Exactly How to Set Boundaries as a New Parent, According to Experts

The arrival of a new baby can be equal parts exciting and overwhelming for new parents. After months of second-guessing if you're really ready for parenthood and trying to play every what-if scenario in your head, suddenly you're the one in charge of this little person. Unfortunately, at the same time, you may also feel the pressure of having to manage everyone's sudden expectations of you.

From in-laws who want to visit every day to parents who expect you to follow certain family traditions, managing family expectations while getting used to life as a parent can be a real challenge. But there are ways to manage everyone's expectations before it becomes a problem. We spoke to experts and experienced parents to help you navigate this new chapter in your life.

Why Is It Important to Set Boundaries When You Have a Newborn?

"Boundaries are exceptionally important and should be something that couples or parents discuss ahead of time so that they're on the same page," Jillian Amodio, MSW, social worker, founder of Moms for Mental Health, and mom of two tells POPSUGAR. "The baby is not the only new life birthed into existence; the parents themselves are born anew as well, and it's important that their needs are honored and respected."

Setting boundaries can be awkward, particularly when it comes to our parents and in-laws. But avoiding the conversation can really backfire.

"I had the absolute worst experience with my in-laws with my first child and the best with my last child," Candice D. tells POPSUGAR. "I didn't set boundaries with my first because I was afraid to offend," she explains. But she ended up feeling as though her in-laws' needs overshadowed her own.

"With my first [baby], my in-laws flew down uninvited and stayed in the hospital with us all day, from sun up to sunset," she recalls. "It was awful because I never had time alone with my baby that I'd been waiting my whole life to have. I had to share him, and it was personal for me."

Candice says the birth of her last child had default boundaries in place because of the pandemic. "My last child was born during the pandemic, and I was lucky enough to have my husband with me," she shares. "We weren't allowed to have any visitors, which was heaven sent."

But you can't always rely on your hospital's rules — and even once you take the baby home, you and your families might have different expectations about when or how often they can visit. So making sure to know what you want and feeling confident about communicating those boundaries is essential.

How Do You Set Boundaries With Family When You Bring a Baby Home?

Know What Your Boundaries Are

First, get clear on what you want out of the situation. And it's fine if your plan is to wait and see how you feel after giving birth before deciding who you want to visit your little family, and when. After all, you have no way of knowing how you'll feel after bringing your baby home and what you'll need; you might expect to want privacy, and end up needing extra help from anyone who's willing to offer it.

Some examples of boundaries you might wish to set include having no visitors in the hospital when you're delivering; limiting the number of visitors you have once you bring the baby home; declining to let any visitors stay overnight or past a certain number of days; giving visitors specific tasks (rather than having people come over just to visit and hold the baby); or asking visitors to refrain from posting pictures of your baby onto social media.

Know the Consequences of Breaking Those Boundaries

"This is where things tend to get tough for my clients," Soto admits. "It's great to have a boundary . . . But what happens next, if somebody keeps pushing the boundary or crossing the line?"

That's why the best boundaries have built-in consequences, she says. For instance if you're asking family members to schedule visits ahead of time, plan for what you'll do if anyone does drop by unannounced, like either not answering the door at all or not letting them in.

Make sure the consequences are realistic and straightforward. If you its overly extreme (like forbidding someone from ever visiting again), you might end up backtracking, which will make it harder to enforce boundaries in the future. And don't think of your consequences as punishments, because they're not; they're just a natural next step that will ultimately help you preserve the health of your relationships.

Make Sure You and Your Partner Agree

If you have a partner, make sure you're both on the same page when it comes to your boundaries. When dealing with extended family, you want to present a unified front to avoid miscommunications or resentment later on. It can also be helpful to have each new parent communicate the plan to each of their respective families and friends, so you're not left in an awkward situation with your in laws.

Share Those Boundaries With Your Families

Once you know your plan, talk with your whole family about what your boundaries are — preferably before the baby is born, suggests Anne Welsh, a clinical psychologist and executive coach specializing in maternal mental health and the transition to parenthood.

"Often, extended family and friends are so excited about sharing this experience that they can step on toes," she shares. "If you can talk about [boundaries] before baby comes, it will be easier to hold those boundaries later."

Having an upfront conversation can be especially helpful "if there are familial or cultural norms that differ between your desires and that of extended family," Dr. Welsch adds.

In some cultures, for instance, new parents are expected to bring their baby to visit the homes of everyone who gave them gifts shortly after the birth; in others, the expectation is that family members will visit frequently — or stay at the new parents' house for several days or weeks — in order to help with cooking and cleaning.

Because these birth traditions can be so normal in different families, some loved ones may simply assume that you'll be sticking to them if you don't tell them differently. So it's essential to be clear up front about things like when you'll be inviting visitors into your home, and for how long.

Briefly Explain Why You're Setting the Boundaries

"You're never obligated to share the reason you're setting a boundary, but people usually respond better when they can understand where you're coming from," says Rebecca Soto, LMHC, a licensed therapist and founder of Therapy with Rebecca Soto. She explains that sharing the reason why you're placing a boundary can be "especially helpful if your loved one is from a different culture or generation." Adding, "They may not understand why this new limit is even happening. They may be curious or even hurt."

That said, if someone is trying to pressure you into breaking a boundary, don't feel the need to over-explain. Simply repeat your boundary, state that you won't be changing your mind, and end the conversation.

Of course, setting and enforcing boundaries is definitely easier said than done. But having them in place ensures all members of the new family are supported and loved — especially your new baby, which is the most important thing.