Get Ready for Motherhood

Want to avoid stress, postpartum depression and maybe even divorce? Anticipating challenges is the key.


When our first child was a few weeks old, my husband and I were struggling to get dinner on the table. Exhausted and overwhelmed, he looked at me and said, "How do parents get anything done?" How indeed, I wondered for weeks, struggling at home without help. I felt tired, lonely and a tad frustrated with my husband. Turns out these feelings are all too common. They can be dangerous, too.

"Moms who are sleep deprived, socially isolated or have poor partner support are all at a higher risk for postpartum depression [PPD]," explains Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., author of 2007's Postpartum Depression for Dummies and Pregnant on Prozac. But even if you don't end up clinically depressed, it's hard to enjoy your new baby when you're exhausted, lonely and frustrated with your marriage.

But there are steps you can take before your baby is born—even before your due date—to be better prepared for these challenges. Here's what's been shown to work:

Home Alone—Together

Before you give birth, put a plan into action so you don't end up spending too much time at home by yourself with the baby. "If a mother is in charge day in and day out for eight hours or more per day, she is at high risk for PPD," Bennett says. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists identifies lack of support from others as a major factor in PPD.

Although the web and e-mail provide plenty of opportunities for networking and support, you need to get out of the house and interact with real live people on a regular basis. "Before babies, we had meetings to go to and people to see," explains Heather Gibbs Flett, co-author of 2008's The Rookie Mom's Handbook. "It can be very disorienting to have the whole day as a blank slate before you."

Get-Ready Strategies:

Organize a new-mothers' group. Make a commitment to meet regularly: You'll be more likely to follow through. Childbirth-ed classes, La Leche League (which welcomes pregnant women) and breastfeeding support stores are great ways to meet other moms-to-be who are due around the same time as you.

Hang a large wall calendar in a prominent location. Get used to scheduling activities into your days now, while you still know what day it is. "If you don't schedule time for yourself on a regular basis so that you can count on it and look forward to it, you're asking for trouble," says Bennett.

The Parent Trap

Ninety-two percent of the men and women in a prominent study of new parents reported experiencing more conflict in their marriage after bringing baby home. The division of labor was, by far, the No. 1 cause of trouble.

Talking about your expectations ahead of time is key, says Pamela Jordan, Ph.D., R.N., president of the Becoming Parents Program, Inc., and associate professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Each of you is forming a future biography in your head about how life is going to be and who's going to do what," she explains. "But if you don't discuss it with each other, things tend to fall into a very stereotypical sex role division of labor. If that's not what you want, you need to plan ahead."

Jordan urges couples to sit down and imagine what a typical day with a baby will be like for them. Who will feed and dress her in the morning? Who will take her to day care? Who will pick her up at the end of the day? Should the other person be responsible for making dinner?

Get-Ready Strategies:

Practice your post-baby roles. "If the woman has always done the grocery shopping, but the couple agree that the man is going to do it after the baby is born, don't wait until the baby arrives to make that shift," advises psychologist Deborah Roth Ledley, Ph.D., author of 2008's Becoming a Calm Mom. "This will get everyone used to their new roles and responsibilities before assuming the biggest new roles of all: mom and dad."

Line up child care. Interview and thoroughly check the references of potential babysitters before you even bring the baby home.

Your New Nightlife

People like to joke about how little sleep you'll get as a new mom, but sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. "Sleep can make the difference between sanity and insanity," Bennett says. "Sleep deprivation lowers levels of serotonin, one of the most important mood-regulating brain chemicals." This can contribute to postpartum depression.

Create a sleep plan for yourself. You need about 5 1∕2 hours of uninterrupted sleep to get a full cycle, says Bennett, so plan on splitting the nightshift in half. "It only takes one person to care for a baby," she explains."The other should be off-duty and sleeping for half the night, and then you switch." Some couples prefer to alternate nights. If you're breastfeeding,have your partner give the baby an occasional bottle of pumped milk during the night.

Research baby sleep philosophies. Learn about the various schools of thought and discuss them with your partner. Studies show that new parents who learned how to promote healthy sleep habits for their baby got more sleep and felt less stressed and more confident than those who didn't do this. They were also more satisfied with their marriages.

Consider co-sleeping. Having the baby close to you means you don't have to fully wake up to nurse.

Why You Should Schedule Sex

During pregnancy, you've probably already learned how having a baby can change your sex life. But if you think you're tired now, just wait. "You can't put off intimacy until you both have a twinkle in your eye at the same time," says Pamela Jordan, R.N., Ph.D., president of the Becoming Parents Program, Inc., at the University of Washington. "It'll never happen."

So, she suggests, if you're already feeling too tired for sex, you need to put it on the calendar and get used to this idea before your baby arrives. "Scheduled sex is not a sign that you have a problem in your relationship," Jordan says. "It's a sign that you value your relationship."