Even on the most difficult, exhausting days, it is important to see the positive side of parenting and to keep things in perspective. Your baby is not going to be a baby forever. Every stage of infancy and childhood brings its own new developments and discoveries, and in time, your child will be more and more independent and able to explore and do more things for herself. Easier said than done! Here are some simple things that you can try to keep your head above water on those days you feel you are absolutely sinking.
Develop Coping Strategies
What are the aspects of caring for your baby that you feel you are best at, and which ones would you rather “outsource” and share with your partner? Especially during the stressful times, it is important to work as a team and fill in the gaps for each other. For example, maybe you could pump breastmilk so your partner could handle the night feedings, allowing you to get more sleep. Or maybe you could have “diaper-free Sundays” where your partner does all of the baby’s diaper changes for the entire day. Don’t be afraid to delegate, and keep communicating along the way.
You and your partner need to try hard every day to be a source of strength and comfort for each other. Being a parent is a brand new experience for both of you, and there is often a sense of complete vulnerability, so keep reminding each other that you are both doing the best you can. Parenting is not the place for perfectionism. If your baby is safe, fed and happy, you are both doing your job “good enough!”
Practice the Art of Napping - Make Time for Sleep!
It may seem unnatural, but you must take naps. Sleep when your baby sleeps. Never miss an opportunity to sleep. The housework will wait; the email will be there in an hour. Sleep is one of the most important things that new moms can do for themselves. Stop ironing clothes. Order from food delivery services instead of cooking. Leave the clean laundry unfolded. Do whatever it takes to make time to take naps and feel well rested.
If you want to nap but have trouble drifting off, turn your phone to silent mode and make your bedroom as dark as possible. Earplugs can also muffle noises that might keep you up. But try not to nap for too long. The best nap durations are 30 to 45 minutes, once per day. If you nap for more than 60 minutes at a time, you will enter a part of the sleep cycle called “slow-wave” sleep, and if you wake up during this phase, you will feel drowsy and foggy-headed. Shorter naps help you wake up feeling more energized and alert.
Get Informed, Keep Things in Perspective
It’s important for both parents to be prepared before your child’s birth as to how they will work together as a team. Do your research about what to expect from each stage of parenting – pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, infant care, and more. Don’t be afraid to ask questions from your healthcare professionals to get the guidance that you need.
Lean on your support network, family and friends and ask them to share their stories about what they’ve gone through as parents. Sometimes the best way to cope with parenting stress is to laugh and commiserate with people who are going through the same experience. You might feel like the only mom on Earth who spends so much time in her pajamas surrounded by dirty dishes and unfolded clean clothes – but talking to other parents, you will be amazed at how many nods of agreement you get. So many new moms are feeling the same vulnerabilities and frustrations that you are. You are not alone!
Aside from getting understanding and sympathy from other new moms, you will also see that you can get things in perspective. If you’re having difficulty meeting new moms, consider looking for a new moms’ group or joining a club or organisation. Regular social activity is so important to keep new moms from feeling isolated and keep you connected.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
New moms often feel like everyone else in the world is managing life “better” than they are. Every other mom is mastering the daily drudgery of infant care while pursuing high-powered careers and cooking nutritious meals. They are staying in great shape, wearing stylish clothes, doing rewarding activities, and maintaining a busy social life with lots of interesting, fashionable friends. They are still making time for passionate, romantic encounters with their husbands.
But remember: motherhood is not a competition! Don’t compare yourself to others - especially celebrities and people who live lives that are nothing like yours. No one is perfect. Other moms’ lives might be much messier and more chaotic than they are willing to share on Facebook. Most moms are just muddling through and trying to do the best they can.
New moms today are living in a world that is much different from the one our parents raised us in – in many ways, today’s new moms are redefining the “new normal” for breastfeeding, motherhood, marriage and more. As part of the new “normal” of motherhood, new moms need to feel empowered to accept their lives as they are – not feel like they have to keep up with anyone else’s unrealistic expectations.
Trust in your own ability as a mother - listen to advice, but do what you know is right for you and your baby. Follow your instincts, trust your judgment, and try to keep things in perspective – so what if you make a “mistake?” How serious can it really be?
Learn to be Selfish Sometimes
Mothers often feel like they have to be selfless, generous and nurturing at all hours of the day – but unless you are a martyr or a saint, life just does not work that way for most people. It’s OK to be a little selfish, even though you are a mom. Don’t feel guilty - if you need a break, take it!
Take time for your body, your relationship, your passions, interests and dreams. You still have a life of your own, even though so much of it is currently devoted to your baby. Someday you are going to want to re-focus on your own career, your own dreams, your own sense of self – and it’s important to not lose sight of that, even in the hectic, sleep-deprived days of breastfeeding and early childhood.
Work on giving time to your relationship as well. Invest in babysitters so you and your partner can go out for Date Nights. As a couple, try to not talk about babies all the time - have a rule that one day a week is a “baby free talk” zone! Remember that before you had kids, you were two people in love. Try not to lose touch with that sense of attraction and excitement that brought you together in the first place.
Take time to have fun! Remember what “fun” is? It doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate – but make time to do things for yourself that are enjoyable and relaxing and rewarding, even if it’s just watching your favourite mindless TV show. Finally, don’t forget to laugh! Try to find the humour in everyday situations. New moms often find that the most stressful and frustrating experiences can be a source of comedy.
One of the best ways to deal with parenting stress is to get organized. Have a plan for how you want to spend your time and which activities you would like to do more of – but of course, stay flexible. As every new mom knows, babies are on their own schedule and they often disrupt the best-laid plans of parents.
Finally, there is sometimes a fine line between everyday “parenting stress” and more serious problems like postpartum depression. Seek professional help if you need it - don’t be a hero! Don’t be afraid to seek help from a therapist, counsellor of medical professional if you feel like the stress of parenting is becoming a major problem in your life.
New moms are some of the hardest-working people in the world. Draw upon your inner strength and resilience, and remember, “This too shall pass.” Cherish the gentle moments of cuddling your baby, breastfeeding your baby, and feeling them sleeping against your chest. Most parents find that as their babies grow, life just keeps getting better – but someday, you might find yourself missing these early days where life was often stressful, but always filled with a special sense of purpose. Good luck!
How do you deal with the stress of parenting? Leave a comment and let us know, or join the discussion on the Medela Facebook page.