Family Links is a national charity dedicated to empowering children, parents, families and schools to be emotionally healthy. We were honoured to have them as Oak sponsors of our event in Manchester in October 2016. This is their third post for our blog series, and has been written for Growing Families by their Training Lead, Rowan Smith.
Change, in its many guises, is inevitable and unavoidable. It happens all the time throughout our lives, whether it’s major or minor; positive or negative; planned or unexpected. However, parents going through pregnancy and looking after infants could be experiencing the most intensified period of change of their lives, and it’s important to be prepared and equipped with the right skills to cope with these changes.
The changes expectant and new parents can experience are varied and can happen on physical, emotional and social levels. The most obvious external change during pregnancy can be the mother’s bump, but pregnant women may also experience other changes that are less noticeable to other people, such as fatigue, sickness and raised body temperature, amongst others.
For both mothers and partners, emotional changes may occur during this time such as feeling stressed or anxious, feeling more maternal/paternal, and positive or negative feelings around body image. Social changes may also occur, such as possibly wanting to go out less frequently, which may be linked to some of the physical changes mothers can experience. Pregnant mothers may also notice an increase or decrease in their sex drive during different stages of pregnancy. These are just some examples of things that expectant parents may go through, and changes are likely to be different for every parent.
Once the baby arrives there are also lots of other changes to consider. The way parents perceive themselves can alter as they as they have a new role as a mother or father, in addition to being a couple or a single person. There are also very practical considerations to be made around how extra jobs will be shared when the baby has arrived, in addition to pre-existing jobs around the household. A significant change for couples may be that as parents, two different sets of morals and codes of living are converging as you begin to raise a child together. It’s important for couples to discuss and agree how to bring up their child before the baby arrives, so that decisions aren’t being made when emotions are running high.
When it comes to preparing for these varied, significant and different changes, the most important thing is to plan and if you’re in a couple, to plan and communicate. Think about what might happen if a certain change does occur, and prepare for what you might do in that situation. For instance, an expectant mother might want to consider whether she’s going to breastfeed or not and what this might be like, while a couple might want to discuss the options around feeding; who will feed the baby when, and what are the practicalities of doing this? If expectant parents plan around how they might manage changes and different situations, it may be easier to refer back to what you decided together before the change occurred. This can be more helpful to parents and couples than making decisions in the heat of the moment, or when the baby is crying and you might be tired or stressed.
For parents it can also be important to not underestimate that the little changes can be really hard. Infants change so quickly that it might feel like as soon as you’ve gotten to grips with the stage your baby is at, they’ve already moved onto the next stage. There may be a parallel between excitement for the new stage your baby has reached, but also a genuine need to mourn the stage they’ve left behind.
Practitioners working with new and expectant parents can offer support in preparing mothers and fathers for change. It’s often an issue of “you don’t know what you don’t know”, so for practitioners to open up the conversation can be very important, so parents can think about what is coming and how they might deal with it. For example, practitioners can pose hypothetical questions such as: “How are you going to manage getting the food shopping in when the baby arrives?” or: “How will you decide who soothes or feeds the baby when they wake in the night?” This allows expectant parents to discuss and think about dealing with different aspects of being parents that they might not have thought about otherwise.
Opening up conversations around these practical, emotional, social and physical changes that many parents experience can really help and support mothers and fathers in preparing for when their baby arrives. Practitioners can also offer guidance and ease worries by normalising the different changes that parents might encounter, so that when it does come they can look back to what they decided and discussed before, and know that other parents also experience the change that is happening to them.
By planning, discussing and making decisions about how to cope with different aspects of pregnancy and looking after a new baby, parents can be better prepared and more confident to deal with the changes that a new baby can bring.