You don’t really sleep – it’s more of a doze with one ear half-cocked.
And you don’t really eat either – it’s more of a quick refuelling session between fits of screaming.
The first year of a baby’s life offers plenty of highs for parents, but it’s also extremely stressful.
Can that much stress be good for you?
It’s not an easy question to answer, according to Ulrike von Haldenwang from the German Association of Midwives (DHV).
“When the delivery goes well and you’ve prepared well for the initial weeks following the birth, then it’s usually the case that the joy outweighs everything,” she says.
But it’s also common for parents to underestimate how tiring it can be and experience serious problems, including mental health ones like depression.
“There’s a widespread idea that you’re just bathed in a glow of happiness,” she says.
And every parent knows that there is something to this cliche.
“But these huge emotional depths of feeling can also be a strain, quite aside from the practical and physical strains,” she warns.
It’s hard to plan how the birth will go.
But you can prepare for the first few weeks afterwards, and it’s not all about getting the nursery ready, according to von Haldenwang.
“What’s very important in preparing for those first few weeks is how you talk to each other in the relationship,” she says.
Because the first few weeks with a newborn are often the hardest for a couple: “Can you come to good agreements, can you negotiate well, can you speak openly about your needs?”
If you can talk to each other openly and calmly, you should also talk about sleep.
“In the first year of being parents, of course you sleep less, and that sleep is worse because you’re tense,” she says.
But some can bear that better than others.
“It’s best to think in advance about how you’re going to deal with it,” she advises.
And despite persistent myths that often lead to an unfair burden being placed on mothers, they’re not always the one who can bear the sleep loss more easily.
“A US study showed that it was mostly mothers who lost up to six months’ worth of sleep in the first two years of their children’s lives, while the fathers happily slept on,” says sleep researcher Hans-Guenter Weess.
For mothers, the birth of a child can be the start of a life-long problem with sleeping, according to him.
“They get used to having a very light and superficial sleep, and never get over it,” he says.
In order to prevent that, he advises divvying up the night shifts.
It’s important that you don’t take half each in one night, rather, mum and dad should each have one undisturbed night’s rest now and then.
That way long-term damage to sleep patterns is relatively unlikely.
Von Haldenwang advises parents not to overreach themselves, especially mothers in the first year.
“What’s often underestimated is how much strength pregnancy and birth costs women,” she says.
“Birth isn’t an illness. But it usually takes a year for mothers to recover their previous energy levels.”
The most important thing to remember is that not everything has to be perfect.
For example, when it comes to food, parents should accept that it’s not possible to cook fresh food from scratch every day, she says.
”It’s totally OK to eat a frozen pizza or order in,” she says. – By Tobias Hanraths/dpa