In this episode, co-hosts Bethany Van Delft and Dr. Alok Patel reflect upon their own experiences becoming parents to discuss the expectations and reality of new parenthood.
Visits to the pediatrician’s office or online parenting forums can shake a new parent’s confidence in their child’s health. Although there are expected milestones for your child to meet, the reality is that every child grows and develops differently. As a doctor, “I understand why some breastfed babies don’t poop every day,” Alok says. But as a father, Alok admits he worries when his new baby daughter doesn’t poop for days at a time. Bethany adds: “I’ve actually called our pediatrician and said, ‘I think my son’s head is growing too fast.’”
Regardless of whether you are parenting alone or with support, it’s important to discern which parental roles you can take on and which you may want to delegate, if possible. Finding support through friends, family, childcare, and healthcare professionals can greatly improve the transition into parenthood. Even if one parent is doing what seems like “more work” than the other for a time, “all parental roles are equally important,” says Bethany.
Once your child does arrive, bonding will likely be top of mind. Bonding with your new baby can happen through chemical and physiological processes, and/or through time and experience parenting. In his experience, Alok says birthing parents are more likely to mention bonding with their child immediately, thanks to the release of oxytocin during breastfeeding. For non-birthing parents, it may take some time to forge that bond. Alok found that stimulatory parenting (i.e. “picking up the baby, reading to your baby, interacting to your baby with touch”) helped him forge a bond with his newborn.
New parenthood can be tricky. But with support, Bethany says, we can raise “happy, healthy, safe, loved children.”
This episode includes clips from NOVA’s “Fighting For Fertility.” You can watch the full episode here.
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New Parents: Expectations vs. Reality
Published: September 27, 2021
Bethany Van Delft: Congratulations, you’re a dada. You’re a dada. Oh, my gosh, that is so exciting, Alok! Welcome to the parent posse.
Alok Patel: Thank you! It’s like exciting and a roller coaster and a thrill ride, sometimes really stressful. Sometimes I wanna hit my head against the wall. And other times I’m the luckiest person in the world. It’s everything.
Bethany Van Delft: So how is sleep training going? What about breastfeeding? Are her eyes tracking? Is she eating? What about tummy time?
Alok Patel: I understand where you're going with this. Things did not exactly follow the algorithm that I had set in motion in my academic/pediatrician brain.
Bethany Van Delft: Do you see how it is now? Like, I know medical professionals have these expectations and these milestones and these things that they’re going by developmentally. But the reality at home is really different family to family.
Alok Patel: I’ll give you an example. I am well aware, I understand physiologically, biologically why some breastfed babies don’t stool every single day. They don’t poop every day. Sometimes they take longer to poop. I know this. This is not a surprise to my doctor brain. However, my dad brain was like, “Whoa, Elora, why has it been six days since I’ve seen a poop?” You know, is this normal baby or is it Hirschsprung’s Disease, a rare, yet serious cause of constipation in newborns? And I’m sitting there and I’m like, OK, hold on. So do you have abdominal distention? Like, what is your rectal tone? Like, let me get a glove and a little bit of lubricant. All of a sudden the 0.001% becomes my kid. You see where I’m going with this? Rabbit hole.
Bethany Van Delft: Absolutely. That’s your parent brain kicking in. If it’s a non-medical professional parent, we just Google it and then run to the doctor and go, “Why isn’t this baby pooping?” But it’s crazy, isn’t it? You know you’re educated to know this one thing, but then the reality of it, when you’re home with that baby, it’s just so different. You see now how easy it is to fall down the Hirschsprung hole. I’ve actually called our pediatrician and said, “I think my son’s head is growing too fast.”
Alok Patel: There’s other biological marvels — I’m being generous with this term — that have surprised me. And one of them is everything related to breastfeeding and milk production. And I’m not just talking about, like, breast milk is made and baby eats it, but like...
Bethany Van Delft: You were pretty pumped about that before.
Alok Patel: No pun intended. The different techniques that we’ve learned from our lactation consultant about, positioning, like this is a whole art, which I knew about. But now I’m just like, whoa.
Bethany Van Delft: Can I say, I love that you are a pediatrician, but you all got a lactation consultant? This idea of: baby’s born, baby latches is not correct. It’s not accurate. It’s all about getting support. It takes some figuring out.
Alok Patel: It’s been amazing to get support from yourself and a lot of our other friends about ways to support one another, ways I can support my wife. I mean, we have our own roles, how we’ve defined them and what works best for our lives and our family unit, if you will.
Bethany Van Delft: I think what you’re trying to say is that all parental roles are important. Equally important.
Alok Patel: And I never realized that more than right now,
Bethany Van Delft: If you’re parenting together with a partner, it’s really important to talk and have open dialogs about what your roles are going to be. Do you feel like that happened with Jenna, that you really thought about how it’s going to work? I mean, it’s never going to go that way. But did you talk about it?
Alok Patel: Oh, we totally did. I can see a lot of little areas where I would have slipped up in the while, someone else holding me back. I mean, like, don’t fall there, don’t fall in that pit.
Bethany Van Delft: Like not saying while she’s breastfeeding, “Hey, do you want a glass of burgundy?” Just really simple things like that.
Alok Patel: Don’t ask, don’t give her a glass of burgundy or give her one?
Bethany Van Delft: No, no. Not while she’s breastfeeding.
Alok Patel: Yeah. Who would do that?
Bethany Van Delft: You were talking about cool physiological things. One thing that I thought was really cool when I was breastfeeding was feeling right when I started breastfeeding, feeling cramps. And I understood that was whatever hormones or chemicals that were being released through breastfeeding were helping my uterus contract?
Alok Patel: I like that you thought that was cool.
Bethany Van Delft: So cool! It was amazing.
Alok Patel: Physiology in action. But also, did you ever get kind of milk letdown when one of your children cried?
Bethany Van Delft: I’d get milk let down when somebody else’s children cried. That’s just what your body does. Your body hears a baby crying and your body goes, “Time to eat.”
Alok Patel: We know you’re talking about oxytocin. Some people know that as the “love hormone” — super important hormone for strengthening the bond between a parent and baby. It builds trust and closeness in relationships.
So I learned a lot from talking to other parents. And the parent who gave birth, a lot of them were like, “Hey, I bonded immediately with the child.” And then the parent who didn’t give birth would often tell me, “It took me some time to kind of forge that bond.” But only after really trying to interact with the child did the parent who didn’t give birth, get that bond, get that oxytocin benefit. And this was a completely different story for other families where neither parent gave birth and they still had a child as they were talking about ways they formed the bonding. Now, we mentioned with the birth parent, there’s things like breastfeeding in some situations. Some parents it’s the actual act of giving birth, skin-to-skin time. And the tips I got to make sure that I ramped up my own oxytocin was the direct infant interaction — stimulatory parenting.
Bethany Van Delft: What is that?
Alok Patel: So like tossing your baby in an air. Or pulling your baby up, reading to your baby, basically interacting directly with your baby with touch and activities. I sometimes hold Elora and I have her dance out to songs that show up on the radio. So I think those little things we can do. There is hope for the non-birthing parent to develop the bond with oxytocin.
Bethany Van Delft: There’s more than hope. It happens.
Alok Patel: That’s true, actually. It’s not just hope.
Bethany Van Delft: This is your sleep-deprived?
Alok Patel: This is my sleep deprived brain. I did see some research showing that we can actually help our babies develop oxytocin through all this bonding. So the bonding is important for baby’s development as well.
Bethany Van Delft: And there you have it.
Alok Patel: I feel like I’m constantly yelling right now on camera. Thank you, power washers. Do you want your talent to talk louder? Hire power watchers.
So this all makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint because the love hormone, oxytocin, it helps you bond with your young, with your loved ones, and protect them. And feel that closeness and then indirectly, feel that protective instinct. So it’s like oxytocin to some degree gives you that Mama Bear ferocity. Word! What? Zoom in on her necklace. Camera two.
Bethany Van Delft: My oxytocin’s gonna take you out.
Parental roles look so different in all families. Whatever a family looks like, it’s super important to support parents to raise children happy, healthy, safe, loved children.
Alok Patel: 100%.
Bethany Van Delft: Just really helping to build your confidence, like helping you to be a confident parent. I think all parents need that.
Hosted by Alok Patel and Bethany Van Delft
Producer/Camera/Director: Emily Zendt
Producer/Director: Ari Daniel
Production assistance: Diego Arenas, Christina Monnen, Arlo Pérez
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Executive Producers: Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt
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