Anxiety is a completely normal part of being a new parent. In fact, the worrying often begins before your child ever enters this world. During my first pregnancy, I remember being in a constant state of wonder. Wondering if my baby was healthy. Wondering if I would carry him full-term. Wondering if the birth would go as planned with no complications. So many things to wonder and fret about. It is enough to make the most Zen person in the world feel a little nutty.
After the baby arrives, many parents find themselves feeling anxious about a whole new class of concerns. I like to categorize these fears into 8 categories. I’ve listed the worries below with tips for combatting them (and experts to turn to when you need more help):
1. Control: Before we become parents, most of us feel an illusion of control. You control when you eat, when you sleep and how you take care of yourselves. When you conceive a child, you might suddenly feel like you are driving blind. You can’t see what is going on in your belly and you are expected to trust – that everything is OK. When the baby enters the world, no matter how much you want breastfeeding, sleeping and pooping to go exactly as planned, it often doesn’t. For anyone who considers themself to be a “control freak” (ahem… ME), life with a newborn can feel like unpredictable mayhem.
Suggestion: This is a great opportunity to surrender some of the control you have always grasped onto. Children force us to let go, follow our instincts and trust that we are going to figure things out as we go along. Things might not always go as planned, but they almost always turn out to be just fine. Reach out for help and guidance when needed. You don’t have to run this show completely on your own.
2. Safety: I visited a friend this summer who had a sweet, nine month old baby. She showed me this amazing mesh mattress in the baby’s crib that is supposed to reduce the risk of SIDS and suffocation. Listening to her talk about crib safety, I was reminded of my own safety-related fears. Fears of electrocution, strangulation, suffocation and on and on. If you read the multiple pages of warnings on all of your baby products, it makes you want to enclose your baby in a protective bubble.
Suggestion: Remind yourself that decades of statistics and research have gone into the development of most baby products. And if they prove to not be completely safe, they are quickly recalled. Read the guidelines, baby proof your home and then remind yourself that you kiddo is actually pretty sturdy. Staring at the baby monitor non-stop will often create more anxiety, so give your eyes and mind a rest when needed.
3. Germs & Illness: Most of us new parents get a big scare about germs immediately after our baby is born. We are cautioned to not let our little infant be held by anyone who is sick. We are also cautioned to not take them out and about until they are completely sturdy and immunized. Although this is wise advice, it is enough to make most moms want to hide in a cave with their infant and drench any visitors in hand sanitizer.
Suggestions: Follow your health care provider’s guidelines. But when you are given the go ahead to get out and about, do so! The fresh air and companionship will be good for both you and baby. Plus, many healthcare experts agree that exposing your older baby to germs and even illness is exactly what helps them to build a strong immune system.
4. Schedules: I made the mistake of reading The Baby Whisperer Book before the birth of my 2nd baby. After studying the prescribed sleep plan, I was determined to get my new baby on a very structured sleeping schedule from a very young age. Ummm, no. The more I tried to force my little guy on some sort of schedule, the more he fought it and the more anxious both of us became. That wasn’t the only schedule I felt anxious about; I was also closely watching the clock when it came to feeding and pooping.
Suggestions: Some babies fall very easily into a predictable structured schedule. Some babies, whether it be due to illness, colic, or temperament, will be all over the place at first. Don’t stress out too much about keeping things precisely on time. Most babies will eventually ease themselves into a somewhat steady schedule. Until then, go with the flow and reach out for help if you are feeling like you or your baby aren’t getting enough sleep or nourishment. (Reach out to our favorite sleep consultant, Lori at Strong Little Sleepers if needed.)
5. Comparisons: New parents are notorious for playing the comparison game. We watch when our friends’ babies roll over, sit up and walk. And then we compare them to our own babies. Both of my boys were late when it came to crawling and walking. But you know what? Now I can’t hold them back from running all over the neighborhood.
Suggestion: Resist the urge to compare. Just don’t. Babies all evolve and develop at their own pace. Remind yourself that everything and everyone tends to even out in the end. If you have concerns about your child’s development, express them to your pediatrician.
6. The “Right Way”: With my first baby in particular, I really wanted to do things the right way. Don’t ask me what that meant. I guess I wanted to follow some sort of best practices. The problem is that no one can agree on what those best practices are. Each baby book is slightly different. Each baby, home and set of circumstances is very different.
Suggestions: Find books, educators and providers that feel like a fit for you. Follow their suggestions, but remember that you will have to adjust as you go. No one will know your baby better than you do. Ultimately, you will become the expert on what is the right thing for your little one.
7. “Good Baby”: I hear new parents say this all the time: “She/he is a really good baby.” I cringe a little when I hear this because I wonder what it means to have a baby that is not good or a baby that is bad. Parents who have babies with colic or reflux may feel like they have failed in producing an easy infant. But that doesn’t mean that their baby is bad or a failure.
Suggestions: Babies are born with little individual temperaments. They also encounter challenges such as food intolerances and growth spurts. Resist the urge to slap any kind of label on your little one. Some of the most challenging newborns turn out to be the most angelic toddlers.
8. Feeding: This is a very common source of anxiety for new parents. When you start out with breastfeeding, it is tricky to know if your little one is getting enough nourishment. A lot of trust and practice is involved. Later when your baby starts solids, you might find yourself asking the same questions again: Is my little one getting enough food? Is she/he growing and thriving? How much is the right amount?
Suggestions: If you’re taking your little one to regular wellness checks, your doctor will be able to tell you if your baby is where they need to be. Usually they are. But if feeding is a constant source of anxiety for you, do not hesitate to reach out for more assistance or just plain reassurance. Brian the Birth Guy is one of our favorite lactation consultants. And Cheryl from Taste & See Healthy Baby Food is an excellent resource when is comes to solids.
Although some anxiety is a normal part of new parenthood, and will typically decrease with time, there are a small portion of new parents who find their worries growing until they are feel out of control. If your anxiety is interfering with your sleep or daily functioning, don’t feel like you have to cope on your own. Reach out for help and get the support you need. Both you and your baby will benefit.
Here’s to Sanity and Reaching Out,