of new mothers ages 40 to 44 held a Ph.D. This compares to 65 percent of new mothers in the same age group in 1994.
- Career: In 2015, 70 percent of mothers with children under the age of 18 were in the workforce, compared to 47 percent in 1975.
- Solo motherhood: Twenty-four percent of U.S. mothers are raising children on their own, compared to 7 percent of fathers. Here’s a solo-motherhood breakdown by ethnicity:
- African American—56 percent
- Latina—26 percent
- White—17 percent
- Asian—9 percent
- Generation: In 2016, 17 million babies—82 percent of U.S. babies—were born to millennial women.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2016, there were 3,945,875 births. The mean age of first-time mothers that year was 26.6 years. There were 62 births per 1,000 women ages 15 through 44.
A new parent gets an average of four hours of sleep a night. A survey of 2,000 parents, reported by the New York Post, found loss of sleep to be the biggest challenge (48 percent) of being a new parent. Another survey found that 33 percent of parents fall asleep at work during their first year of being a parent and another 22 percent fall asleep while standing up.
Maternity and Paternity Leave
In 2016, the average maternity leave in the U.S. was 14.5 weeks and the average paternity leave was 11 weeks, according to a study reported by the Society for Human Resources Management. Larger companies are generally able to offer longer paternity leave and more comprehensive family benefits than their smaller counterparts. American Express, for example, offers a 20-week paid paternity leave.
The CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card indicates that in 2015, 83.2 percent of infants in the U.S. were breastfed, 57.6 percent were breastfeeding at six months, and 35.9 percent were breastfeeding at one year. In 2018, 49 percent of employers had a separate room for mothers to use when they breastfeed.
Preparing for the Baby’s Arrival
After receiving all the congratulations from excited friends and family members when the news is announced that an infant is on the way, expecting parents need to focus on the work that has to be done before the baby arrives. Each trimester has its own list of responsibilities that parents need to keep track of.
Nine Steps for the First Trimester:
- Schedule a prenatal appointment. This should occur around week eight and will involve confirming the pregnancy and running preliminary tests. Healthy Women describes the steps to take in this article, “8 Weeks Pregnant: Preparing for Your First Prenatal Visit.”
- Check your health insurance’s pregnancy and family coverage. Expectant parents should consider the type of health plan that best fits their situation. Options include copay, coinsurance, and policies with deductibles. Parents should also factor in any potential out-of-pocket expenses. Learn more about health insurance policies for expectant mothers on PolicyGenius.
- Examine and change your diet. Expecting mothers need to be aware of what they are eating and drinking. Parents magazine provides a food safety guide for pregnant women that lets them know which foods they should and should not eat.
- Quit bad habits. Smoking, most drugs, and alcohol may cause severe, lasting damage to the fetus. Unfortunately, about one out of five mothers who consumed alcohol before becoming pregnant continues to do so after becoming pregnant, according to Parents magazine. Keeping up unhealthy habits is not worth the risk to the unborn child.
- Exercise regularly. Expectant mothers should look for local prenatal exercise classes and enjoy moderate exercise to benefit them and their babies. Speak to your healthcare provider to understand your physical limitations. Medical News Today offers “Exercise Tips for Pregnancy.”
- Learn about your employer’s maternity leave policy. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), parents can get up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or adopted child. Contact your employer to learn about its maternity leave policy and family benefits. Learn more at Parents magazine’s “Know Your FMLA Maternity Leave Rights.”
- Create a budget. Deciding to have a baby is an investment of time and money. Expecting parents should plan ahead for the expenses they will incur in the first year and beyond. NerdWallet’s “Budgeting for New Parents: From Day Care to College” is a great place to start your baby-budgeting research.
- Decide on birth details. Expecting parents should decide whether they would like an obstetrician-gynecologist or a midwife to deliver their child. Parents should also decide if they prefer delivering at home or in a hospital setting. Parents magazine’s “Should You Choose an Ob-Gyn or a Midwife?” presents the pros and cons of each option.
- Sleep, sleep, sleep. Expectant mothers are, in a sense, “sleeping for two.” That’s why they should get at least seven hours of sleep every night. One study found that cesarean sections were 4.5 times more likely to occur if first-time mothers got less than 6 hours of sleep per night. More information about the importance of sleep during pregnancy is in Live Science’s “Sleeping for Two: Sleep Changes During Pregnancy.”
Four Steps for the Second Trimester
- Learn your baby’s sex. Decide whether you want to know if your baby is a boy or girl. If you decide to find out now, you can throw a gender-reveal party or a baby shower to celebrate.
- Get a comfortable maternity pillow. During pregnancy, sleep is priceless. That’s why it’s so important to have the right pillows supporting your back and tummy. Business Insider offers an in-depth look at the pillow options available for expecting mothers in “The Best Pregnancy Pillows You Can Buy.”
- Spend quality time with your partner. A child changes a parent’s life forever: greater responsibility, less time alone, and babysitter expenses. Now is a good time to enjoy the last few months with just the two of you, as explained in Parents magazine’s “Love and Pregnancy: 10 Fun Date Ideas for Pregnant Moms and Partners.”
- Start thinking about names. If you know your baby’s sex, your job is a little easier. Otherwise, you’re going to do double the work. But, enjoy it! Today’s “Experts Predict 120 of the Hottest Baby Names of 2019″ is worth reviewing, if only to learn about the new trend of parents choosing monikers that are “truly gender neutral,” such as Briar, Journey, and Story.
Five Steps for the Third Trimester
- Baby shopping time! Some items you’ll need to buy new, while others you can buy used or borrow from a friend. This task on the new-parent to-do list is one of the most exciting. Parents magazine offers sage advice on the subject in “Baby Shopping Guide: The Must-Haves (and Don’t-Needs).”
- Build and decorate the nursery. This step may involve painting the walls, installing carpet, putting up decorations, and assembling the furniture.
- Conduct a home safety check. Now’s the time to babyproof your home. Stairs, cabinets, sharp edges, electrical outlets, cords, and curtains are all threats to your child’s safety. Get a room-by-room guide to baby safety in Parents magazine’s “Babyproofing Your Home from Top to Bottom.”
- Check your medicine cabinet. Make sure you have a first-aid kit and other items you’ll need to look after your baby. Baby Center provides a “Medicine Cabinet Checklist” that covers baby-care supplies in addition to medicine and first-aid supplies.
- Planning for delivery and postpartum. Be sure to pre-register with the hospital, pack your bag with essentials, and make arrangements for help postpartum.
Pregnancy-Friendly Spa Treatments
Pregnancy is a time when self-care is especially important. Expectant mothers are not only looking after their baby’s health—they should be looking after their own as well. One way expectant mothers can look after their own health and well-being is by treating themselves and their baby to a spa session tailored to pregant women.
The pregnancy site The Bump cautions that expectant mothers should always check with their physician to ensure specific spa treatments will be safe for them and for their baby. The spa activities that are strictly forbidden are those that involve heat, such saunas, hot tubs, steam rooms, and hot body wraps. Any treatment that raises the mother’s body temperature over 102 degrees Fahrenheit poses a risk for the baby.
Most other spa services are not only allowed but recommended to alleviate various pregnancy-related conditions. For example, body scrubs stimulate circulation throughout the woman’s body, which delivers oxygen and other healthy nutrients to help replenish organs and cells. However, because the skin often becomes more sensitive during pregnancy, women should ask for gentle scrubs that emphasize hydration of dry skin (sugar-based scrubs rather than salt-based alternatives, for example.)
While expecting mothers can benefit from receiving a massage, they must confirm that the therapist is trained specifically in massage treatments for pregnant women. For prenatal massages, therapists use body-supporting pillows and beds designed to accommodate the woman’s baby bump. Only scent-free oils and lotions should be used, and aromatherapy is not recommended after the first trimester (inhalation therapy may be a suitable alternative).
Tips for Childcare Considerations
Before your baby arrives, you need to consider childcare options. Even if only one of you will be working after the baby is born, it’s still a good idea to have a babysitter or childcare provider lined up to give you some time to take care of yourself and attend to other responsibilities.
These are among the topics to investigate when considering childcare:
- How does the staff interact with children? Caregivers must be attentive, warm, and responsive.
- What is the center’s discipline policy? Are there time-outs?
- What is the sick-child policy?
- What does the daily schedule look like?
- What kind of snacks do children receive?
After the Baby Arrives
Adjusting to the “new normal” once the baby is born will take time. Moms and dads will come home to very different roles and experiences, and each should be patient as they adapt to the changes. Below are a few tips to help each parent prepare for the transition to life with baby.
What moms should expect:
- The length of postpartum recovery varies. Some women may feel back to normal after six or eight weeks, while others may need more time.
- Hormones will be fluctuating. Chemical changes in the body will unbalance hormones, so new mothers will likely be more emotional.
- Abdominal pain is normal. Pain in the abdomen is caused by the uterus shrinking to its normal size. A heating pad or hot water bottle can help alleviate the discomfort.
- Feeling sad is nothing to be ashamed of. Fluctuating hormones can leave mothers feeling sad and confused for the first week or so. However, severe feelings of sadness that last longer are symptoms of postpartum depression. Tell your healthcare provider if such strong feelings persist.
- Constipation is common. Painkillers and fear are two common causes of postpartum constipation. Drink plenty of water and eat foods high in fiber to help get your system back on track.
What dads should expect:
- There is no “going back to normal.” You need to create a new routine and get used to new (and more) responsibilities, such as loads of laundry and grocery shopping.
- No escape from sleep deprivation. Getting help to take care of household chores may allow you to get some extra sleep, but don’t count on getting eight solid hours any time soon.
- Look out for postpartum depression. Feeling sad is normal, but if the mother seems to lack interest in the child, is frequently irritable or crying, or is having sleeping problems, you need to take her to see the doctor.
- Be confident and patient. It takes time to get used to the role of the father. Both parents will make mistakes and learn from them. Don’t be hard on yourself, and remember to enjoy this amazing and surprisingly brief time with your baby.
Preparing for visitors
New parents have to readjust nearly every aspect of their lives. When relatives and friends want to visit, the list of responsibilities gets longer. Household chores such as vacuuming, washing the dishes, doing laundry, taking out the trash, and dusting become urgent burdens—all because visitors are coming. Here are a few tips to help prepare for having relatives over:
- Prioritize. Don’t try to clean the whole house. Close the door to areas off-limits to visitors and don’t worry about cleaning them.
- Quick clean. Have a basket for random items that need to be picked up so you can easily hide it.
- Don’t apologize. Your visitors don’t—and shouldn’t—expect your house to be squeaky clean after childbirth, so don’t feel like you need to apologize for your messes.
Parents magazine offers more advice along these lines in “Dealing with Baby’s First Visitors.”
Healthcare expectations and medical visits
Upon hospital discharge, you should have been provided with a calendar of postpartum medical appointments to give the doctor a chance to check up on your own recovery and make sure the baby is healthy and developing properly.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently recommended a serious reevaluation of postpartum visits to ensure healthy mothers and thriving babies. The recommendations call for a new focus on what the ACOG refers to as the “fourth trimester.”
Chapter 2: Essential Terms for New Parents
Entering a new stage in life requires learning the jargon—the lexicon of new parents. In a short time, you will become familiar with medical terms, parenting styles, and behavioral issues that will help you communicate clearly with healthcare providers and other specialists.
New and expecting parents will hear many unfamiliar medical terms, such as “baby blues,” “colic,” and “colostrum.” The following list of common baby-related medical terms includes brief definitions and links to more information.
“Baby blues” and postpartum depression: This mood disorder affects nearly 15 percent of women after childbirth. It is caused in part by significant changes in levels of hormones. Unlike postpartum depression, “baby blues” usually last a week or two and are generally mild. Find out more at the National Institute of Mental Health’s Postpartum Depression Facts page.
Fontanelles: These are the six spots on an infant’s skull that are covered with a tough, fibrous membrane. The spots help the fetal head mold and pass through the birth canal.
Colostrum: This yellow fluid is produced by the breasts immediately after childbirth. Learn more about the benefits of colostrum to infants via the American Pregnancy Association’s page entitled “Colostrum—The Superfood for Your Newborn.“
Colic: If a baby cries for more than three hours a day, for at least three days a week, and for at least three weeks, then the baby has colic. However, colic is not an illness and usually goes away. Find out what causes colic and how to treat it in an essay on the website KidsHealth.
Popular Parenting Terms
While there is much advice available on ways to parent, some parenting styles currently getting a lot of media attention include free-range, helicopter, and lawnmower. Each has its drawbacks and unique goals. It’s important for new parents to decide how they would like to parent and to develop their own perspective on the best parenting strategy for their family.
Attachment: Also known as “attachment theory,” the term describes the type of attachment formed between the parent and child in the early formative years and how it impacts the child’s later social and emotional well-being. Paediatrics & Child Health defines attachment as “one specific and circumscribed aspect of the relationship between a child and caregiver that is involved with making the child safe, secure, and protected.”
Free-range: This style of parenting is characterized by giving a child freedom to engage in independent activities to help develop the child’s decision-making skills. Allowing an older child to walk a mile to the grocery store or take a trip around the city using public transit alone are two examples of free-range parenting. Learn more about the goals of this parenting approach in Healthline’s “What Is ‘Free-Range Parenting’ and How Does It Affect Kids?”
Helicopter: This style of parenting is characterized by “hovering” around the child, even through college. Critics point out that helicopter parenting tends to stifle the child’s independence.
Lawnmower: This approach to parenting believes in removing all obstacles in the way of the child’s success or comfort. Scary Mommy compares this parenting style to helicoptering in “Lawnmower Parenting Is the New Helicopter Parenting and Teachers Aren’t Feeling It.”
Chapter 3: Resources to Help You Care for Your New Child
On the parenting site Message with a Bottle, Kate Meier writes that parenting “isn’t something you merely survive or put up with. It’s your life now, and it’s the best part of it… It’s what makes your heart beat a little stronger every day.” The love of parents will be tested as they grow with their child—learning more about his or her view of the world, desires, and dreams.
When a baby is born, an instruction manual is (unfortunately) not included. It’s up to the parents to learn—through trial and error—how their child thinks, behaves, and responds. Fortunately, parents can benefit from insights gleaned by studies into child behavior and development.
- Parents Forum: Parents can increase their emotional awareness by participating in a Parents Forum discussion group.
- PBS Parents: Parents will find expert advice from a community dedicated to kids’ mental and emotional well-being.
- Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D.: Take a free online course entitled Everyday Parenting: The ABCs of Child Rearing to learn evidence-based parenting strategies developed by former American Psychology Association President Alan E. Kazdin, Ph.D., which he refers to as the Kazdin Method.
- Religious organizations: New parents who are members of a religious organization may have access to parenting materials and advice that aligns with their religious beliefs.
Activities for newborns and babies
- com: The site describes 11 activities for babies from newborn to six months old, including dancing, singing, baby sit-ups, and follow the leader. Another activity is filling a basket with small paper items the baby can grab and move around.
- KidsHealth: Read about activities and strategies that encourage learning in your newborn.
- org: Access a list of games and activities for children from birth to 12 months old, all supported by findings of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Early childhood health
- Baby Center: New parents will find information on a variety of early childhood health topics.
- Child Development Institute: This resource offers expert content on child development across all ages and stages.
- Let’s Move: This initiative was started by the former first lady Michelle Obama to combat childhood obesity. New parents can access healthy recipes and tips for keeping children physically active.
- Administration for Children & Families: The division under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers resources to parents on a variety of subjects.
- org: Parents can access e-magazines, newsletters, and other resources regarding child health.
- org: Developed by the Consortium for Science-Based Information on Children, Youth and Families, the site provides information to help parents understand the difference between normal behavior and a potential behavioral issue.
- org: Parents can access information about behavioral issues, learn to spot the symptoms of mental illness, and explore treatment options.
- Child Mind Institute: Experts on childhood behavior offer their insights into such matters as helping children calm down, assisting them through transitions, and teaching them how to regulate their behavior.
Preparing for the Future
Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.” The best way for new parents to prepare a child for the future is to prepare themselves for a lifetime of learning and growing right along with them.
Administration for Children & Families, “Help for Parents and Caregivers”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “ACOG Committee Opinion: Optimizing Postpartum Care”
American Pregnancy Association, “Colostrum—The Superfood for Your Newborn”
Baby Center, “Medicine Cabinet Checklist”
The Bump, “Spa Treatments You Can (and Can’t) Enjoy While Pregnant”
Business Insider, “The Best Pregnancy Pillows You Can Buy”
Child Development Institute
Child Mind Institute, Behavior Problems
Effective Child Therapy
Familydoctor.org, “Recovering from Delivery (Postpartum Recovery)”
Healthline, “What Is ‘Free-Range’ Parenting, and How Does It Affect Kids?”
Healthy Women, “8 Weeks Pregnant: Preparing for Your First Prenatal Visit”
KidsHealth, “Learning, Play, and Your Newborn”
Live Science, “Sleeping for Two: Sleep Changes During Pregnancy”
Medical News Today, “Exercise Tips for Pregnancy”
Message with a Bottle, “What Is It Like to Be a Parent? Here’s an Honest Answer”
Nerd Wallet, “Budgeting for New Parents: From Day Care to College”
New York Post, “New Parents Will Do Almost Anything for Sleep”
Parents, “8 Tips for Choosing Child Care”
Parents, “10 First Trimester To-Dos”
Parents, “A Food Safety Guide for Pregnant Women”
Parents, “Babyproofing Your Home from Top to Bottom”
Parents, “Baby Shopping Guide: The Must-Haves (and Don’t-Needs)”
Parents, “Dealing with Baby’s First Visitors”
Parents, “Drinking, Smoking, and Your Pregnancy”
Parents, “Know Your FMLA Maternity Leave Rights”
Parents, “Love and Pregnancy: 10 Fun Date Ideas for Pregnant Moms and Partners”
Parents, “Should You Choose an Ob-Gyn or a Midwife?”
Parents, “Third Trimester To-Do List”
Parents.com, “11 Simple Activities for Babies: 0 to 6 Months”
Pew Research Center, “7 Facts About U.S. Moms”
PolicyGenius, “How to Pick the Right Health Insurance Policy When Pregnant”
Scary Mommy, “Lawnmower Parenting Is the New Helicopter Parenting and Teachers Aren’t Feeling It”
Society for Human Resource Management, “Study: Little Change to Maternity, Paternity Leave at U.S. Employers Since 2012”
Think with Google, Parenting Statistics
Today, “Experts Predict 120 of the Hottest Baby Names of 2019”
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Births and Natality
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Breastfeeding Report Card
U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Infant-Parent Attachment: Definition, Types, Antecedents, Measurement, and Outcome”
U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, “Postpartum Depression Facts”
USA Today, “What Type of Parent Are You? Lawnmower? Helicopter? Attachment? Tiger? Free-range?”
What to Expect, “A Dad’s Guide to Life After Childbirth”