Being a mom is often described as the “toughest job in the world.” It’s a “job” that doesn’t pay you money and that constantly requires you to keep “learning on the job,” with no training manual. From the minute you come home from the hospital with your new baby, you’re in a new world of intensive, highly-involved caregiving that can leave you feeling a bit stressed and overwhelmed at times. But beyond the day-to-day chores and tasks of changing diapers, soothing crying children and breastfeeding, being a mom also brings a variety of emotional challenges.
New moms often feel a wide range of emotions, including joy, bliss, pride as well as stress, sadness and confusion. Motherhood brings profound changes to your identity and sense of self. Breastfeeding is one challenge - but the emotional challenges of being a new mom colour everything in your life. Many moms put too much pressure on themselves or set unrealistic goals for themselves, and then blame themselves for every perceived mistake or shortcoming. You might expect yourself to become an “instant expert” on being a mom, but it’s not that easy – especially when you are sleep-deprived and learning how to do dozens of small-yet-complex childcare tasks for the first time.
You might feel insecure and lacking in confidence, or overwhelmed by responsibility. Your hormones might be shifting dramatically in ways that make you feel like you’re no longer “yourself.” Another challenge for being a mom of a breastfeeding infant is that during the early weeks especially, it might not seem that you have a full “relationship” with your baby yet. You might feel like there is no real way to communicate with the baby or understand each other, other than the breastfeeding sessions.
Often you feel guilty for all sorts of things – for having a messy house, for wanting time to yourself, or for “neglecting” your partner. You might second-guess your decisions about whether to go back to work, or feel guilty for feeling frustrated with your child at times. Loss of personal time and personal space is a big deal for new moms – being alone all day with a hungry, needy infant can be exhausting, and it’s OK to feel selfish from time to time!
Perhaps the biggest emotional challenge for new moms and mothers-to-be is simply fear of the unknown - how will you cope with all the challenges of being a mom, how will you balance the various needs and demands of your family, your spouse and your life outside the home?
We asked the women in the Medela Facebook Community to tell us what they felt was the hardest thing about being a mom and here is what they told us. Perhaps some of their concerns will sound familiar to you and you’ll feel energized and reassured that you are not the only one feeling that way.
Worry About Making the Right Decisions
Being a mom is just the beginning of a series of decisions that affect your life and your child’s life. There will always be choices and early on many moms fundamentally feel a sense of total inadequacy.
Maebrae said, “I often worry that I always should make the best decision. I pretty much worry in general - all the time!” Gillian added, “I never feel good enough.” Joslyn admitted, “The hardest thing is worrying about if you are doing what's best for your baby. And worrying about why they do certain things or why they cry…just the worrying in general.”
It’s important to remember that you are not alone in your journey as a mother. Try to draw strength from your partner, your family, your community, and your various knowledge and resources – and put some of those worries to rest.
Fear of Failure
It’s natural to have some fears about how to be a great mother. Sometimes in our culture we make it look like being a mother is supposed to be the most “natural” thing – but it’s a learned skill.
Mary-Jasmine Jane said, “Breastfeeding is supposed to be easy, but I feel like I can’t even do that! When I was breastfeeding, my son bit me and I yelped in shock and he then went through a breast refusal stage for days.” Carol added, “The opinions and advice from people that don't have children make me feel that I am a complete failure.” Chelsea said, “The hardest thing is that feeling of doubt that what you're doing for them is best and concern when you just can’t figure out what the baby needs.”
Keep in mind that if you’re trying your best and you’re meeting your baby’s needs for nourishment and comfort and love, there’s no such thing as “failure” as a mother. Every mother has to go through an initial time of adjustment in bonding with the new baby, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Breastfeeding can be difficult, and that’s why there are lactation consultants and other helpful breastfeeding resources around to help moms learn how to be at their best.
Not Getting it Right
Moms are their own worst critics. Many moms have high expectations for their mothering skills, and think that they should somehow always know what to do for the baby, and when things don’t go smoothly, they blame themselves.
Erin said that her biggest challenge as a mom is “The lack of sleep and not knowing what is wrong sometimes when he fusses and cries. I want to make it all better but don't always know what is wrong.” Caylene commented, “I would say the hardest thing about being a mother, is deciding what is right for them and still being able to apply it in a way that works for you as a person. As mothers, some of the best things for our children don't coincide with the things that work for us.” Jacynthe admitted, “When my 2 year old child cries or is upset and I don’t know why, I get so frustrated with myself.”
There are times for every mother when the baby is inconsolable, or when the baby seems to be making impossible demands – wanting to nurse for hours, or wanting to be held, or to be carried around the room in order to fall asleep. All this while you’re exhausted or have other things you’d like to be able to do. Look to your partner for support, consider using a pacifier, or try baby wearing to keep your baby close to your body while leaving your hands free. There are a variety of ways to make your life a bit easier while still comforting your baby.
Every mother on the planet will agree that the loss of sleep is absolutely the hardest thing about being a mom.
Alina said, “Sleepless nights make being a mom so hard. No matter how hard I try to get my 6-month-old to have an 8-hour or at least a 6-hour constant sleep at night, he will still wake up crying every 2 hours.” Sue agreed saying, “The most difficult thing for me is lack of sleep. It affects my mood, my confidence and my patience. It makes me feel so stressed, grumpy and definitely impacts my ability to breastfeed.”
Every baby has their own unique sleep pattern, and some babies are “good sleepers” while others will wake up wanting to breastfeed through the night.
Having No Personal Time
Finding “me time” is so important when you’re a mom. Many moms might feel that they’re all “touched-out” and can’t handle any more physical touch after holding and nursing a baby all day.
Jane said, “I get frustrated when my baby won’t take a bottle and is reliant 100% on my breast for nourishment.” Mary told us, “Sometimes I just want to go to the shops by myself, not to buy anything, but just to have time without my baby. This makes me feel guilty.”
It’s totally natural and necessary to want some time to yourself, and to preserve your sense of personal space. Even though we love our children unconditionally, as mothers we also need to be able to take care of ourselves and enjoy simple experiences on our own, even if it’s something like going shopping or going for a walk. Schedule time for yourself each day. Ask your partner to give you a break.
Moms feel guilty about almost everything – not spending enough time with their kids, not spending enough “quality time” with their kids, not doing the right things for their kids or making the “right” choices.
Rae told us, “The hardest thing is not having enough quality time as a working mom.” Sarah admitted, “I feel guilty when I have to leave him sometimes in day care. I feel guilty if I can’t be there with him.” Tamara added, “When I don’t feel good or am sick, I worry that I'm stuck between taking care of myself and my love for my son and my need to take care of him. I feel guilty when I lose patience and just want to rest.”
Ironically, these feelings of guilt might be holding you back from being emotionally present and energetic for your children. So try not to feel bad about any of your decisions as a mother. Let go of the past – what’s done is done. Give yourself some credit – you’re doing the best you can at the world’s toughest job!
What do you think? What have you found to be the hardest thing about being a mom? Leave a comment and let us know, or join the discussion on our Medela Facebook page.