Worrying as a new parent: What's normal?
Becoming a parent is an exciting yet challenging time. Read on for tips on how to deal with your new parent nerves, and when to seek help.
If you’re a new parent, it’s normal for worried thoughts to cross your mind from time to time, such as “is the baby crying too much?” or “am I doing the right thing?”
However, if you're finding that these concerns are starting to take over your day it could be a sign of something more serious. Postnatal anxiety is more common than you may realise, affecting 1 in 7 new mothers and 1 in 10 new fathers, and can develop any time in the first year following the birth of your child. We spoke to Liv Downing, Psychologist, Meditation Teacher, and Mindfulness Consultant of Liv Mindfully to unpack what’s normal when it comes to worry, how to deal with anxious thoughts, and when it’s time to seek help.
Is it normal to feel worried?
Becoming a parent comes with a whole range of new concerns and worries. From baby’s health and wellbeing, to “helpful” input from friends and family members — not to mention a chronic lack of sleep — it’s enough to make anybody a bit stressed. As Liv notes, this may be down to our brain’s built-in negativity bias. “It’s normal to feel worried as a new parent, we are venturing into new and unknown territory and our beautiful brains have a habit of ‘filling in the gaps’ when there is missing information. Unfortunately, our innate ‘negativity bias’ (which has been very helpful to keep us alive as a species) can hijack us and cause us to focus on the negatives in any situation.
“It can be helpful to remember that this is just old wiring in our brains and that we can choose not to give these worrying thoughts our energy and attention. Whatever we practice we become good at — that rule is true for everything in life, including worrying. So the more we worry, the better we become at worrying.”
Liv advises staying mindful of your emotions, and making an effort to avoid giving into worrying thoughts. “An alternative option might be to notice when we are seduced onto the ‘worry wagon’ and then make a conscious choice to place our attention on what is actually happening in the present moment (that may be doing the dishes, watching a sunset or simply watching your new baby sleep).”
Here are Liv’s three top tips for dealing with those new parent worries:
- Read the baby, not the books. “There is so much information out there these days, and it can feel a little overwhelming. Instead of feeding our worrying mind with more and more information, a suggestion may be to allow ourselves to be in the present moment. That way, we can actually respond to the needs of our little one (and ourselves!) rather than seeing each situation through the lens of ours (or others') expectations of how things ‘should’ be.”
- You time. “Set aside some time each day where your partner, or other support person, can watch the baby and take some time to nourish yourself. This may be by doing something as simple as listening to your favourite music, taking a walk around the block to clear your head or sitting down to do some meditation or relaxation exercises (try the free app, Mind the Bump for some tips). We cannot serve others when our own cup is empty.”
- You are not alone. “New parents all over the world worry about everything from whether our baby is feeding enough to sleeping enough and everything in between. When these thoughts come up, it can be helpful for us to remember that we are not alone. Parents for generations all over the world, have worried as to whether they are doing a good enough job — this simply comes with the territory of new parenthood. When we notice these thoughts coming up, it can be helpful to remember we are not alone and we are part of a global tribe simply trying to do the best we can.”
While worrying is a common experience for many new parents, it’s also common for parents to experience more serious mental health conditions, like postnatal anxiety. If left untreated, it can make it hard to enjoy and get to know your baby. But how do you know what’s normal worrying, and when it’s time to get support? Read on to find out.
Do I have postnatal anxiety?
Rather than the odd stressful moment, postnatal anxiety is when the feeling of being stressed or anxious sticks around. It might happen for no particular reason, and you may feel like the feelings are out of your control.
Symptoms can vary from person-to-person, and can develop suddenly or gradually. Given you may already be feeling more anxious than usual, it can be difficult to know when things have become too much. Here are some signs to look out for:
- Worrying thoughts. You worry that you're not doing things right, or that something is wrong with the baby, and you may even have visions of something bad happening to the baby.
- Panic attacks. You experience moments of extreme panic and fear, where you feel like your body is paralysed, and may include an increased heartbeat and/or palpitations, tense muscles and tightness in your chest.
- Feeling on edge. You’re constantly feeling irritable, restless and ‘on edge’.
- You’re not sleeping. On top of the expected sleep deprivation that comes with a new baby, when you do put your head down you’re finding it difficult to relax and it’s taking a very long time to fall asleep.
- Anxiety or fear. This stops you from going out with your baby, or leads you to check on your baby constantly.
Beyond Blue’s mental health checklist for mums is a useful tool to check in on how you’re feeling, and provides information on next steps, based on your answers.
The good news is, there are treatments that work. So if you, or a loved one, is experiencing symptoms of postnatal anxiety it’s important to seek professional support. The sooner you speak to someone, the sooner you’ll be on the road to recovery, and enjoying your time as a new parent.
If you are having feelings that your family or your baby are better off without you, or feeling like you want to harm your baby, you should seek immediate support.
Where can I get help?
Whether you have a particular concern about your baby, or think you may be experiencing postnatal anxiety, a good place to start is with your midwife or child and maternal health nurse. They can provide practical support and advice. Alternatively, you can talk to your GP, who will be able to point you in the direction of recommended mental health professionals, support groups, or in more serious cases, discuss medication treatment options.
The Beyond Blue Healthy Families website is a great source of information, knowledge and confidence to support the young people in your life as well as take care of your own mental health and wellbeing.
There’s also 24/7 support available. Reach out to the Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.