Becoming a new mum brings great joy, excitement and moments of wonder – but it also brings a lot of new responsibility, worries, fatigue and stress.
Parenting stress is very real. Even while we celebrate the beautiful, wonderful things about being a mum, it’s important to also pay attention to some of the things that can make the experience of raising infants so tiring and difficult – and try to better minimize and manage these sources of stress so mums can enjoy their lives with their babies!
Here are five things that stress new parents out and some tips for dealing with them.
Dealing with a Baby Who Cries Non-Stop
If you have a baby with colic behavior, the constant crying can be a major source of stress. However, most doctors believe that colic is not a physical “condition,” it is a behavior – the baby is trying to adapt itself to life outside the womb.
Ironically, and unfairly, the more stressed you become by your baby’s constant crying, the more likely you are to make the baby cry harder. Your baby is not crying because you are a bad parent, they are likely simply overwhelmed by making the transition into the world, experiencing in fact, very much the same emotions that you are feeling too.
So, try to reduce the stress by relaxing yourself, trying to keep things in perspective and giving yourself a break from unreasonable expectations. You are growing and learning together!
Maybe you can try baby wearing, giving yourself free hands to get on with tasks while enabling you to hold your crying baby close. Carrying your baby in a soft sling can often soothe and relax both a stressed baby and mum. If the weather is nice, get outside and just walk in the garden or on the patio.
Fresh cool air can help.
Maybe simply asking a friend to look after the baby for just a short 30 minutes will give you the break you need.
Coping with the Stress of Trying to Do Everything
Between breastfeeding, cooking, cleaning, laundry, nappy changes, wiping up vomit, running errands and all of the other chores that mums have to deal with, it’s no wonder mothers feel stressed. And, this doesn’t even mention the additional responsibilities and stresses borne by mothers who work outside the home.
Many mums say that they have difficulty relaxing because of the constant all-encompassing feeling of all the things that need to be done every day. Very often new mums are trying to do everything because they keep their pre-baby tasks and add the baby tasks on top.
This is stress that can be avoided. Don’t worry about dishes, ironing or cooking gourmet meals. If your baby is safe, fed, and loved you are doing your job!
Talk things over with your partner so that they understand. Keeping the conversation going and setting realistic expectations can keep everything in check and reduce the stress for both parents.
Feeling Completely and Totally Overwhelmed
Many new mums feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility and fear of failure. They are completely responsible for the life of a tiny, helpless person. They might wonder if they are “good enough” to handle the responsibilities or do things the “right way.”
The first thing to do with this stress is to throw out all comparisons to other mums, “helpful” advice from celebrities and just follow your basic nurturing instincts. Don’t try to be perfect, that word does not exist in a new mum’s vocabulary. Just do your best, focus on the basics and know that you are not alone.
Check out some of the online resources for mums and try to relax and keep your worries and insecurities in perspective.
Feeling Exhausted and Even Resentful
Many new mums are simply exhausted after a few days and find themselves struggling with feelings of resentment toward their own baby. Of course they love their child and, of course they’re grateful to be parents, but they constantly feel blindsided by how needy a baby is. They suddenly realize how little free time and energy they have for themselves and feel guilty for feeling resentful, because after all, it’s not the baby’s fault; babies are innocent little beings who just want to be loved and cared for.
All of these conflicting emotions may cause new mums to feel alternately resentful and self-critical.
New mums might often be thinking, “What is wrong with me? I have a healthy baby; I have a home and a partner and family support – and yet this is still just SO HARD sometimes!”
Go with these feelings, they will pass. Get help from a lactation consultant or your health practitioner – just sharing your feelings can help.
Feeling Stress in your Relationship with Your Partner
Being a new mum is a time of life where you might often feel like the baby takes so much energy that you don’t have any energy left for yourself or for your partner. This can create stress on your relationship, and leave you feeling more like “colleagues” than “lovers.”
After becoming parents, you might find yourself feeling restless or dissatisfied with your marriage – a research study found that 2/3 of parents see the quality of their relationship drop within three years of the birth of a child. Share your thoughts and feelings, be honest and make the time to discuss how you are feeling.
Babies are little experts at turning up the stress levels – they know all the buttons. It’s almost like babies were designed by evolution to fully command their mothers’ attention at all times!
While this makes sense for helping babies survive and grow, it’s not always easy for the parents. This is especially true in our fast-paced modern life where many of us live far away from our families, parenting stress can be related to many other stresses of adulthood, like money, work, housing, transportation, and shopping.
All of the little things that you have to do to stay afloat financially and keep your house in order are often made more difficult by having a baby.
At the heart of parental stress is a sense of being overwhelmed and underprepared for all the new skills and challenges that being a parent requires. Up until a baby arrives, most parents have had their lives under control. Perhaps they graduated from university, trained for a job, enjoyed hobbies or travel, and developed life skills to meet challenges. But today, many parents are having babies later in life, which presents unique challenges – before becoming parents, many people have known a few years (or more) of relatively carefree adulthood with lots of free time. Becoming parents irrevocably changes these comfortable lifestyles, assumptions and routines.
Another source of stress for new mums is that societal expectations are strong. Even though the traditional support systems for new parents have largely changed (not many people live in close proximity to their parents and extended families), many new mums feel a strong sense of pressure to be “perfect” mothers – or have self-defined standards that are often unrealistic.
The truth is, many new mums (and dads) find themselves feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and sometimes depressed – perinatal anxiety and depression. So don’t feel like you have to be a relentlessly happy “supermum” all the time! Being vulnerable is not a character flaw – but something that happens to every parent on the planet!
Perinatal anxiety and depression can be mild, moderate or severe and symptoms can begin suddenly after birth or appear gradually in the weeks or months during the first year after birth. If you think you may have thoughts and feelings which need more help and support it is important to discuss how you feel with your partner and health practitioner and contact PANDA for more information.
How do you deal with the stress of parenting? Leave a comment and let us know, or join the discussion on the Medela Australia Facebook page.