Managing stress in early parenthood

There are a number of ways of preparing for and managing stress in early parenthood. Below are some strategies that many new mothers and fathers have found helpful when dealing with the struggles and challenges they face, to help with managing stress in early parenthood.

Be aware of your expectations - whilst you may have held perceptions of what parenthood would be like for you – this may not be your current reality. It is likely that many of your perceptions and expectations of parenthood to be a joyful event have been influenced to some degree by marketing, magazine articles, books and talking with friends and/or family about their experiences.

It is very difficult to admit you are not coping when society puts such high expectations on motherhood and that it appears so wonderful.

Like all aspects of becoming a parent, the range of experiences can vary greatly, and sometimes this range is not portrayed, and hence not what we have come to expect. Be open to the range of experiences that are likely to occur, as this is likely to include times of struggle and confusion as you are on a major learning curve. There are likely to be difficult days (more for some than others) and this is normal. You are not the only one who is likely to be struggling with life as a new parent.

Establish genuine support networks – just as what we read and see can influence our perceptions of what parenthood is meant to be like, so too can our interactions with others. The reality is, that often the difficult times are not reported or spoken about openly. This can make you feel at times like you are the only one who is struggling or not coping. This is not the case. You are not alone. Everyone has good days and bad days. It is all part of the journey of parenthood.

Don’t forget about your needs – whilst being a parent is about putting the needs of your baby (and often others) first, it is easy to forget about your own needs. You need to look after yourself – after all, it is only by doing this that you can then continue to look after your baby.

Consider exercise as a stress release – exercise is a great way to relieve physical and mental stress. Not only can it help release the positive endorphins, but can relieve muscle tension, give you some time out or a change of scene, and give you the chance to focus on something else.

Don’t expect too much of yourself - there will always be more chores that can be done, but at the end of the day, does it really matter if everything is not done and/or not perfect? Take time to savour the good moments. Make time for you. Slow down, rest, relax and take care of yourself.

Make time for you – to do things that you enjoyed before your baby came along, for yourself and with your partner. This will help restore some balance in your life. It can also remind you of the person you are, as well as being a parent.

Remember that tough stages pass – you may go through stages with your baby that are very wearing, and really test your patience. Try to remember – this stage won’t last forever and things generally get easier as your baby grows and you grow into the role of a parent too.

Reach out – when things get tough, don’t go it alone, reach out. Make contact. A phone call and a chat with someone can help you instantly connect, feel less isolated and possibly provide you with some perspective that you need at the time. Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help. This can be a tough ride, and others will more than likely appreciate the opportunity to be involved and help out.

Trust yourself – there is no right or wrong way to parent, and there is so much advice out there that it can be confusing, overwhelming and contradictory. Whilst is can be useful to consider the advice of experts, it may not apply in all situations or to all babies, so trust yourself to find your own way. You know your baby and partner better than anyone and can develop and fine tune your own strategies.

Be aware of the influences of others on your feelings - the support and advice of others can be useful, but sometimes can undermine our confidence. Be aware of those around you who may be critical or seem competitive. Feeling that you need to ‘keep up’ or hide what is really going on for you does not help anyone.

There is too much pressure on mothers to get it all right and to be in control/know what they are doing, look good etc.

By being open and honest with other sincere parents that you trust will give everyone the opportunity to build strong and genuine supports which are likely to last for many years to come.

Stop comparing – yourself with others. Everyone’s situation is unique and not comparable. This is not a competition. There are no winners. Back yourself.

Avoid using drugs or alcohol to relax – often people find that having a drink or two can help them to relax and unwind. For many, this marks a time when you can take some time for yourself – which you may certainly look forward to particularly when your day has been all about looking after the needs of others. It is important be be aware of your reasons for drinking, and if you may be becoming reliant on alcohol or drugs to relax or change the way that you feel. It is also important for mothers to be awards of the fact that alcohol is not recommended when breastfeeding, as this does pass through to your infant. Finally, alcohol or drugs can affect your ability to safely care for your baby or other children, so it is important to ensure you manage your intake responsibly.

When things reach breaking point – place your baby somewhere safe (for example, in their cot) and take a few minutes for yourself. Deep breathing, music or talking to someone can reduce heightened levels of stress. It is normal for parents to feel like this at challenging times. Take the time for yourself to regroup, and remember that this will pass.

Be aware of how much and how long you have felt under stress – there are always going to be times when we feel under stress, but if this feeling becomes constant and ongoing as opposed to lasting for short periods of time, it could become distress and increase your risk of developing postnatal depression, anxiety or other mental health problems.

I always liked being in control and being strong. I didn’t feel in control after having the baby and didn’t like admitting, even to myself that I was having trouble coping. I had a few other stressors at the time and I always felt that they were the true cause of my depression.

It’s a good idea to be aware of these conditions and what the symptoms are so that you can identify these conditions early, and seek timely and appropriate help.

See also…

Managing stress – information for dads

Anxiety