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Calm Parents . . . Calm Baby

by Lynne Reeves Griffin, RN, MEd

New parents feel great joy at the arrival of a new baby…but they can also feel overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of responsibility. The myth promoted by television commercials is that caring for your new baby will look and feel like a "Gerber Baby" commercial. This is certain to create anxiety for you if you are a first time mother or father. Like most new parents, you are probably feeling a mixture of happy and unhappy feelings. This is normal. While it is important to be validated that adjusting to a new baby is monumental, it is important to remember that your baby is picking up on your emotions. In this article, I will review the typical reasons for feeling overwhelmed after the birth of your baby. I will share some strategies for handling your feelings, which will include how to convey a sense of calm to your baby.

The Whirlwind
There are many reasons why your feelings fluctuate.

  • Moms and Dads are sleep deprived. In the early weeks following the birth of your baby, you are just plain tired. Your baby is sleeping a lot but not at the right times.
  • Mom just had a baby. The physical and emotional toll of giving birth is enormous. While you might feel great right after the delivery because you are overjoyed, your body still has about six weeks of recovery ahead. Some physicians suggest even longer for regular processes to be "back to normal."
  • Lots of visitors. In the first few days or even weeks, friends and family gather round to celebrate the arrival of your bundle of joy. This can mean that you are playing hostess and not getting your needed rest.
  • No visitors. After the rush, everyone goes home. At first, this is a welcome release from entertaining but soon the isolation of caring for your baby sets in. You may not live near family or even know your neighbors, so finding support may be challenging.

Proactive Strategies
There are many things you can do to acknowledge your feelings and nurture your relationship with your baby.

  • Reach out. Establishing connections with other mothers before you feel overwhelmed is the key. Many churches, community centers and hospitals have new mother's groups.
  • Watch that baby. Your baby may already be equipped with the ability to calm himself. Does he suck his wrist or fingers? Does he get quiet and relaxed sitting in front of a window? Your baby will use sucking, his vision and body motion as a means of self-calming. Once you notice your baby's talents, you can encourage them.
  • Learn your baby's cries. Crying is your baby's way of communicating with you. Each time she cries, she isn't asking just to be fed. She may want company, her position changed or she may be tired. Learning what certain cries mean will help you to meet your baby's needs more completely. Your baby can get over stimulated quicker than you realize. Beware of a common tendency to jostle, sway, rock, pat or toss your baby. This stimulation rarely works to calm a tired, hungry baby. Go to sleep. You have heard it, I'm sure, but it is important to sleep when your baby sleeps. It may be tempting to get some household chores done, but nothing beats some well-deserved rest. You will have more reserve energy for your baby's cranky times if you have had a nap. Find some time for yourself. This suggestion usually gets the most attention. Many new parents ask me, "How in the world am I supposed to do that!" I'm not suggesting a day alone, just a quiet hour to yourself. Take a bath, read the paper or this web site…but find a way to do something for you. Get some professional help. For some new mothers, the feelings they are experiencing are more than they can handle alone. If you think you are suffering from true postpartum depression, which is more than just the "baby blues," ask your obstetrician for a referral to someone who can help you. 

Remember, anxiety, fear and frustration can be conveyed to your baby. But so too, can your calmness. The effort you put into finding some peace for you...will mean peace for your baby.

Lynne Reeves Griffin R.N., M.Ed.  of Proactive Parenting in Scituate, MA. is a writer, lecturer and consultant to parents, teachers and health care professionals regarding child development, behavior management and issues effecting today's parents. Lynne’s parenting approach, Proactive Parenting has been well received by parents, teachers, pediatricians and childcare providers.

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This content was last modified on: 09/08/2008

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