Adjusting to parenthood: Mothers and birthing parents

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource offers information and advice for any mothers/birthing parents who are adjusting to parenthood. It has been developed with the guidance of family members with lived experience, practitioners and researchers.


Emerging Minds acknowledges families come in many forms. This resource uses the terms ‘mother’ and ‘birthing parent’ to acknowledge female, non-binary and transgender parents who have given birth, along with adoptive, foster and kinship carers who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in caring for a newborn. This resource is designed to support all individuals, regardless of their sexuality, relationship status or gender identity.

Giving birth to a child and becoming a parent is an amazing experience – but it can also bring lots of changes and challenges. It can be hard to balance caring for your baby and yourself, and your new role may feel overwhelming at times.

This resource is designed to help mothers/birthing parents to navigate the changes and challenges of parenthood. It aims to help you understand your baby’s needs and learn what you can do to support their mental health and wellbeing.

Adjusting to parenthood

Becoming a mother or birthing parent is one of the most significant events you may experience in your life. But it may also mean changes to many aspects of your life – not just your identity, but your responsibilities, daily routines and relationships. Many new birthing parents feel uncertain and overwhelmed at times, so the first thing to know is that you’re not alone.

Lots of people worry about whether they are a ‘good parent’, how their relationship with their partner will change, or that they are not bonding with their new baby.

Adjusting to parenthood can be emotional and stressful, especially if you’re dealing with other issues like money worries, relationship troubles or have had mental health difficulties in the past. Many new mothers (around 1 in 5) experience postnatal depression or anxiety after having a baby,1 so it’s important to know the signs and get help if you’re struggling. We’ve included a list of support services at the end of this resource.

The first year of your child’s life is a period of massive adjustment. Babies don’t come with instruction manuals, and it can take a while to get to know yours.

Fortunately, there are some great resources for mothers/birthing parents about caring for babies and adjusting to parenthood:

Our resources about infant crying and feeding can also help you understand your baby’s behaviours and what you can do to support their wellbeing.

It’s also important to remember that every baby, every parent and every family is different. Rather than following every piece of advice or trying to stick to a strict routine, the best thing you can do is be patient and flexible and find the rhythm that works best for your baby and family.

‘Trying to fit the mould of what you think is expected of you doesn’t work. It can take time to work out what works for you and you baby.’

– Sarah, new mother, South Australia

Bonding with your baby

Babies and toddlers thrive when they have loving, responsive interactions with their parent/s and caregivers in their early years. Infants love attention and reactions – the way your eyes light up and you smile when you see them – and they need you to help them to feel safe and secure.

There will be times when your baby is crying or having trouble sleeping and nothing you do seems to work. Don’t blame yourself or think you’re a bad parent – nearly every baby will have one (or more!) of those days. Sometimes it’s best to put your baby safely in their cot or pram and find some space to take a few deep breaths. Call a family member or friend and ask if they can come over and help for a bit. You can find more tips in our resource on understanding and soothing your baby’s crying.

The easiest way to build your bond with your baby is by spending one-on-one time, getting to know them and learning your own way of communicating. Some ideas include:

  • Touch, talk and make eye contact with your baby while you’re doing the ‘essential’ stuff – like nappy changes, bathing, dressing and feeding. Talk or sing to your baby about what you’re doing. For example, ‘Now let’s put your leggings on. How about green ones today?’. It doesn’t matter what you say or how bad your singing is; you’re helping your baby to learn language and communication skills.
  • Show them you care. Respond to your baby’s cues (crying or making sounds to get your attention) with touch and gentle words. Your baby thrives on your attention and affection.
  • Mirror your baby’s facial expressions – for example, smiling when they smile, or poking your tongue out. And have a ‘conversation’ with them by repeating the sounds they make.
  • Play. It doesn’t have to involve toys or be complicated, just interact with your baby. Look into their eyes, sing nursery rhymes, play peek-a-boo. Spend time with them, while remembering that if they look away it may mean they need a break from the stimulation for a while. As your child grows, play is how they will share their feelings, learn and understand the world. For more ideas visit the Raising Children Network.

‘We find that if we just sit with her one on one for just 15 minutes and give her that attention… it reassures her that Mum and Dad see her. We learnt to let go and embrace the mess. Things are not going to get done but for us she is our priority, and we want her to feel like she is part of the family and not a chore we have to deal with.’

– Ivanne, new mother

If you feel you’re not bonding with your infant, talk to your child health nurse or another health professional you trust. They can give you advice and support to build your confidence and your relationship with your baby. You might also find it helpful to review the developmental milestones to get some ideas of things you can do with your baby at each new stage.

Your relationship and co-parenting

It’s normal for couples to experience changes in their relationship when they become parents. While you may feel a new level of connection with your partner, it’s also common to experience new stresses and strains. You might find you’re arguing more, as you deal with the challenges of caring for a baby.  This can lead to you spending less time together enjoying your baby.

The relationship you have with your baby is an important one, as it helps their development and builds a foundation for positive mental health throughout their lifetime. Strong relationships between caregivers create a positive environment in which infants can learn and grow.

Make a pact to be kind and listen to each other. It can be hard but make time to spend together as a couple so you can talk and reconnect. When you feel ready, you could ask a family member or friend to stay with your baby so you can go out together – for dinner, a movie or a walk, for example. Or just try to spend time doing something together at home when your baby is asleep. Even just watching a series together on Netflix gives you something to talk about other than your baby (and who is the most tired!).

Talking, problem-solving and making decisions together are the best ways to cope with changes and look after your relationship. You may need to talk about:

  • your roles in and outside the home. For example, you might be struggling to adjust to being on maternity leave and the loss of routine and identity that this shift can bring. Or you may be working too much and feel you’re not as involved with your infant as you would like to be
  • your ideas about parenting and family life
  • what needs to be done – like shopping, cooking, washing, earning money – and who will do what
  • how you will handle disagreements
  • the daily ‘grind’ – the good and bad things about caring for a baby that you’re both learning to manage every day
  • how you can find time to do some of the things you used to enjoy doing together.

When you and your partner work as a team and support each other through the challenges of parenting, you will both be able to cope better and enjoy the moments spent together with your baby. Taking time to work on your relationship as a parenting team will benefit your whole family.

There are some great tips for talking with your partner on the Raising Children Network.

Domestic, family and sexual violence and abuse is never OK. Abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological and/or financial and is any pattern of behaviour with the aim of gaining power and control.

1800 RESPECT provides information and support for anyone experiencing violence and abuse. Their trained counsellors are available via phone on 1800 737 732 or online chat 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The importance of self-care and seeking support

Mothers and birthing parents who were asked what helped them to cope in their baby’s first year have highlighted the importance of self-care, including taking breaks, getting sleep whenever you can, having strong support networks and maintaining aspects of your life outside of parenting. Read more about why self-care is essential for new parents and some suggestions for taking care of yourself in our resource, Self-care for parents.

Some people find the support of other mothers/birthing parents is really helpful. Being able to share experiences helps new parents become more confident in their parenting and kinder to themselves, as they usually realise their worries and responses are ‘normal’.

Get help if you’re struggling

The early weeks, even months after giving birth can be an emotional rollercoaster. You’re recovering from your baby’s birth, dealing with physical and hormonal changes, lack of sleep and what can feel like never-ending responsibilities. Many mothers and birthing parents experience the ‘baby blues’ – usually a few days of being teary and feeling overwhelmed, caused by dramatic hormone changes after pregnancy and birth and the stress of adjusting to parenthood.

These feelings usually pass. The best thing you can do is allow yourself the time to adjust. Get plenty of rest (sleep when your baby sleeps), try to eat healthy food and get out for a walk or do some exercise, and ask for support from your partner, family and friends.

However, for some birthing parents, feelings of sadness, hopelessness or overwhelming worries about their baby last longer, affecting their daily life and ability to care for their baby. About 1 in 5 new mothers will experience depression or anxiety in the perinatal period (during pregnancy and/or the first year or so after having a baby).1 Find out more about the risk and signs of perinatal anxiety and depression in our resource, Depression and anxiety in new parents.

Perinatal depression and anxiety can also affect your relationship with your baby, your baby’s development and your relationships with your partner and other family members, so it’s essential to seek help if you notice any signs. This Beyond Blue guide provides more detailed information for pregnant people, new parents and other carers about emotional health and wellbeing.

About 1 in 5 new mums will experience depression or anxiety in the perinatal period. It’s essential to seek help if you notice any signs.

Fathers and non-birthing parents are at risk of postnatal depression and anxiety too. While your partner may not have gone through the physical and hormonal changes you have, adjusting to becoming a parent can be stressful and overwhelming for them too. Our fact sheet on perinatal depression and anxiety also explains the symptoms and risks for new fathers/non-birthing parents. If you notice any changes, encourage your partner to seek help from someone they trust.

Where to get help

It is understandable that along with the joys of having a new baby, there will be challenges that come from the changes in your life. If you are struggling in any way, it is important to seek support. Asking for help is a way to make sure you can enjoy your new baby and feel good within yourself. Talk to your GP or child health nurse, or check out the following resources and helplines especially for new parents:


1. Leach, L. S., Poyser, C., & Fairweather‐Schmidt, K. (2017). Maternal perinatal anxiety: A review of prevalence and correlates. Clinical Psychologist, 21(1), 4–19. doi: 10.1111/cp.12058.

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