How New Moms Can Handle Stress

Being a new mom can bring on various forms of stress, yet it is important to keep your stress levels under control during this time. New moms who are stressed out may be exposing themselves to health risks. “The health dangers are significant,” says Dr. Ed Charlesworth, co-author of Stress Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Wellness (February 2005; Ballantine Books), which he wrote with and Ronald G. Nathan, PhD. “We can become anxious and depressed and unable to parent if we do not manage the stress of having a newborn effectively. Our blood pressure can go up and the effectiveness of our immune system to fight off disease can go down.” In Stress Management, Charlesworth and Nathan provide ways to assess stress and techniques that can be learned through self-guided exercises in a short period of time. They explore the sources of stress, relaxation training, life-change management, personality and stress, emotional stress control, interpersonal communication, time management, exercise and nutrition. And they have information on herapeutic massage and mind-body fitness to promote physical and mental relaxation.

“Raising a newborn is challenging,” notes Charlesworth. “There will be challenges that come up spontaneously that you may only be able to laugh about, such as the baby spitting up on your new blouse. There will be challenges in terms of sleep deprivation, which you may learn to cope with by using relaxation to take your own ‘power naps.’ There will be challenges of noise with cries that you may not be able to sooth, but only accept as part of the one of the few ways your child can now communicate.”

You must consciously look for ways to manage stress. “Attempt to get rest whenever possible and allow others to assist with household duties, shopping and entertainment of other children,” offers Charlesworth. Also, look for stress triggers, so you can better cope with them. “Identify cues for relaxation related to the new baby and each time these cues are touched or viewed take a deep breath and relax,” says Charlesworth. “The cues may be diapers, bottles, and the door to the baby’s room or even the baby’s cry. The goal in learning to relax deeply is to have this as a skill you use in stressful situations when neither the ‘fight or flight’ response is adaptive.”

And when everyone seems to have an opinion on how you should raise your child, it is important to have your own positive response to critique. “Positive self-talk is important and avoid self-criticism,” says Charlesworth. “New moms need to watch out for self-talk that includes: ‘I should (or shouldn’t),’ ‘I have to,’ ‘’I must,’ etc. These self-talk statements lead to feelings of being out of control, anxious, angry or depressed. Write down the phrases you catch yourself using and change to more self-empowering phrases. ‘I choose’ is a great starting place to reframe some of the stressful thoughts. ‘I should be able to do everything for the baby’ can be turned into ‘I choose to let others help.’ ”

Self-doubt and worries about being a “better mother” can induce stress. “Who says you should (be a better mom)?,” says Charlesworth. “Do you have a doctorate in being a new mom? How did your teachers do in training you to be a new mom? Change your self-talk to realistic statements of ‘I will be the best mom I can, but there will be many new things to learn. I also need to learn to take care of myself so that I am healthy enough to help take care of the new baby.’ ”

Make sure to make time for yourself after the baby is born. “If we carry the burdens of parenting a newborn all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on,” notes Charlesworth, who offers tips and stress-management products on the website, “During your rest be sure to prioritize exercise for yourself, recreational activities, time for spiritual reflection, or any of those things that may renew your spirit and refreshed your physical stamina. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden or holding the newborn.”

Get others to help out. “I think it takes a village to raise a child,” says Charlesworth. “ Others can help in many ways--cleaning up, changing diapers, cooking meals, etc. Use everyone’s strength so that everyone can feel they are part of this wonderful process of raising a healthy happy child.”

And your stress can affect your baby. “Stress between mother and newborn can definitely be shared,” says Charlesworth. “When we are stressed we can’t communicate the warmth, nurturing and caring a newborn needs to thrive. Even research has shown to profound disturbance that comes from early deprivation of the warmth and nurturing, even when the newborn has plenty to eat and is nurtured nutritionally but not emotionally. So take care of yourself, so that you can care for your newborn.”

Before the baby comes, try to create a relaxing environment for both you and the baby. “(In the baby’s room) make certain you do this with the foresight of convenience of what you will need, including a very comfortable rocking chair and system to play calming music, relaxation tapes or even recorded novels to listen to when your ‘hands are full,’ ” says Charlesworth.

In finding ways to manage your stress, you will have more time and energy to enjoy motherhood.

Ann Brown is a New York-based freelance writer whose beauty, entertainment, travel, & lifestyle articles have appeared in such publications as Black Enterprise, Big Apple Parent, Queens Parent, Upscale, ESSENCE, Honey, The Source, HealthQuest, Playboy, and Heart & Soul.


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