New mothers are stressing out about caring for their children because of all the information and health advice shot at them from all directions about what they should (and shouldn’t) do. The constant bombardment that mothers receive from public health service campaigns on how to best care for babies is causing them anxiety over whether they are providing adequate care.
New research by Monash University has revealed that mothers often go through a host of negative feelings including shame and guilt when they feel they cannot live up to the stringent health message campaigns promoting breast feeding or warning against the risks leading to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This phenomenon can leave them feeling depressed or stressed if they are not able to match up to what they think are general expectations for motherhood.
Being advised that they should listen to their maternal instincts when problems arise related to their babies, can also make moms uneasy. They are afraid that what they do may not be the ideal way to parent their child. Constant information on the right way to parent from others’ point of view can interfere with a mother’s instinct as well.
In the Monash University study, 20 mothers were asked questions during an early parenting service. It was found that 40% of the participants had anxiety symptoms that were above normal. 45% had stress levels that were moderate or severe. It was found out that moms with high anxiety levels are likely to experience a host of problems such as having trouble sleeping, tense muscles and disordered eating habits. This can affect their health and how they care for their children.
According to the study researchers, the anxiety is caused by oversimplified public health messages such as “breast is best” and telling parents to always put babies to sleep on their backs. By continuously talking about the risks of not following these prescribed norms, mothers get worried about the health of their child and begin to doubt their efficiency to care for their babies.
Some studies point out that that stress in the womb can affect a baby’s temperament and neurobehavioral development. “Who you are and what you’re like when you’re pregnant will affect who that baby is,” says Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University. “Women’s psychological functioning during pregnancy — their anxiety level, stress, personality — ultimately affects the temperament of their babies. It has to … the baby is awash in all the chemicals produced by the mom.”
In order to reduce this stress, mothers should be offered support and information in a more realistic way. For example, women who cannot or do not want to breastfeed should have enough information on bottle feeding – what bottles to use, instructions on formula and advice on feeding – so that they do not feel that they are marginalized. You may also want to try prenatal yoga. It’s not only comforting, but a good strategy to stay fit and healthy. The vital thing is that you need to find something that works for you without listening to others– even if it’s as simple as closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths or taking a quick walk at lunch to clear your mind.
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