By Lori Barry, Family Educator
Stress can come from many different sources—even from happy, exciting sources such as a new little member of the family.
Adjusting family routines after a baby’s birth can be stressful. A new baby involves many changes physically, mentally, emotionally, and relationally. Most families will experience normal ups and downs for the first few months. Each person has a different tolerance level. What is important is to know how to calm yourself when you start to feel overwhelmed because your emotional health affects your infant’s social, emotional, and intellectual development.
About 85% of new moms go through normal postpartum adjustment (Parents as Teachers). It can include:
- The Baby Blues: being tearful, sleepless-ness, exhaustion, and irritability in the first two or three days after the baby’s birth. It happens to 50-80% of all new moms and lasts a week or two (Parents as Teachers).
- Normal Postpartum Adjustment Reaction: sometimes called “normal craziness”—feeling distress while going through “normal adjustment.” These feelings are okay. Having a baby is tiring! This can last a couple of months.
- Postpartum Exhaustion: being overwhelmed and extremely tired from lack of or interrupted sleep. When your baby has a regular sleep schedule (usually several weeks), you will get more rest and recover.
Remember, these experiences are normal. Coping with stress effectively is different for each one of us. However, experts agree that self-care is key to your emotional health. It also gives you the physical and emotional energy to be a good parent.
Parents living with chronic stress are at increased risk for acting in a way that could lead to child abuse or neglect. When a parent is overstressed, it is more difficult to provide the calm, caring atmosphere a child needs to grow and develop. Attachment, that vital bond between a parent and child, is also more difficult for a parent who is irritable and not feeling well. When children do not feel a safe, positive attachment, they in turn feel stress. This stress can temporarily or even permanently affect the part of a child’s growing brain required for making attachments, thereby affecting future relationships and friendships.
Children raised in families with chronic stress also develop negative behaviors to get their needs met, including temper tantrums, biting, or hitting.
This time of major adjustment and “normal craziness” is temporary. For both your benefit and that of your new child, find ways and people who can help you manage your stress in a healthy way. Your peace of mind and your child’s healthy development depend on it.
Modeling Healthy Stress Management
Parents and children respond to stress through behaviors or actions that are not usual for them. If young children are guided to use positive coping outlets, they will be better prepared to handle the stresses of teen, young adult, and adult life. We encourage parents to model and teach these practices from the Parents As Teachers Foundational Curriculum.