A new baby brings many changes to one's life and relationships – some permanent, some temporary. It's physically and emotionally exhilarating and exhausting, and it's mums who are mostly experiencing these highs and lows.
We are a stressed out lot and a recent study has confirmed that Australian mums experience massive time stress following the birth of a baby.
But as mother, have you ever considered the possibility of taking some time off from parenting responsibilities while someone else takes over for a while? Did I hear a wishful sigh?
As a new mum five years ago, I had to adjust to being at home full time and being the primary carer for my son. While I didn't resent this (it was my choice), there were times I craved going out on my own for a hot meal or to the library.
I also noticed a worrying change in my husband during this time: uncertainty in how to handle the new member of our family.
After we came home from the hospital, he was unsure about how to connect with a newborn (afraid he'd break him if he so much as gave bub a bath), so he stayed out of the way most of the time, then went back to work in a few weeks. It left me pressured and exhausted and I knew that I didn't want to be the only parent who could look after our baby (I'd seen it happen to so many of my friends).
My partner also needed to get comfortable as the secondary carer for our baby. I wanted him to be an equal parent – not a 'babysitter', but someone who could confidently anticipate and meet baby's needs. With me in the house and around them both all the time (though I tried not to give him instructions when he did help), it wasn't going to happen.
So I began encouraging him to spend time alone with the baby, change nappies and clothes, and even just talk to him between naps while I took a shower or slept. Once hubby became comfortable handling our son, I broached the idea of leaving them alone for a few hours after a feed, once baby was a month old, every second weekend. I watched both of them flourish and bond and I'm proud to say I never got a panicked call from him begging me to come home.
My husband gained more confidence when he looked after our baby on his own, our son bonded with his dad and never cried for me if he didn't see me. This pattern is still firmly established to this day and I would encourage all mothers especially new mums to do this.
Now my son is almost six and happily goes off with his dad every second weekend to do their own thing. They even went to a music festival together recently – without me!
It's not one-sided though – my hubby often has time off too, when I'll look after our son solo. With prior communication, both of us get downtime to do things we used to do before becoming parents. It's made us happier, better parents, connected with each other and our son's needs. This system also severely reduced my stress and tiredness levels at being the primary carer for my son especially in the first year.
Jennifer Hamilton, a mothercraft nurse and creator of the WOTbaby app, which helps educate and support new parents, said that parents-to-be don't really discuss things like taking breaks or time off parenting duties before baby is born.
"Get your partner involved in the discussion while you're still pregnant to avoid exhaustion and frustration later on," she said.
"But mums can also be quite overprotective of their babies and find it hard to let go. Give dad that time and space to bond with baby early – remember that it's just as important for dads to bond with their children, and that it takes time for them to find their own rhythm and confidence."
Once feeding patterns have been established, mum can go out and leave dad at home with baby. "Introduce a bottle if you're breastfeeding early on so you eliminate the worry of a hungry baby and anxiety for dad who can feed the baby if it's unsettled," said Jennifer.
"If you're not comfortable with the idea of leaving bub alone with dad then relax at home – have a bath or shower, maybe have a friend over so you can detach from your baby for a while, and let dad do the settling, nappy changing and bathing while you take some time off."
"Mums who regularly take time off from parenting responsibilities experience reduced stress and anxiety levels. If you as a mum are not coping with the constant responsibility of caring for a newborn or asking to have some time off occasionally to relax, you'll find it difficult to be the best mother you can be.
"Remember that you were a person before you became a mother, and prioritise self-care."