What Can You Expect In The First Year Of Parenting?

(Collaborative post by another author) No matter how well prepared parents believe they are, there are bound to be some surprises in the first year of parenthood. It's one of the toughest occupations in the world, if not the most demanding, but it can also be amazing and magical. All of the books, articles and unsolicited advice from overbearing grandparents or that know it all at the gym aren't going to fully prepare you to be a parent. It might help, but it wont completely bring you up to speed.

A newborn baby cuddled up to his parent who is thinking about all that is ahead in the first year of being a parent

So how could we possibly compile a list of things that will prepare you for that first year? The reality is that all we can do is let you know some of the things to expect. We can compile some of the best advice from the internet, both from parents and specialists (whether they are child psychologists or scientists), and put it all together. We can sign post and let you know where to conduct research, but maybe most of all we can help you realise that you wont ever know everything and you must be prepared to face a surprise or two.

Nonetheless, becoming as well informed as possible can make you feel more confident. So here are some of the things that parents are often unprepared for during the first year of their child's life.

Surprising Costs

The problem with children is that they are unpredictable. One day they may absolutely love a particular toy, the next day they aren't interested. For two weeks they might only want to be put down if placed in the baby swing, then suddenly they start to cry as soon as you switch it on. This takes us to a major issue about unanticipated costs. Sure, we all have an idea of how expensive children may be, but you may well end up buying some essential items or going to baby classes with friends that you hadn't planned for. This is why it's helpful to plan for it by establishing a contingency fund that's flexible enough to cope with things you never thought you'd have to buy. And if you find you don't need to use it? Well then you can use it for something fun like a holiday.

Your Relationship May Change

Having a small dependent, but adorable creature who requires a lot of care is bound to disrupt a couple's chemistry, and it's not something many parents expect will happen before embarking on that busy first year. There are lots of reasons relationships change including physical reasons: women may not feel ready to be intimate for some time due to their body recovering and breastfeeding, and psychological reasons including tiredness. The number one focus becomes the baby and both individuals may struggle from not receiving the love and attention that they require and crave from their partner as a result of the child's needs.

Going Out Is A Problem

You priorities around going out will be different in those early days. Instead of grabbing your phone and keys and heading out the door even a short trip out requires planning to ensure you have nappies, wipes and a bag full of other "just in case" essentials. You might need to plan round nap times and meal times and then there is always the risk that they will need a last minute nappy change just as thought you were ready to leave. You'll get used to it, you'll get better at it, but there will be days when it just feels easier to stay at home. Going for a walk in the fresh air when you are having a tough day will make you feel so much better about everything though. Finding a "mum group" where you can chat with other people experiencing the same things can be helpful too and you can be sure they wont judge you if you have spit up on your top.  

Little To No Sleep

In theory, most expecting parents understand that they won't get much sleep once their baby is born, but comprehending something in principle is not the same as living it. People in their first year of parenthood are frequently astonished and exhausted by how little sleep they are receiving and will continue to obtain. During the first week you may find that the only time you get to sleep for more than an hour at a time is when your partner is looking after the baby. It gets better though.

By the time your child is a year old they will probably only wake up once or twice a night, but even this will feel hard. It's not the waking up that can be the issue, but that you can't predict when it will be and it can be right in the middle of your sleep cycle affect sleep quality. You'll get through it though and as much as advice like "sleep as much as you can before the baby comes" and "sleep when the baby sleeps" might seem like a good idea the only thing that will help is time, sleeping in shifts, and maybe coffee. 

You'll Be Stronger

When you have no choice you'll be shocked at how much you're capable of. It is commonly stated that when people are forced to do so, they break through their walls and exceed their limitations. That's what it's like to be a parent, especially during the first year when you're feeling everything for the first time.

There will be many magical moments in that first year, but there will be times you are pushed to your limits. They might get poorly and you will be sick with worry, they might have nights when they are teething and don't seem to sleep at all, they might have colic and spend hours crying each evening while you rock and comfort them. It's hard, but you will come through it stronger. And those good times? The cuddles, the snuggles, when they smile at you, when they grab onto your finger, when they giggle at you pulling silly faces, when they fall asleep in your arms... it will make every hard moment worth while. 

They'll Soon Eat Solids

When you are up all night breastfeeding or giving them a bottle of milk while you try and eat your own lunch, it might feel like things will be this way forever, but they will be 6 months old before you know it and you will be thinking about weaning onto solid food.  While starting babies on purees and baby porridge is still popular increasing numbers of people choose to do Baby Led Weaning or a mixture of purees and finger foods which will soon see baby feeding themselves while you look on in wonder.  The exact time that each child is ready to start on solids varies, but you'll see signs your baby is ready to sit up , pick up food and put it in their mouth and that their tongue thrust reflex has relaxed.  

You'll Make Many Mistakes

If any of your visitors refuse to hold your baby, don't be offended, it's common that people unfamiliar with babies are worried they will drop them. In those first few days when you are suddenly responsible for a delicate little creature you will probably worry about the same thing, we are all worried about making mistakes.

The reality is through trial and error you will discover what works best for you or your baby. All those "helpful" suggestions from strangers, friends and in-laws who suggest alternative ways of doing things can make you feel like you are doing everything wrong. You aren't, trust your gut and do what works for you.

If you do make mistakes? Don't worry you will learn from them. Did you put the nappy on too loose and end up with poop up the baby's back? Oh well you'll know better for next time and it washes out (or failing that try Napisan and sunlight). Did you go out and forget the wipes? You can normally ask for a couple from another parent or pick some up in a shop. Very few mistakes have big consequences, and it's not worth worrying about those because you wont have done them on purpose.

Your Body May Change

One thing that many mums are surprised by during the first year of parenthood is that their bodies often don't go back to how they were before pregnancy. We know that during those 9 months growing a baby our bodies adapt, but it can be a surprise how long it can take to go back to anything resembling what it did before. 

Women may experience broader hips, stretch marks on their stomachs and breasts, crazy hair regrowth , and even deflating breasts, according to multiple well-researched articles on The Baby Centre. Much of this is due to hormonal changes and your body's attempt to support this new life for birth. Some of these changes are permanent, while others are not. However, if you have any concerns, you should consult with your doctor they will be able to reassure you about what is normal and what isn't.

Laundry, Laundry, And More Laundry

You will be amazed how something so small generates so much washing. When small they often regurgitate small amounts of milk, some times a poonami is unavoidable and then there is their tendency to wee as soon as you open a nappy and they feel the cool air. Then there are your clothes which somehow manage to get covered in strange marks too and blankets, towels and muslins. In the early days of weaning you might need to change their outfit after each meal. If you choose to use reusable nappies and wipes that's even more washing. 

Don't worry though. You get into the routine of putting a wash on more regularly and sorting it out in between doing other tasks. If the clean clothes never make it back into the drawers in those early days and get put back on baby fresh from the line what does it matter?

You Don't Need Half Of The Stuff You Bought

The baby product market is big business. There are 1000s of items designed to try and help you with pretty much every part of parenting from cutting their nails to getting them to sleep and decorating the nursery. Millions of pounds is spent on promoting products to parents to be and new parents every year and much of it is playing on the vulnerability they feel and the wish to be the best parents they can be. Adverts will wow you with the latest devices and other parents will insist you need x because it worked wonders for them. It's all too easy to overburden yourself with items that you believe will make your life and your baby's life easier

The truth is baby's actually need very little. The only things they need is love, cuddles, nappies, food and some clothes. Everything else varies between children. Try not to feel a pressure to buy lots before they arrive. You can normally get next day delivery on most items so wait and see what they are like, for instance many people buy a moses basket for the first couple of months, but some babies refuse to be put down to sleep and definitely don't want to be that far away from their mum.  If your baby prefers snuggles to space then a sling would be a much better purchase so they can have naps cuddled up to you and you have your hands free to do other things.


Hopefully, this list gives you an idea of what you can expect in the first year of parenting. Is there anything else you are preparing for?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below. 

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