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Your baby's not the only one reaching milestones her first year. As you rock her back to sleep at 2:30 a.m., you may watch your first infomercial from start to finish. There's a good chance you and your spouse will hold your first conversation about poop. And about the time your baby is sitting up, you will have mastered eating with one hand while holding her on your lap and performing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider."
"Enjoy it while you can!" your mother (as well as strangers) will remind you countless times.
You are, of course. It's just that new parents are often unaware of how many adjustments they need to make.
Stacy Simon, a busy executive with a school-aged daughter and toddler son, forgot between babies how they refuse to take naps until you're ready to walk out the door. For several months after her son's birth, she was lucky to sleep two or three hours straight. Her son didn't sleep through the night consistently until he was ten months old.
"The lack of sleep," she says, "makes me forgetful and irritable. It makes me more susceptible to getting sick." In fact, many parents wind up in the doctor's office, convinced they're seriously ill, says Heidi Murkoff, one of the authors of What to Expect the First Year.
"You're coming into this incredibly challenging job with no vacations, no lunch breaks, no coffee breaks, and you don't even have a supervisor showing you the ropes," she says. "The fact is, there is no more demanding job."
Conserve what little energy you have by giving up fantasies of keeping a superclean house. Instead, take naps when your baby naps. And if you have a mother or mother-in-law who's willing to pitch in, take her up on it.
Simon and her husband worked out an arrangement where they slept in shifts. She'd go to bed early, and he'd stand guard over the baby monitor until past midnight. She was responsible for the early morning hours while he slept. For the dark in-between hours, they'd often alternate nights or hours on call. While breastfeeding, your husband can change diapers in the middle of the night and bring the baby to you for feedings.
Changes in Your Adult Relationship
Even if both parents are sharing the work of tending to their little miracle, the first year takes its toll on the couple's relationship. In addition to sleep deprivation that can fray tempers and smother love lives, there are often new financial worries and a lifestyle that no longer includes spur-of-the-moment movies or restaurants with wine lists.
Judy Fortin, a TV reporter with two young children, says she and her husband have a hard time squeezing in time each day for just the two of them to talk. And since they're committed to parenting as a team, they spend most of that time discussing the kids--from what they're doing in daycare and school to what size clothes they're wearing. The couple works to spend quiet time together with the children--playing on the floor or reading books out loud--but as a twosome, they've only gone out alone three times in the last year.
"It's terrible, isn't it?" she acknowledges. "But when my children are already spending forty hours a week with the baby sitter, it's very hard for me to leave them even longer so that we can go out."
Even if you're reluctant to spend time away from your baby, try to get out at least once a month, Murkoff suggests. In the long run, she says, your child will benefit from a stable home with parents who love each other.
Even more important than planning romantic nights on the town is scheduling time every day to talk to each other, Murkoff insists. "The temptation may be to flop down in front of the TV after the baby's gone to bed, but you have to work at being together," she says. "You don't need candlelight. You can order pizza. Just make sure you're taking time for each other."
And don't forget to take care of yourself. It's easy to become isolated when you're at home with a baby all day. No matter how much you love your child, you need more intellectual stimulation than a cooing infant can provide. You need to get out of the house and meet adults who are going through the same thing as you.
Murkoff suggests starting a children's playgroup by putting up a notice at the baby's doctor's office, church or synagogue, or community bulletin board. You also can meet parents by hanging out at the playground or signing up for a parenting class. There are Early Childhood Family Education groups for parents, or you can join one of the many online discussion groups for parents on the Internet.
Lack of Time Alone
For parents who work outside the home, however, the problem isn't isolation; it's having no time alone. Simon says she steals time for herself by taking long showers. On weekends, she dawdles in the grocery store, sometimes with an unscheduled side-trip to the mall, while her husband watches the kids.