I remember when I was a new parent – although it was so amazing in so many ways, a lot of the time I felt so stressed out! I worried about everything my baby was doing or not doing. There were just so many questions, and I had not a foggy why my baby seemed to be behaving like an alien on some weeks, and then like an angel on others. With hindsight, I now realise that suffering from new parent stress is totally normal. But back then, everything just seemed so crazy. Just when things seemed to be settling down then boom! it would all fly out of the window.
Then, I discovered the phenomenon of Wonder Weeks which seemed to explain all the crazy so perfectly.
And hooray for us, because the Wonder Weeks – the baby developmental book which just so happens to have sold two million copies worldwide is just what every man and woman suffering from new parent stress needs. Why? Because it reassures parents that fussiness, regression and wakeful nights lead to magical growth. And that makes everything feel better – right?
Today I’m excited to share an excerpt from the book – a chapter very appropriately entitled “Blessed and Stressed” – because that is exactly what every new parent is.
Becoming a parent is the most wonderful experience in the world. You have been blessed with the most beautiful little being and you feel a new kind of love that you have never felt or given before. You are responsible for the life you hold in your arms and you will need to help and guide them as they grow through childhood and far beyond.
The relationship with your partner also takes on a new level: you are now united forever through your child. It is as if you have been reborn, your relationship has been reborn and, on top of that, you have a newborn life in your arms. #blessed. But changes are always accompanied by some form of stress, no matter how wonderful life is. Having a baby is quite something, and that’s an understatement. Life with a brand-new baby is a roller-coaster ride going from #blessed to #stressed. All very normal, in fact.
Things you need to know:
Stress is normal, and it even has a function: it makes you more alert as a parent and more receptive to changes your baby is going through!
- It is not only women who experience stress in the months after birth; men do, too! Unfortunately, however, the postpartum and stress-related ailments men have are often not recognized or acknowledged.
- Having a baby increases the chances of developing stress-related ailments.
- Feeling stressed is not a sign of weakness. Hormones play a role.
- No matter how long you dreamed of having a child, once you have given birth it can feel quite overwhelming, as if it has suddenly “happened to you.” And it is all happening so quickly!
FROM GOOD STRESS TO BAD STRESS
Every parent experiences some kind of stress. It doesn’t mean that you are unhappy or anxious, or that you will eventually become depressed. However, it becomes an issue if that stress starts affecting you, your family, or your health adversely. We can distinguish three forms of stress:
- Postpartum parental stress (which we all experience)
- Postpartum anxiety (1 out of 5 people may experience this, according to some studies)
- Postpartum depression (the most extreme form, but the least prevalent)
Postpartum Parental Stress
Stress has a function, and let’s be honest, a life without any form of stress simply doesn’t exist. As a brand-new parent, your stress levels peak, and we call that post- partum parental stress. So much changes in your life—everything really—and that is accompanied by worries, anxieties, and, therefore, stress. There is nothing wrong with that as long as the stress is at a manageable level.
However, it does pay to be conscious of the fact that you are going through a stressful period, so you can prevent that stress from taking over and negatively affecting your life.
Two scientists, Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, have researched a list of life events that can cause people stress. Some life events are more stressful than oth- ers. If you add up the events from this list and score under 150 points, then you are doing okay and there is only a slight chance you will get a stress-related ail- ment. As soon as you get above 150 points, the chances increase. The higher your score, the more vulnerable you are. This list includes a whole range of life events that you might or could encounter as a parent. Take a look:
Pregnancy: 40 points
Welcoming a new family member: 39 points
Change in financial situation: 38 points
Change of job: 36 points
More frequent disagreements: 35 points
Difficulties with family-in-law: 29 points
Change in responsibilities at work: 29 points
Spouse stops or starts working: 26 points
Change of personal habits: 24 points
Changes to working hours or conditions: 20 points
Moving house: 20 points
Change in social activities: 19 points
Mortgage or small loan: 17 points
Change in sleeping habits: 16 points
Change in eating habits: 15 points
Add up all the things from the list that have happened in your life in the last six months and see how you score on this stress scale. As an example: a woman has a three-month-old baby and she goes back to work. She works fewer hours than before her pregnancy and has taken out a small loan to renovate the nursery. Plus, she no longer sleeps as deeply through the night as she used to. This is all a very normal and typical situation. By adding up all these points, she scores 179.
Welcoming new family member: 39
Change in financial situation: 38
Change in responsibilities at work: 29
Mortgage or small loan: 17
Change in sleeping habits: 16
And let’s not forget the men. It’s not only new mommies who experience increased stress; new daddies do, too. They are also involved, and their life changes just as drastically. Imagine that a man became a father four months ago. He and his wife have agreed she will work fewer hours or even stop working. The man now has more or all of the financial burden on his shoulders.
During the pregnancy, he and his wife disagreed more often than before. There was nothing wrong with their relationship, but hormonal fluctuations can affect moods and how often words are exchanged. And he is a modern father, so he also takes care of the baby when they wake in the night. All these things together add up to a score of 154 points. (Welcoming a new family member: 39 points + change in financial situation: 38 points + more frequent disagreements: 35 points + spouse stops or starts working: 26 points + change in sleeping habits: 16 points = 154 points.)
As you can see, having a child and everything that comes with it brings changes in your life, which can cause stress. So it’s quite easy to reach 150 points. And every new life event on top increases the risk that things can become too much to cope with. Do not forget, you may be a new mommy or daddy, but everyday life continues, and there is no guarantee that it will not throw a few more stressful events at you around the time you have just had a baby. A family member could become ill, there might be a death, or you could get into financial difficulties. After having a baby, if even one of these types of situations occurs, it can send stress levels through the roof.
The number of points you score only says something about your chances of getting stress-related ailments. Some people are able to function perfectly well, physically and mentally, while scoring 200 points on the stress scale. It all boils down to the fact that everyone is different and people deal with stress in their own way. Some people cope better with it, and some have better support net- works around them. And that’s without even mentioning how hormonal changes can affect people.
Even If You’re Not Stressed
The stress scale is not intended to scare the living daylights out of you. On the contrary, we only want to show you that:
- What you are going through, doing, and managing is an enormous feat.
- It is very normal to be stressed by the situation every so often.
- Everyone who has a child faces difficulties at some point or another. You can’t always see the silver lining.
- You deserve to pamper yourself and take a moment for yourself every now and then.
Excerpted with permission from Wonder Weeks by Xaviera Plas-Plooij, Frans X. Plooij, Hetty van de Rijt (Countryman Press)
If you’re a new parent suffering from new parent stress then I really hope the above makes you feel better. Remember, being a new parent can be so stressful, but having come out the other side of it, I can promise you, it will get easier and better!