The Stress of New Parenthood
by Kamalpreet Atwal
Ask any new parent how they are and chances are you’ll hear a common response: becoming a parent is both a wonder and a stress. Along with countless joys, a new baby brings a lack of sleep, a new schedule, and emotional demands that feel overwhelming at times. One important way to make the transition into parenthood easier is to get support. Making connections with community programs and other parents is invaluable not only for parents, but for their babies, too.
Families involved in supportive groups enjoy countless benefits. New parents may be unsure and afraid as they enter into their new roles. These feelings can make caring for a baby difficult, and babies may become fussy and unsettled if they sense their parents’ anxiety. If parents are part of a group that supports each other and their parenting role, both the babies and the parents may be more relaxed. And parents who are responsive to their baby’s needs can positively affect their baby’s growth and development. Parents who work to decrease stressors soon after the baby is born often cope better than parents who let the stressors go on for many months.
A positive parenting group can provide both accurate information and someone to listen. What a relief to know that you are not the only one up every two hours with your baby or that it is normal for your baby to cry—often. A network of parents includes as many or as few people as the group is comfortable with. The most important thing is that parents enjoy each others’ company and feel safe to discuss their issues.
Parents’ well-being can suffer when their child reaches the age of seven to eight months. Many parents cope well in the first few months after the birth of their baby, but find the support of other parents invaluable when this period ends. Stress between partners can increase after a baby is born. Many parents are also dealing with personal or relationship issues, stress about money, postpartum depression and the pressure to be the “perfect parent.” It is important for couples to be understanding and supportive of each other. It is also important for parents to connect with other parents who are going through the same experiences. Having someone else to talk to and laugh with can make all the difference.
Friendships are as important for babies as they are for their parents. Very young children learn about their world and learn to communicate by being with other babies. Babies are often motivated to try a new skill such as crawling by watching other babies who are already crawling. They also learn skills such as sharing toys and talking or babbling to each other. Watching babies interact with each other in a group is great fun.
Many health units across the Island offer free parenting drop-in sessions, usually facilitated by a public health nurse. Topics can include baby growth and development, baby care, self care, child safety, child health, relationships, sleep, breastfeeding, introducing solid foods, postpartum depression and adjusting to the parent role. Groups usually cover the topics that most interest the parents who are attending. Drop-in sessions provide a safe environment for new parents to meet one another and develop their own support network. Call your local health unit for information on programs in your area.
Kamalpreet Atwal is a fourth year nursing student at the University of Victoria. She recently completed a preceptorship at the Victoria Health Unit.