Help Me Sara: How do I deal with new-parent anxiety?

By Sara Dimerman, Psychologist on February 17, 2015

Your baby is due in a few months and you’re feeling more and more anxious as ‘d’-day (in this case, d stands for ‘delivery’) looms closer. Whether it’s your first, second or even your third labour and delivery, feeling more anxious as your due date approaches is completely normal. You are likely feeling other emotions, such as excitement, too.

Anxiety during pregnancy can be caused by many things:

  • fear of the unknown, especially if this is your first labour and delivery;
  • pain and whether you will be able to give birth naturally or need to have a C-section.
  • how your partner will behave during birth, supportive or squeamish?
  • whether your doctor or healthcare provider will be available when your baby decides to enter the world.

Then there’s after the baby is born. You might worry about his or her well-being and if something may have gone undetected during your pregnancy and how the baby will handle any stressors during the delivery.

In the days and weeks following the birth of your child there are other unknowns. How will you feel when left alone with a tiny, vulnerable being who is totally dependent on you in order to thrive? If you’re not entitled to full or even partial maternity or parental leave benefits, you might worry about how you will make ends meet on the financial front and when or if you will be able or want to return to work. You might worry about the impending changes to your relationship with your partner.

Is it any wonder then, with all these thoughts brewing in your head, that you might be feeling anxious? Knowing that a degree of anxiety is normal is only mildly comforting. So, here are some tips to help you along the way:

  • Do some research. Since knowing what to expect often helps, educate yourself by speaking to your doctor, midwife or birth doula. There are also other great resources – for example, books in the What to Expect series by Murkoff and Mazel. They provide practical information about what to expect before, during and after pregnancy.
  • Go for a visit. Take a prenatal program that explains the ins and outs of delivery. Try to visit the hospital or birthing centre and bring any older children if possible. Familiarize yourself with the best route to the hospital/birthing centre (especially if you’re not sure your partner will be close at hand when you need to go) and know where to park. This will save you the stress of figuring that out on the spot.
  • Pack your bag. Get your suitcase ready about a month in advance in case you go into labour earlier than anticipated. Buy the car seat a couple of months in advance of your due date and learn how to install it so that you are all set to drive your baby home.
  • Get physical. Being active will release hormones that help you continue to feel well. (Even less strenuous activity will help, such as gentle walking or prenatal yoga if you’ve not been so active in the past.)
  • Sleep now! Get as much sleep as possible before the baby’s arrival. At least then you won’t start out parenthood sleep deprived.
  • Eat properly. Eating as healthy as possible is always good, but especially now as your baby is absorbing some of the nutrients that used to be just for you.

Through the ages

Prenatal

Choose a pediatrician or family doctor for your child. Also, prenatal supplements can help maintain your health and foster positive growth in your baby, too. Share your fears or concerns with your partner and listen to your partner’s perspective. Maybe he or she is feeling the same way and you can explore solutions together.

Recommended reading: The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin.

Newborn

Look for support systems in your community such as parent and child classes, or drop-in programs. These can help you connect to others during what can be an isolating time. Support groups can also be helpful if you find that hormonal and lifestyle changes bring on significant changes in your mood. Try to create some time in your schedule for you, even if it’s just to nap when your baby does, or to have a shower.

One year later

What you once thought of as daunting will now be your typical routine. You will have grown with your child and are increasingly comfortable in your role as a parent. You might be transitioning back to work or making the decision to stay at home longer. This may be a difficult time of mixed emotions – while you know that you will miss your baby, you can also look forward to having more adult company and to getting some of your personal time back. Also remember to make time for your partner. Find reliable babysitters or family members so that you can get out occasionally to reconnect.

 

Psychologist and parenting expert Sara Dimerman’s latest book is Why Married Couples Don’t Have Sex (At Least Not With Each Other!). Read more at helpmesara.com

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Feb/Mar 2015.


By Sara Dimerman, Psychologist| February 17, 2015

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