Becoming a parent for the first time is incredible. You cycle through so many emotions after giving birth. You never realized your heart could be filled with so much love for such a tiny person. And yet, you’re also nervous, scared, and experiencing some postpartum anxiety. After all, you’re responsible for another life now.
Just know that all of your anxious feelings are normal and valid. Anxiety is common among first-time parents. In fact, nearly one-quarter of new mothers experience some form of anxiety or postpartum depression. And thanks to societal pressures like juggling work full-time, parenting a newborn, and fulfilling the need to paint a rosy picture on social media all the time, anxiety amongst new parents is on the rise.
Feeling overwhelmed with new baby woes? When you’re feeling anxious, the first step is to realize that you aren’t alone. Becoming a parent for the first time is hard! But help is available if you need it.
Here’s a bit more information on new parent anxiety and how to conquer it so it doesn’t get the best of you — or interfere with your quality time with your new love.
Why are you experiencing postpartum anxiety, exactly?
Anxiety can look like a lot of different things to different people. In general, it is defined as extreme apprehension or worry. It can also become chronic and cause you to dread each day, according to Psychology Today.
Some common sources of “the baby blues” for new parents may include the following:
- Will my baby (and I) ever sleep again?
- Is my child feeding enough?
- Breastfeeding is so much more work than I imagined
- My baby cries all the time
- Is my baby meeting developmental milestones?
- I’m not losing the baby weight
- Is my baby healthy?
- Everyone I follow on social media looks so happy — so why not me?
- I’m stressed financially now that we have a baby
- I am starting to resent my partner
- My house is a mess
Of course, these are just some common examples of new parent anxiety. Every situation and baby is unique, so your anxiety may involve something else entirely.
One study of 200 mothers in Turkey published in the journal Women’s Health found that negative attitudes from employers, low paternal support, and unplanned pregnancies were sources of anxiety in the postpartum period. What’s more, researchers found these sources of anxiety could be an indicator of depression and poor health among new mothers.
Learning to trust your instincts
Whatever the source of your anxiety, remember that every new parent has some of the same fears and stresses. Even if they look happy all the time, remember their world isn’t perfect all the time, either.
One important step to being a new mom or dad is to learn to trust your instincts. Remember, it may not feel like you are doing everything right, but just by being there and present for your baby — feeding, changing, and smiling at them — you are doing a lot.
Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Israel found that mothers that simply showed visible affection to their babies (laughing and smiling at them) had a significant physiological effect: In fact, their heartbeats were actually synchronized within milliseconds of each other.
The point is, even if you and your baby feel out of sync, you’re actually more aligned than you think. Trusting your instincts as a new parent may take some time. The more seasoned you get and the more your baby grows, your anxieties may start to dissipate on their own.
In the meantime, if you need a mantra, repeat to yourself throughout the day, “I’ve got this,” or “We’ve got this, baby.” The following statements are also true:
- No one knows your baby like you do
- You’ve learned to read your baby’s cues for when they are hungry, tired, etc.
- Be careful about reading advice online and you may start to trust your own instincts even more — always avoid late-night Googling!
Taking time for self-care
Self-care is also essential for overcoming feelings of anxiety as a new parent. Studies show that taking time for eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep are all important for your well being. Research also finds that meditation and deep breathing can help combat anxiousness.
Of course, it can be almost impossible to find time to take care of yourself when you are caring for a new baby — you don’t have time to shower sometimes let alone meditate!
The first things to go out the window are probably exercising and sleep. Ask someone to help you watch the baby for a few hours when you need some me-time. Try to prioritize fitting the following into your schedule:
- Sleep when the baby does — this is your number one priority, not cleaning your house or working on your baby’s photo book. You won’t function without sleep and may feel even more anxious.
- Take your baby outside for a walk every day, for at least 10 minutes — the fresh air is good for you both, and pushing the stroller counts as exercise.
- Find 5-10 minutes a day to turn on a meditation app, or at least practice some deep breaths throughout the day.
- Once you get the OK from your doctor to resume exercise, find a gym with a daycare your baby can attend while you exercise (and shower!)
- Avoid take out and greasy food every night — now is a great time to hit up your friends who offered to do something nice for you when the baby was born and ask if they can drop off a healthy meal.
- Enroll in a new parent’s group: You’ll meet other parents going through the same thing and having the same feelings as you. This can help quell anxiety, and making new friends counts as self-care, too.!
Ask for help
New parents are superheroes — but that doesn’t mean they don’t need backup at times. Building up a strong support network around you is crucial. Whether it’s a girl or guy friend with kids you can text with questions at any time of the day or night, a cousin with a new baby you can call to commiserate with, or a new parent’s group that gets together every few weeks, find your people early on.
When anxiety takes over, it’s important to also have someone on call who can take over for a few hours. If there’s a grandparent or relative nearby who can watch the baby while you nap, shower, or go for a walk, that’s great. You can also look into hiring reliable childcare (ask other parents you know for recommendations) and even a once or twice a month house cleaner, if it’s in your budget.
Keep your doctors informed about your anxieties, too. They can suggest resources that you may find useful. And if you ever feel anxious or depressed to the point that you may be a danger to yourself or your child, call your doctor or 9-1-1 right away to get immediate help.