The New Overwhelming Anxiety of Being a Mother

Anxiety for me personally began as a whisper after Ivy was born. While she slept, I wondered “Is she breathing?” and “If she is on her back and spits up, will she choke? Will I wake up to hear her?”

I spent feverish hours online scouring message boards and WebMD. I texted friends and took videos in case I needed to show the doctor.

Then one night turned into two, three, a week, a month, many months of worries accumulating. Worries about sleeping, nutrition, cognitive development. I read books, but all of the books said things that didn't match. In fact, it seemed that expert advice varied so much that people could just find any doctor to rationalize their own choices.

It occured to me that this was a mood disorder. I had anxiety.

As a postpartum doula, I know the importance of identifying these mood disorders early and often, but not everyone hires a doula, so I want to empower you to know the signs.

Three different postpartum mood disorders

Depression

Excessive crying, overwhelming fatigue but inability to sleep, severe mood swings, hopelessness, recurring thoughts of death, intense feelings of inadequacy, and withdrawn behavior. You don't have to display all of these to be depressed.

Anxiety

Inability to relax or sleep, nausea and dizziness, feelings of dress that something bad will happen to the baby. Again, you don't have to display all of these to have anxiety.

OCD

Intrusive and repetitive thoughts or images of something happening to the baby--it’s almost like anxiety but on repeat. That is the important difference between anxiety and OCD, because the two can seem similar, the feelings of horror becoming obsessive.

Many woman (and men too!!) have experienced mood disorders, but fewer report them, so giving you a statistic wouldn't be accurate or helpful. Even fewer dads report mood disorders.

So let me specify that this is different than Baby Blues that happen pretty soon after birth. Hormones take a little while to level out and while that happens, moms experience bouts of crying for no reason, joy, sorrow-- all of the feels rapidly changing. When these feelings take root is when they become a disorder.

Overall, it is harder becoming a mother than anyone is able to tell you and sometimes the anxiety doesn't go away.

There's no way to prepare a person for the emotional transition of motherhood. The most common unsolicited advice a pregnant mother will get, is to enjoy her sleep while she can. And while that's partially true-- there's more helpful advice we can circulate.

Some things that will absolutely help after baby is born is sleep, nutrition, and support. SNS!!!

But more importantly, that fear we have for our children doesn't go away just because we take a little Zoloft and/or exercise more.

As parents we may always live with the low functioning worry that potential harm could come to our kids. For some this stays until we grow old. Why? I'm no expert, but as soon as a baby is born, death is also born.

Coming to terms with this is a very difficult thing to do, but we are all experiencing this together.

In the meantime, here’s how to manage the low level anxiety of being a mom:

Don't go down the rabbit hole of internet searches.

This has never ever made anyone feel better. Ever.

Don't act on fear. Talk through it.

With a doctor, your spouse, your parents. Whoever.

Have a good support system.

Go join my Facebook Mom group! (Search What about Mom?!?) Or join any other Facebook group that welcomes you in with judgement free support.

Just know you're not alone, really.

Postpartum

Calming an Upset Baby

Dr. Karp was onto something when he came up with the 5 S’s. For those of you that don’t know Dr. Karp or the tactics he uses to calm babies, you might want to read or watch, “Happiest Baby on the Block.” Here’s the summary: When baby is upset, try the 5 S's.

The 5 S’s

This baby is swaddled, swung, shh-ed, and on her side. All she’s missing is a pacifier. She was instantly calmed.

This baby is swaddled, swung, shh-ed, and on her side. All she’s missing is a pacifier. She was instantly calmed.

  • Swaddle- Help baby feel hugged, warm, and safe by swaddling them up.

  • Side- Hold baby on their side to help prevent arm flailing.

  • Swing (or any rhythmic movement will work)-If baby is very upset, you’ll want to swing them more vigorously until they’re able to calm down a bit, then continue a moderate, calming swing back and forth. Baby was moving inside a body for a long time. They crave this motion.

  • Suck- Babies are born wanting to suck. You can nurse baby or pop in a pacifier (research says nipple confusion isn’t as common as people say).

  • Shhhhh- It is LOUD inside mom’s body—blood is moving, a heart is beating, food is digesting, there's mysterious popping and gurgling. Babies are used to this orchestra. White noise, of any kind (and you’ll learn quickly what baby prefers—vacuum or washing machine) helps settle baby.

Of course it’s important to make sure that baby isn’t crying because he or she is hungry, has a wet diaper, or is overly tired. In those instances, it’s important to meet baby’s immediate needs.


Sometimes those 5 S’s don’t work on their own.

Think about being inside a body for 9 or 10 months and then suddenly being cast out into a bright and loud world. It’s startling, scary, and newborns need some extra love to settle after being worked up in a big way. When the 5 S’s don’t work, what can you do?

Magical Hold - I can’t even explain what’s happening here. It’s genius. Just watch below.

fussy baby hold

Fussy Baby Hold- This is what it looks like to your left. A little pressure on baby’s belly helps, in addition to them feeling like they’re suspended once again in mom’s womb.

Go Outside- A change in scenery does wonders. It doesn’t matter if it’s cold or hot (though cold weather is preferred, we can’t control nature)—taking baby outside resets them.

It does take some time to learn what comfort measures newborns prefer. When one tactic doesn’t work, try another.

Additionally, newborns change every single day. What works one day, might not work the next.

If the crying ever becomes too much—set baby down somewhere safe—and step away for a few moments to breathe. Try again. The newborn stage doesn’t last forever, and though it’s difficult now, it does get easier.

What should my baby sleep in?

How many layers are too much? What should baby sleep in when it’s summer versus winter? Questions the best of us are too ashamed to ask and have ended up Googling at 2am.

You might have heard to dress a baby in whatever you are wearing plus one more layer. To me this saying is hard to unpack. I find it easier to dress a baby according to temperature, and the visual below, from Sleeperific.com, has been immensely helpful.

First, let me define what a tog is because you might have caught a glimpse of the word below and are scratching your head.

A tog is how we rate warmth for baby clothes. The lower the tog, the thinner the material. The higher the tog, the thicker the material.

Depending on the temperature you keep your home (and the recommendation varies, but it’s usually between 68-72 degrees), you can dress your baby at night according to this.

If after following the tog recommendations, you are still uncertain or worried about baby’s comfort, you can feel baby’s chest and the back of his or her neck. If the skin is warm and clammy to the touch, remove a layer. If the skin feels cold at all, add a layer. With that being said, do not worry if baby’s hand or feet are cold to the touch, baby’s don’t have the best circulation when they first make their appearance into the world. It’s our job to help regulate their body temperatures.

Remember there is no steadfast rule to dressing a baby for sleep. The recommendations above are just that, recommendations. Some babies run hot, some cold. If you're concerned, give the doctor a call!

Lastly, never put a baby to sleep in a hat (unless of course, you are camping out in the cold).

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