Every parent remembers the moment only too well. Dark circles ringing their eyes, they blink in the daylight as they stagger out into the fresh air to a waiting car or taxi.
The precious bundle swaddled in blankets and strapped safely in, they leave the grounds of the hospital and head for home, good wishes ringing in their ears.
That’s when it hits you. You’ve got a baby and life will never, ever be the same again.
This is because that little bundle relies on you completely during every waking moment and even when he or she is sleeping. Your life is simply no longer your own.
For those who have never had children I may as well be speaking Vulcan. They just won’t understand a word of this.
Being a mum or dad is the most rewarding job in the world – and also the toughest, most unrelenting role you will ever have.
It boils down to total responsibility for shaping the life of another who is entirely dependant upon you.
What’s more, children don’t come with a manual. There is no handbook which will calm you at 3am when little ’un is screaming blue murder for no apparent reason.
No matter what anyone says, you can’t help but keep nipping into the box room to make sure he or she is still breathing when you can’t hear nowt on the baby monitor.
Sleep-deprived, irritable zombies, we learn through our mistakes.
We suss the nappy-changing, the milk requirements, the sleeping patterns, growth spurts and teething through bitter experience – spurred on by occasional magical moments.
‘He grabbed my hand…’ ‘She lifted her head…’ ‘He smiled…’ ‘She said her first word…’ ‘He laughed…’ ‘She took her first steps…’
And so it goes on.
No-one sets out to be a bad parent but sometimes circumstances overtake the best intentions.
Some people are better at coping than others because they are built that way. Some people have help from their partner, family or friends.
But many parents don’t have access to a support network. Even some of those who do still struggle to cope with the punishing daily routine and the simple lack of time for themselves – time to recharge their batteries or just talk to other grown-ups.
Worse still, some mums and dads are barely literate, anti-social morons who never give a thought to anyone else – let alone their own offspring.
Most of us can figure out that sticking junior in front of the telly isn’t going to assist his or her development as much as stimulating play will.
By the same token, we know that using sweets and crisps to buy 10 minutes of peace and quiet is actually a bad idea.
But some dilemmas aren’t quite so straightforward.
How long should you leave a baby to cry? What do you do if little ’un won’t take his or her bottle? How do you take a baby’s temperature? How should you discipline and unruly child?
You could take the view that it’s remarkable that people need to be 16 to buy cigarettes, 18 to buy alcohol or fireworks and need to pass a test to drive a car but they are allowed to leave hospital carrying a tiny human being having had no training whatsoever.
Personally, I’m all for anything which helps to better prepare new mums and dads for this most challenging period in their lives which is why I welcome the Government’s pilot scheme for free parenting classes.
Slammed by some as interference by the ‘nanny state’, the initiative offers vouchers for £100-worth of parenting classes from high street chemist Boots and health professionals to parents of children aged up to five in three trial areas.
There will also be a new targeted NHS email and text service aimed at those expecting a baby or in the first month of parenthood.
It is designed to provide “regular, relevant and tailored” advice such as videos of baby bathing and other techniques, plus advice from other parents.
If successful, these schemes may be extended across England and Wales and I sincerely hope they are.
Some will undoubtedly criticise these moves and argue that what the country needs right now is more nurses, health visitors and social workers.
That may be true, but it strikes me that there are thousands of parents-to-be who would genuinely benefit from some help, advice and myth-busting before the poo actually hits the nappy.
I know I would have welcomed such an initiative and I’m pretty sure in this age of single-parents and non-nuclear families that those mums and dads without a traditional support network would too.
Thirty years ago, new parents would have perhaps turned to their parents or grandparents for help and advice on everything from breast-feeding to preparing healthy, nutritious meals for toddlers that don’t come out of a jar.
To an extent this still happens but I believe that the state can certainly play an important role in helping people become better, more responsible and caring mums and dads.
No-one has all the answers when it comes to bringing up children and anyone who says they wouldn’t benefit from a bit of advice is kidding themselves and doing their children a huge disservice.
Every child deserves the best possible start in life but many are hampered by both the environment in which they are raised and the capabilities of those looking after them.
It is by no means a silver bullet but I think the parenting classes initiative is a step in the right direction – one which will help to prevent neglect, health problems, accidents and ultimately broken homes.
Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday