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Co-parenting an infant requires a lot of cooperation

More than likely, when you envisioned having a child, you never anticipated that your relationship with your baby’s other parent would end, especially when your child was just an infant. For many new parents, that is an unfortunate reality.

Now your primary focus is your new baby and making sure your child has everything he or she needs to have the very best start at life.  This means making sure that both parents have the chance to spend time with your new arrival and bond with your baby. As all separated parents learn, developing a structure for parenting an infant presents challenges you never envisioned before you had your baby.  When you and your baby’s other parent are separated, co-parenting an infant requires cooperation and the right mindset.

Supporting Breastfeeding:

Before you had a baby, you likely never knew how complicated feeding a new baby can be!  For some new moms, breastfeeding is simple and easy.  But for others, it can be challenging for a variety of reasons:  insufficient milk supply, baby isn’t latching on properly, juggling job schedules and responsibilities, getting enough sleep yourself, and other issues.  If you are the nursing mom, don’t stress.  Whether you nurse or end up bottle feeding, you will bond with your baby and your baby can be happy and healthy. 

If you are the parent in the supporting role, do whatever you can to help support your baby and mom in nursing.  A supportive role can include:  providing mom with nutritious meals, taking care of the baby so mom can get some rest, engaging a lactation consultant to help, and just being patient with the process.  A nursing baby will need to be near mom during the feeding times for at least the first several weeks so baby can get established on a feeding schedule.  The supporting parent should be flexible and present during times that allow mom to take a break.  This takes a lot of patience, as the supporting parent may be anxious to be spending time with baby on his own.  That time will come – just think of this as an investment in a positive parenting relationship that will benefit your baby for years to come. Once the baby is established in nursing, there will be more flexibility for mom to pump milk and be away from the baby for longer periods of time. 

Other Feeding Methods:

Feeding times are an important part of the parent-child bonding.  For parents who live in two households, it will be especially important to make sure that both parents can play a role in feeding baby, once nursing is well-established or when the baby is no longer nursing.  A breastfeeding mom may elect to pump extra supplies of milk, so the other parent can share in feeding the baby.  Or the parents may elect to use formula, either as a primary or supplemental source of nutrition for the baby. Try to work through this process together, remembering that the baby’s needs are the most important priority.

Other Bonding Activities:

Feeding is not the only bonding activity to do with your baby!  In addition to feeding, newborns need to be bathed, diapered and given interaction while awake.  While they may not seem very active just yet, they are little sponges soaking up their environment.  Spend time reading and singing to your baby, so your baby knows your voice; it won’t be long before your baby will want to engage with you in conversations by cooing back at you!

Bath time becomes a special ritual in many households and a fun time to have one-on-one interaction. It can also help reinforce your confidence in caring for your newborn, which is important, too.  

If possible, it is best if both parents attend the frequent well-baby checkups with the pediatrician.  This allows each parent the opportunity to stay on top of the developmental milestones their baby is reaching, address any questions or concerns along the way, and to bond and build a relationship with the child’s pediatrician.

Come to an agreement:

Co-parenting a first baby requires quite a lot of trial and error. Older children have routines, can express themselves and don’t need quite as much attention, especially when they can do things on their own. A baby’s schedule will change frequently as they grow and quickly progress through each milestone of development, especially in the early days. The fact that they can’t tell their parents what’s wrong or what they need sometimes makes it a challenge for both parents to be assured the baby’s needs are being met, and could create stress and tension.

Because your little bundle of joy requires so much hands-on care at this age, it is helpful if both parents can be on the same page when it comes to feeding times, nap times and other daily care issues.  If your baby’s parent is making choices that you think are questionable, raise the issue with them first in a spirit of cooperation; make every attempt to raise those concerns in a non-accusatory way.  You may want to frame the issue as a question, such as “I wonder if using a bottle to help our baby go to sleep is the best way – would you be open to seeing if our baby can go to sleep on his own?”  And listen openly to their response. 

If the issues regarding the child’s care are still not resolved, bring them to the pediatrician.  Often times, having a neutral professional give their opinion about this issue can help settle the differences of opinion. You may also want to consult with another neutral professional whom you both respect – such as a clergy member, or a counselor.

Also, keep your expectations in line.  You and your baby’s other parent are not going to agree on everything; no two parents do. To the extent that you can co-parent your child similarly, that’s awesome.  Just know that you will need to make some compromises along the way, so respect the need for each of you to get the opportunity to impart your values to your child. 

As for the rest…

Being a new parent isn’t easy. Each parent needs to find his or her own equilibrium when it comes to doing the job. This is the case regardless of whether the parents stay together or not. So be patient and show grace for each other and yourself. This is a short phase in your child’s life, and will lay the groundwork for co-parenting throughout their life. 

If you are on good terms with your baby’s other parent, it is smart to memorialize the verbal agreements you have made through a Court Order.  If you are not on good terms, it’s even more important, as you need to ensure both parents are providing support and have guidelines for spending time with the baby.   

A family law attorney can provide you with helpful information about standard possession schedules, rights and duties that both parents have regarding their child, and a plan for supporting a newborn. 

Contact Hargrave Family Law if you would like to schedule a consultation with an experienced family law attorney; we’re here to help.