From conception worries, to raging pregnancy hormones, tricky labours, and those dreaded sleepless nights, it’s no wonder that so many new parents find the whole whirlwind emotionally challenging, and anxiety-inducing. But in opening up about our feelings, and seeking the right support, we can move forward positively and leave parenting anxiety in the past
Official stats in the UK suggest that more than one in 10 new mothers experience postnatal depression (PND) and anxiety, but experts believe this number is actually a lot higher, with many not disclosing how they really feel. New fathers are equally susceptible to mental health issues too, with more than one in three new dads concerned about their mental health, and one in 10 new fathers having PND.
As a new mum myself, I can relate only too well, as I experienced the little talked about prenatal anxiety. Having been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder with depression more than a decade ago, I always knew I’d be a candidate for it to return during pregnancy. Statistics show that one in two of us with previous mental health issues are likely to experience it again pre- and postnatally, so close monitoring and self-care is essential.
After a traumatic birth, my postnatal anxiety temporarily made me question my feelings on motherhood, and threatened me bonding with my baby. I was cripplingly anxious about looking after him, and recovering myself, and so found very little joy in those months. This is where it’s important to recognise when anxiety needs to be taken seriously; when it becomes a daily challenge, and negatively affects thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
In my book, Breaking Mum and Dad: The Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety, I talk about the mental health topics that surround becoming a new parent. My research was overwhelmingly conclusive that pretty much all new parents feel the same cocktail of emotions, being overwhelmed, and anxious at times – but by speaking openly, we can kick parenting anxiety to the curb.
1. Go at your own pace
It can be overwhelming to think that others are coping, or getting on with things, better or quicker than you. Every birth is different, every child is different, and therefore everyone’s recovery and way of adapting is different. Never measure yourself against anybody else. Trust your body and mind to go at the pace that’s right for you.
2. Keep talking
The first few weeks and months can be an anxiety hotspot, with so much change. You may even feel anxious about your feelings towards your baby, and wonder where that Hollywood wallop of love is, but very few people actually feel this, and that’s OK – you’ve only just met this little person after all, and it can take time for feelings to grow. The main thing is to not bottle up your emotions or worries. Talk to someone you trust, and work through what might be going on in your head to relieve any anxiety.
3. Ignore the know-it-alls
Parenting, it seems, is a free-for-all, where everyone wants to share their wisdom – whether it’s been asked for or not. Too many people offering advice can make a new parent feel anxious, and chip away at their fragile confidence. By all means ask for help, but if someone keeps pushing “their way” on you, politely hold your own, and let them know that you appreciate them caring, but you have your own way of doing things.
4. Make new parent mates
Becoming a new parent can throw you into a situation not too dissimilar from your first day of school. Suddenly, you find yourself on maternity or paternity leave, feeling a little isolated at home, but realising that most of your friends are at work. Making new friends can be daunting, but remember that everybody is in the same boat – normally completely winging it and hoping for the best. Consider joining some local groups or clubs where you can interact with other new parents, and look for people with similar interests.
You only need one or two people to give you support on those more monotonous days, and offer a well-needed shoulder and a cuppa, to allow you to offload any pent-up anxiety.
5. Going back to work
For those parents who return to work, this is always an emotional topic; suddenly emerging from your baby bubble and getting back into the real world, along with the added anxiety of leaving your little one for several hours a day while you earn the pennies. The important thing is to go at your own pace, and keep communicating with your boss and colleagues so it isn’t overwhelming.
Do some research, and have taster sessions at nurseries or with childminders to familiarise yourself and baby, and get any boundaries (such as leaving on time, working hours etc.) set with your employer before you go back. This should give you peace of mind and reduce any anxiety about having to return to work.
Anna is a TV and radio presenter, and the author of number one best-selling books ‘Breaking Mad: The Insider’s Guide to Conquering Anxiety’, and ‘Breaking Mum and Dad: the Insider’s Guide to Parenting Anxiety’. She is a certified counsellor, life coach, and NLP practitioner. Visit annawilliamson.co.uk for more.