Coping with stress

Becoming a parent can be one of the most stressful times of your life, but it’s important to learn how to control the stress so you can enjoy life with your children, writes SUE JAMESON.

What is it about becoming a parent that triggers stress on a seismic scale? Was this always the case or is this a relatively new phenomenon? Becoming a parent should rank as one of the most fulfilling experiences in our lives. However, for many it signals weeks, months or even years of stress, worry and tension. Looking at how we deal with this stress can help to restore the balance and bring back pleasure in parenting. It is often the gap between the expectations and the reality of early-days parenting that causes worry to creep in.

Why is the baby doing this, that or the other? What’s the matter with him? How do I know when he’s hungry or if he’s just fussing? The answer is you don’t. We have to allow some of our instincts to take over and trust that just as parents have managed down the millennia, we will too.

So why are we so concerned about stress?

The reason is that it can have a profound effect on the developing infant. Moderate levels of stress can be positive as babies learn to manage anxiety in a supportive environment. However, prolonged stress can have negative effects on babies’ development and anxiety levels.

What’s important, experts say, is developing good coping tools to help you manage your stress. That way, your baby isn’t overwhelmed by it or stressed more than necessary, and the situation doesn’t escalate into something more severe. “When parents are stressed, babies and children are going to be stressed,” says Andrew Garner, MD, a member of the American Academy of Paediatrics’ National Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. “The less stressed your baby is, the more they will respond to you, the better they will eat, the better they will sleep, and so on.”

Tips for reducing stress

There are many things you can do to keep your stress levels manageable – and these are good for any stage in life, not just parenthood. The age-old adage of taking a deep breath and counting to ten really does help. It reduces your heart rate and lowers tension in the body. This is immediately transmitted to your baby and so he calms down too. More long-term stress-reducing strategies include:

Relaxation programmes: These can include yoga, meditation, and other kinds of therapies. Often, such classes are offered by the hospital where you gave birth. Or you can find out about them in your local community. Using Google to help you contact your local group is a good plan.

Massage – for both you and your baby: Infant massage is very relaxing for both parent and baby and research has found that it has a host of other benefits. Again, there are many classes available and by checking out www.babymassageireland.com you will find a qualified practitioner near you.

Exercise: “Exercise is one of the best stress relievers there is,” says Garner. If you’re having a tough time fitting exercise in with your parental responsibilities, just getting out for a regular walk with other parents can help.

Finding a support group – online or in real life: One of the things that parents say is that having someone to talk to who is going through something similar can be a great stress reliever. Support groups exist across the country, meeting in community centres, people’s homes, parish halls and many other venues. Cuidiú’s website (www.cuidiu.ie) has lists of groups throughout the country that meet the needs of parents of all ages and stages of children. There are also support groups for children with special needs. Your public health nurse will have a list of local contacts for these. If you are breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, then the groups to contact are Cuidiú, La Leche League of Ireland and Friends of Breastfeeding. Check out their websites and Facebook pages for local details.

Setting realistic expectations: Often, the longer you have waited to have your first baby and the more professional and organised you are, the more fraught with difficulty the transition to parenthood can be. Babies are instinctual and thrive on close contact with their parents. This is true of all mammal babies, not just the human variety. This can be quite a challenge, putting the needs of this tiny being ahead of your own on a continual basis. You get less done with a baby, and accepting that can relieve stress. Tags – Cuidiú, public health nurse, La Leche League of Ireland, Friends of Breastfeeding, American Academy of Paediatrics, controlling stress, coping with stress, stress after baby, parenting

Sue Jameson has worked in the field of education for parenthood and breastfeeding support for 25 years. She is a tutor for Cuidiú, the parent-to-parent support group. Her special interest is in the physiological basis of attachment. Sue also works as a lactation consultant in a private practice and she is a widely acclaimed speaker who can cover many topics in relation to parenting and breastfeeding. Her talks are always lively, humorous and contain sufficient information. For more information on Cuidiú, please visit www.cuidiu.ie.

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