(as published in Expat Parent Magazine)

By Mawgan Batt

The arrival of a baby is a leap into the unknown and the beginning of a steep learning curve. In a city like Hong Kong where many cannot rely on family close by for help, it’s important to prepare yourself for what to expect in the early days. Mawgan Batt speaks to the city’s parenting experts to help you navigate a smooth path during those first weeks and months as a new parent.

The birth of a baby is a time of significant change, not only physically but also emotionally. According to clinical psychologist and postnatal mental health specialist, Dr. Quratulain Zaidi, it pays to be prepared for what’s to come. “Before your baby arrives, talk to your partner and discuss issues like how you are going to handle visiting family or who will take care of the baby during the night,” says Zaidi, “It’s important to be on the same page with your partner emotionally and intellectually on parenting strategies.”

Hulda Thorey, midwife and owner of Annerley echoes the importance of being prepared. “We sit down with parents early in the pregnancy and ask them to separately answer a questionnaire relating to parenting, and their experiences with their own parents,” she explains. “It’s important to discover and discuss potential differences and difficulties ahead of the birth.”

The unavoidable sleep deprivation coupled with physical and emotional exhaustion can heighten issues between a couple, so by spending time discussing and clarifying important elements of how you plan to approach parenthood will help ease the transition.

In the early days, it really pays to have some professional support to ensure that everything is going smoothly. Organisations such as Annerley or A Mother’s Touch provide home visits, including mother and newborn check ups and breastfeeding support to enable a smooth transition after returning home from hospital.

With all the questions that are associated with a new baby, having some professional support available can make all the difference. It can also be a significant factor in protecting the mental health of a new mother. “We recommend trying to prioritise sleep and encouraging mums to get outside for some fresh air as soon as they can,” outlines Thorey. “However, if we suspect that a new mother is struggling, we will ascertain if it’s tiredness, a medical issue or if potentially, she is heading towards postnatal depression,” she continues.

“Many don’t want to confront it, but we will send them to their GP to take the next steps if we suspect PND.” The shift in focus and priorities that a new baby brings can impact on a relationship and the early months of a baby’s life can be particularly challenging for new parents to manage. In Hong Kong, many of us are  lucky enough to have a helper to assist in the seemingly never-ending cycle of feeding, washing and nappy changing, however it’s vital to keep investing in the relationship with your partner. Dr. Zaidi recommends a weekly date night. “Set a ground rule where you are only able to talk about the baby for 10 minutes,” recommends Dr. Zaidi, “It’s important to make time for each other.”

Finding time for each other does not have to involve going out in the evenings, when the combination of tiredness and a fussy baby can really kick in. Thorey suggests that, if possible  couples catch up for a quick lunch once or twice a week. “Often dads can miss out on seeing the baby if they are working long hours. Lunch meet ups are a great way for a couple to connect, and for the father to have chance to see and enjoy the baby.” Plus getting out of the house and taking some light exercise is great for mother and baby too.

Although having a baby results in huge changes and disruptions to your schedule, the experts all recommend trying to do some light exercise from as soon as you physically feel well enough.

“It can seem counterintuitive, but when you’re tired, exercise can boost your energy as it produces chemicals that are helpful for your mood,” explains Zaidi. Even just a short walk with the baby in a carrier or stroller can help break up the day, improve your mood and help you feel in control.

One way to ease that transition into parenthood, is to meet others going through the same experience. GeoBaby.com and Little Steps Asia both run Due Date Clubs giving new parents the opportunity to ask questions, and arrange to meet up with other parents expecting babies around the same time. In the first weeks and months of being a parent, making friends to share the tales of feeding, sleeping and general worries and anxieties is crucial. Even if it’s just a coffee and chat or someone to walk with, getting out and about with others will allow you to know that you are not alone.

However, as parenting author, Orla Breeze outlines, for some mothers, baby groups may not be the answer. “If you are not keen on group get togethers, then try to find one or two women with babies of the same age.” These friendships often last a lifetime, “My best parenting friend was introduced to me just before we both gave birth and we’ve been excellent friends ever since!” says Breeze.

If you have a helper supporting your family in caring for your baby, then it’s crucial that he or she fully understands how you  want them to look after the baby. Consider providing them with first aid training in case of emergencies and be clear and consistent regarding your expectations of how their duties are performed.

If you are returning to work, ensure that your helper has had time with the baby to understand their routine and habits – this will help smooth the transition for you all. There are a range of classes including CPR and babycare that will enable your helper to develop their skills and give you the confidence that your baby is safe and nurtured while in their care.

Do you have a burning question that you need an answer to? An incredible resource for all parents in Hong Kong, is the “Hong Kong Moms” Facebook group. With over 20,000 members, it’s a fantastic source of information on anything parenting in the city. However, as Dr. Zaidi advises, although online forums and social media can be a great sanity check for new parents, it pays to be mindful of information overload, and to understand that not all advice is relevant for your family.

So while having a baby is probably the biggest life event that you will ever go through, with some preparation and planning, those early months don’t need to be a huge struggle. As Orla Breeze remarks, “It will feel like climbing a mountain, but time flies when you’re a new parent and before you know it, you’ll be at the summit.

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