They say you’re “never really ready” to become a parent. You can know from an early age that you want children. You can meet the right person, fall in love, and agree wholeheartedly that the time is right. When pregnancy happens, you can plan every step, from painting the baby’s room to settling your accounts at the office. But when the big day comes, nothing will have prepared you for the experience.
Some aspects of being a new parent (namely the outpouring of love and joy) are overwhelmingly awesome. Other aspects are, well, awesomely overwhelming. Physical recovery for new mothers can be straightforward, very difficult, or anything in between. Insufficient sleep is the number one challenge for new parents, according to a 2015 survey that was conducted in Australia – and we know that sleep deprivation makes a huge impact on daily life.
The transition to parenthood is, of course, made easier by paid parental leave. The Australian government provides new mothers with 18 weeks’ paid leave. Fathers get two weeks leave at minimum wage. New parents are also entitled to unpaid leave, and employers can provide additional benefits.
Eventually, though, these provisions run their course. When parental leave is over, and new parents get back to work, stress becomes a bigger factor. A 2019 study from Manchester and Essex Universities studied the stress levels in over 6,000 women. It found that working mothers had 40 per cent higher stress levels than other women, as shown by key indicators such as blood pressure and stress hormones.
A separate study from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research explores the link between parental wellbeing and “completed family size.” The take-away message is that when parents experience a significant decrease in personal wellbeing after the birth of their first child, they are less likely to have additional children.
Baby showers galore
There’s no getting around the fact that parenthood involves sacrifice. It provides a level of joy that we couldn’t have previously imagined, but it takes a lot of energy in the process. At various points during the first months and years after welcoming a baby, mothers and partners can experience a decline in personal wellbeing as they struggle to meet the physical and emotional demands of parenting.
The purpose of baby showers is to provide gifts and emotional support to expectant mothers – and it’s clear that baby showers are a healthy business in Australia. Research from 2018 puts the annual spend at A$107m per year, and that’s before you figure in the gifts. But baby showers usually occur before the mother gives birth, and while the onesies and baby monitors we offer as gifts will definitely come in handy, their impact will be minimal when parents run into periods of high stress.
Smoothing out the rough edges
The next time you’re on the outside looking in, and someone you care about is a struggling with a new baby, how can you make a greater impact? One way is to focus less on “stuff” and more on support. There are ways you can improve the wellness quotient for new parents, from logistical support to pampering.
A new mother might be physically drained from being up and down all night and struggling to feed the baby. An at-home remedial or lymphatic massage could do wonders for her sense of wellbeing.
New parents may be fighting to stay on top of household maintenance and daily chores. Giving the gift of professional, trustworthy support in these areas could take some of the pressure off.
It may be tough to care for a beloved pet in the weeks and months after a baby arrives. Pet sitting, grooming, or walking services can be truly meaningful.
It’s important to get a sense of what your friends and loved ones need, could use, or would be comfortable with. Providing meaningful help to people who are new parents requires a little thought – but as with all of the best things in life, a little goes a long way.
What were some of the best things people did to support you when your family welcomed a new addition?