Am I Ready To Be a Parent?
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Deciding to have a baby is arguably the biggest life decision you will ever make. Yes, deciding to get married or buy a house is certainly significant as well, but a baby is the life-changing one. The one that means nothing else is ever going to be quite the same again.
Deciding to have a baby means committing to love and care for that little person for their whole life. You must put their needs before yours, even when that doesn't suit you. You'll also be opened up to a love that is almost beyond description. These are the things that anyone deciding on parenthood should already be aware of, and there are several other considerations that may not be as obvious.
For small, cute things that don't have many material needs in the first months of their life, babies are pretty expensive, so having a look at your finances before you commit to creating one is a sensible idea.
A lot of the expense comes from kitting yourself out with major and essential items such as a cot, car seat and buggy, although you may be lucky and get some of these handed down to or bought for you. It's not uncommon either for parents-to-be to move house or at least do up a room to use as a nursery before the big event, so factor that in as well. You don't need to be well-off before you have a baby, but if you have major debts or not enough money left at the end of the month, you may want to reassess your finances before deciding to get pregnant. Of course, breastfeeding instead of using formula reduces costs in the early months, and everyone in the UK is entitled to child benefit, currently £20.30 a week for the first child. Also, the priceless moments of overwhelming love that happen multiple times each day, if not hour, are arguably worth every penny. However, planning ahead is never a bad thing.
Babies are amazing. They bring unparalleled joy, make you love them more than you thought was possible, and every teeny, tiny development is cause for cooing and more pictures on Facebook or Twitter. But they're also undoubtedly hard work. Babies, and the associated sleep deprivation and worry over whether you're doing things the right way, combined with potential and stress-inducing newborn ailments such as colic, can take a heavy toll on your relationship.
In most cases it's nothing that can't be worked through, but the lack of sleep combined with the significant demands of a new baby in the early weeks causes anxiety, tension and rows in even the happiest of unions. It goes without saying that ensuring you're in a good, stable relationship where both of you have thought through the implications of having a baby and are ready to take on the challenge is a critical pre-conception step. Likewise, a chat now about where you stand on issues such as discipline, smacking and cloth v disposable nappies could save some angst further down the line.
On a practical level, both parents-to-be should ideally make sure they are in the best possible health before trying to conceive. If either of you smoke, you should give up. Smoking in the mother can cause damage to the foetus and heightens the risk of miscarriage, while babies with smoking parents have a higher risk of cot death and respiratory infections. The mother-to-be needs to start taking folic acid daily before trying for a baby, to dramatically reduce the chances of spina bifida. Research on drinking is mixed, with some studies showing that the occasional glass of wine has no impact on the baby, but many women choose to abstain completely both during pregnancy and in the two weeks at the end of each period cycle as you wait to find out whether you have conceived.
Being overweight can also impact on your chances of both conceiving and having a straightforward and healthy pregnancy, so it makes sense to try and lose excess weight before trying to get pregnant.
We have already flagged up that babies, lovely and joyous things that they are, can take a big toll on your relationship. But they can also have more far-reaching implications. For example, you may decide that you need a bigger car or home than the one you already have. Also, babies and careers don't always mix as well as would be ideal - so try to make sure that you are in a place in your career and/or company where you have maximum flexibility in terms of returning part-time (if that is something you wish to consider).
Your social life is also likely to get a dramatic makeover. It's not over when you have a baby, it's just different. It often revolves a lot more around coffee shops and soft play areas for mums, in particular. While wild nights out can still happen, there's no denying that looking after a small child after a late night, and particularly with a hangover, is no picnic. Are you ready for this? Do you feel you've got your partying out of your system?
Also, if you live for holidays where you spend your days bouncing between the sun lounger and the cocktail bar, be aware that going away with children is not going to be like this. Flying with children is perfectly possible and many do it from a very young age, but you're unlikely to either fly long haul or a great deal.
Working through the advice above should give you lots of clues as to whether you're ready to step into the big world of parenthood. It's a journey with highs and lows, but watching the little person you made learn and grow never stops being amazing. If you decide it is for you, then good luck!