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Is There Any Way to Emotionally Prepare for Parenthood?

Focus on your relationship (if applicable) and shore that up before the often-rocky first year of parenting hits. Dr. Saxbe said that a couple’s relationship quality tends to decline around the transition to parenthood, but you don’t have to follow that trend. “The year following childbirth is one of the most stressful times in marital relationships; couples who haven’t adequately prepared for the hardships of parenting in terms of logistics, child-rearing philosophies and financial issues are more likely to experience conflict and marital stress,” said Noosha Niv, a psychologist and the founder of the Mind Matters Institute, in Glendale, Calif. How can you prepare your relationship? Reflect on the strengths and challenges within your union, Dr. Morelen suggested. (And check out our guide for how partners can best support pregnant women.) A new baby will stress even the healthiest of relationships, so it’s important to build strong communication strategies with your partner before the baby arrives.

Dr. Niv said she helps expecting couples to establish where their parenting values align and, more important, where they don’t align. “It’s important to identify and reconcile values surrounding parenting before the baby is born; reaching resolution on parenting topics is far more difficult when you’re stressed and sleep-deprived,” she said. If you’re parenting with a partner, it’s a good idea to discuss child rearing philosophies before the baby arrives. When you’re visualizing and preparing your parenting plans, add your baby to the picture. “Think about what your baby will be like,” said Dr. Morelen. “Think about traditions you’d like to share, lessons you’d like to teach, songs you’d like to sing, etc.”

It’s natural to feel afraid of or anxious about certain aspects of parenthood. “Give yourself permission to feel a range of emotions,” said Dr. Morelen. “Talk to trusted loved ones about your feelings — chances are you’ll learn that you’re not alone.” But if fear or stress is persistent, Dr. Trent recommended taking a hard look at the scenario that scares you. “Set aside a block of time solely devoted to nailing down what, specifically, about the situation or possible outcome is evoking fear or stress,” she said. Doing so allows you to realistically appraise the actual concern (instead of the more nebulous fear) and also allows for problem-solving. If this strategy doesn’t provide enough relief, consider seeking professional help to ease anxiety.

It’s helpful to overestimate how much recovery and support time you’ll need. Postpartum medical care generally ends after the six-week postpartum checkup, and hormones have usually evened out by that point. But studies have shown that it can take six months to a year to fully recover (physically and mentally) from childbirth. According to a study by researchers at the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing, it can take over eight months for pelvic floor recovery alone. Research by Julie Wray, of the University of Salford in England, found that mothers need up to a year to recover. It’s just not realistic to expect to “bounce back” two weeks after birth. Unfortunately, it also may not be realistic to avoid going back to work.

To aid in recovery, Jephtha Tausig, a psychologist in New York City, recommended that new mothers outsource some tasks. “If you can have others help with errands and chores (laundry, cleaning, making meals, etc.) that will make a huge difference,” she said. Don’t try to do it all, because that just might not be possible. Be gentle with yourself. “Being tired and slightly overwhelmed is all completely normal — you can’t plan to accomplish much if you are the primary caregiver at home with baby,” noted Dr. Nataki Douglas, a Newark, N.J.-based ob-gyn and an associate professor and director of translational research for the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health at Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School.

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