Look after your emotional wellbeing
There are many reasons why people become single parents. You may have planned to parent on your own or perhaps you had expected to raise your baby with your partner. Whatever the circumstances, it’s important to try and care for yourself as well as your new baby.
But babies are time consuming and this is often not as easy as it sounds. It is not uncommon for new parents to experience some anxiety and be emotional after having a baby. You may feel particularly vulnerable if things aren’t as you expected them to be.
If you are feeling low or anxious, please don’t hesitate to tell someone how you feel, such as a family member or trusted friend. You can also talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP. Some women feel very distressed or guilty at feeling low at a time when people may expect them to be happy. Remember that healthcare professionals won’t judge you. They will focus on helping you find the support you need to take care of yourself and your baby. Find out more about your mental health after having a baby.
Build your support network
Remember that you have nothing to prove as a single parent. But don't be afraid to ask for help or take it when offered. It may be helpful to be specific about what friends or family could do to help. There may be times you need run errands, take a break or get some sleep.
Speak to your healthcare professional or health visitor if you don’t have a support network. They may be able to help you find the support you need to help you stay well.
Have confidence in yourself as a parent
The relationship support charity Relate highlights the possible tensions that can arise when single parents rely on family or friends to support them and their new baby. Relate says that sometimes you may have to fight your own corner if friends or family that are very involved in your life try to overrule you.
Trust your own instincts. Sometimes you may need to remind people (and perhaps even yourself) that you are the parent and you make the big decisions. For example, get medical advice if you think something is wrong – even if family or friends think you’re being overanxious. Your peace of mind is important.
If tensions rise, try to talk to a friend or family member that isn’t so involved. If you’re planning to do anything that may cause questions, try to tell those around you as soon as you can. Be clear that you value their opinion and experience, but ultimately it is your decision.
“Being a single parent was the right thing for me. Not everyone has a choice about it, but for me this was the best way. My advice, to someone who has become a single parent to a newborn, is to be kind to yourself. It’s not a competition to show how strong you are. Ask for practical help from friends or anyone that’s around you. And, most of all, put yourself and your baby first.”
Talk to other single parents
All parents feel lonely sometimes, but many people find parenting alone particularly isolating. There are many in-person and online groups for parents. Your midwife, health visitor or antenatal group such as National Childbirth Trust (NCT) will have details of these. There are also apps, such as Mush and Peanut to help you meet other new mums.
Many single parents want to meet other single parents because they understand what they are going through better than anyone else. The single parent charity Gingerbread has friendship groups and an online forum where you can meet other single parents. There are also apps specifically for single parents who want to meet others, such as Frolo.
Try to stay organised
Having a baby is often stressful, especially in the first few months. As well as trying to recover from the birth physically and emotionally, you’ll also be very busy learning how to take care of the new little person in your life.
Hormones, sleep deprivation and stress can all lead to forgetfulness, and you may find that you’re not as on top of things as you used to be. This is nothing to worry about, but it can be difficult if you don’t have a partner to support you. You could try:
- making shopping lists to avoid multiple trips
- writing down any important appointments, such as your child’s vaccination dates, on a calendar on the wall or set reminders on your phone
- writing down which breast you last fed your baby on or try putting a badge on the left or right side of your top, or using a baby feeding tracker app
- stocking up on the essentials, such as nappies, formula if needed, and toiletries
- make sure you have things like bread in the freezer, soups or pasta in case you’re stuck indoors for a day.
Newborns don’t know the difference between night and day, and it’s very normal for babies to wake up regularly. You’ll probably be up several times during the night to feed, change and comfort your baby. This can be difficult if you’re doing it by yourself. Talk to your healthcare professional as they can work with you to consider the support you need.
If you have friends or family nearby, perhaps you could ask them to stay overnight occasionally, or stay for a couple of hours during the day so you can have a nap.
Here are some practical tips from parents for getting through difficult nights:
- Try to sleep when your baby sleeps – day and night. Any cleaning and washing up can wait.
- Go to bed early. Getting a few more hours of sleep before midnight can help manage broken sleep.
- Set up the changing mat before you go to bed with a very low light lamp so you can see what you’re doing at night but not fully wake you and your baby.
- Get a pile of nappies open and ready next to the changing map so all you need to do is put them under your baby and do them up.
- Have spare baby grow to hand ready in case of accidents.
- Keep some water near your bed to stay hydrated, which is important if you are breastfeeding. A few healthy snacks may come in handy too.
Find out more about coping with sleepless nights.
Think about your finances
Knowing how much money you can expect to have coming in will help you manage your finances and help you think about your options for the future. Single parents with children under 5 may be entitled to certain benefits, including support for housing. You can find out more on the Gingerbread website. Turn2us is another national charity that can help single parent families find benefits, charitable grants and other financial help.
Child maintenance is money to help pay for your child’s living costs. It’s paid by the parent who doesn’t usually live with the child to the person who has most day-to-day care of the child. It’s also called ‘child support’.
There are 3 different ways to arrange child maintenance. Some people arrange maintenance voluntarily with each other, others have maintenance calculated and collected under a government scheme and some have arrangements made by a court order.
Citizens Advice has more information about organising child maintenance.
The Healthy Start scheme
If you’re pregnant or have children under the age of 4 and receive certain benefits you can get free vouchers or payments every 4 weeks to spend on:
- cow’s milk
- fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables
- infant formula milk
- fresh, dried, and tinned pulses.
You can also get free Healthy Start vitamins.
Find out more about the Healthy Start scheme. If you live in Scotland, you cannot get Healthy Start but you can apply for Best Start Foods instead.
Put arrangements in place to co-parent or parallel parent
If you’re planning on co-parenting or parallel parenting, you may wish to try to give both parents time and opportunity to bond with the baby, if possible.
This may not always be easy, but it may be better for your child if they can have a relationship with both parents. If you have an ex-partner who wants to spend time with their baby, this may allow them to get to know their baby’s cues (when they want to be fed, sleep or a cuddle). This can help their relationship to develop, increase your ex-partner’s confidence as a parent, and may give you some peace of mind.
Child arrangements are usually an informal agreement, but it may help to write them down. Gingerbread has more information about contact arrangements.
Of course, co-parenting or parallel parenting is not always possible. For example, if an ex-partner was or is violent or abusive towards you or your child. Citizens Advice say that you should always get help making childcare arrangements if your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened.
If you need help you can contact the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge. Call 0808 2000 247 for free, confidential advice. They will not tell you what to do, or judge you, but they can support you to understand your options and make a plan. They can talk through your legal and housing rights and connect you with specialist services.
Go easy on yourself
There are so many things that can make a difficult day when you have a newborn, even if there are two parents in the house. Perhaps your baby is cluster feeding, crying for no apparent reason or it seems like they’ve had one dirty nappy after another. Whatever the reason, there will be days where you don’t make it out of your pyjamas and that’s absolutely fine. Sometimes it’s just about getting through the day.
But you may find that having some routine, such as trying to eat a meal or call a friend at roughly the same time every day, may help you feel more in control.