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You’re exhausted, the house is a tip, you’ve got sick in your hair and your baby won’t stop screaming – no wonder you’re on the verge of a panic attack. Thankfully, we’re here to help you survive the stress of new motherhoodNow you’re a mum, life should be a breeze. Instead of juggling work, chores, the gym and your social life, you’re free to take daytime naps and laze around watching Deal Or No Deal while you breastfeed. But far from the vision of serenity you’d imagined, you’re more stressed than ever. What’s going on?According to Liz Tucker, a health and wellbeing consultant and member of the International Stress Management Association (behappybehealthy.co.uk), it’s common for new mums to feel overwhelmed by stress. ‘One of the key factors is a lack of control,’ she explains.‘You’re in the hands of this demanding little being, who can’t communicate what he wants. You can’t plan anything any more – you have to be guided by your baby.’ Then there’s the tiredness. ‘Getting enough sleep is essential for managing stress, but this is impossible when you have a baby,’ says Liz. It’s no wonder, then, that you’re permanently wound up. But it is possible to control your stress levels and enjoy those newborn days. Here’s how.Pressure point: ‘My baby won’t stop screaming’Nothing sets your nerves jangling like a screaming baby. Especially your screaming baby. ‘My son could scream for England,’ remembers Alison Stafford, 28, mum to seven-month-old Jamie. ‘If he was crying, I was stressed because he wouldn’t stop, and if he wasn’t crying, I was stressed because I knew he’d start again any minute.’Constant screaming is physically and mentally exhausting – your senses are overstimulated and you feel helpless and out of control. But rather than trying to calm your baby, Liz suggests you calm your own nerves first. ‘Babies hate to feel unsettled, so if he senses your stress, he’ll scream even more,’ she explains. ‘Make a conscious effort to behave as calmly as possible. Rather than pacing around with him, try lying down. Put some soothing music on, or sing songs.’ Even if it doesn’t calm your baby, it might help you feel less tense.If the screaming becomes unbearable, pop your baby in his cot and leave him to it for five minutes. It won’t harm him, and it might even do some good in the long run.‘Babies need to learn that you can’t always be available on demand,’ Liz explains. ‘Walking away for a few minutes will give control of the situation back to you.’It’s also worth getting some hands-on help – whether by taking him to the doctor to be checked over, signing up for a baby massage course, or trying cranial osteopathy.‘Even if it turns out that there’s nothing physically wrong, you’ll feel more in control for being proactive,’ adds Liz.
Pressure point: ‘My husband’s hopeless’Some men see babies as ‘women’s business’. ‘Mark and I rowed constantly in the weeks after Emily’s birth,’ says Megan Carlos, 33, mum to Emily, 14 months. ‘He expected me to do everything for her – even when I had a stomach bug and was throwing up nonstop.’‘The problem is that women are rubbish at asking for help, and men are rubbish at reading non-verbal signs,’ says Liz. ‘You need to be blunt and specific about what you want your partner to do. A good incentive is to tell him that with his help, you’ll be back to your old, cheerful self sooner – it’ll make him more motivated.’Be gentle with him, though. ‘Remember he’s as bewildered and unsure as you,’ says Liz. He might be ignoring that overflowing nappy because he’s afraid of doing it wrong, so hold back with the criticism – encouragement and praise will make him a much more hands-on dad.
Pressure point: ‘It’s 3am and my baby just won’t sleep’No-one knows the meaning of exhaustion like a new mum. ‘I’d never lay a finger on my twins, but sometimes, when they’re tag-team feeding in the middle of the night, I feel like shaking them,’ admits Lisa Young, 29, mum to 10-week-old twins Lily and Sophie.A full night’s sleep may be a distant dream, but, says Liz, relaxation is almost as good as sleep at reducing stress levels. ‘Breathing deeply from the lower abdomen switches off stress hormones and calms you down,’ she says. ‘Just four or five deep breaths will give you a boost and you can do it while you’re holding your baby.’Liz also suggests visualising yourself in your perfect fantasy world. ‘It’s a great way to relax without having to be asleep and if you regularly visualise positive images, they’ll pop back into your brain automatically when you’re stressed,’ she says.It’s essential to sleep whenever you get the chance during the day, but try to get out and about, too. ‘Fresh air and social contact will make you feel more positive,’ says Liz. ‘But don’t meet friends just to moan – it will make you more exhausted. Try to chat about positive things to lift your mood.’
Pressure point: ‘What if something happens to my baby?’Being responsible for your precious bundle can be totally overwhelming, especially when you think about all the terrifying things that might happen to him. ‘I was so scared about cot death that when we moved Adam into his own room, I slept on his floor for a week so I could check he was still breathing,’ says Judy Hammond, 33, whose son is now one.To bring your stress levels down, get clued up about the issues that are worrying you. ‘If you have a specific concern about your baby’s health, see your doctor or health visitor,’ suggests Liz. ‘Make sure you speak to a professional – don’t trawl the internet, as you’ll make yourself more anxious.’As well as being informed, be prepared. Ask your health visitor about baby first-aid courses and keep your little one safe by following the guidelines for preventing cot death (visit sids.org.uk), child-proofing your home and making sure he has his immunisations.‘The better prepared you are, the less stressed you will feel,’ says Liz.
Pressure point: ‘The house is a tip’‘I used to have a high-flying job and thrived on the pressure,’ says Rebecca Martyn, 36, mum to 14-week-old Jessica. ‘But these days I can’t get anything done. It’s a major achievement if I manage to hang the washing out.’If you’ve got a to-do list as long as your arm, Liz suggests using her ‘Four Ds’ model. ‘Divide your chores into four categories – do it, delay it, delegate it and dump it,’ she advises. You might decide you have to do the laundry, but you could leave the grocery shopping until tomorrow, get your partner to do the vacuuming, and forget about cleaning the oven altogether.Tap into all the resources that make life easier, too. Even if you can’t afford a cleaner and an ironing lady, try online shopping instead of traipsing around the supermarket, or give in to the occasional ready meal or takeaway if you’re too tired to cook. And if the state of the house is still making your blood boil, imagine you’ve only got 48 hours to live. ‘It gives you a better sense of what’s important,’ says Liz. ‘What would you rather your last memories were – doing the ironing, or watching your baby laugh at the dogs running round the park?’
At breaking point?We all have bad days, but if you feel constantly low, tearful, irritable and anxious, find it hard to sleep, have no appetite or are suffering from panic attacks, you may have postnatal depression.It affects around 15% of new mums and can be treated with counselling, medication or both, so see your GP or health visitor.Remember, it’s extremely dangerous to shake or hit your baby. If you’re about to lose your temper, put him in a safe place and leave the room while you calm down. If you’ve reached breaking point and need someone to talk to, call the NSPCC child protection helpline on 0808 800 5000, or Cry-sis, the organisation supporting parents with crying and sleepless babies, on 0845 122 8669.
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How to cope with the stress of new motherhood
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