bond with baby

Parenting: From the Beginning

Challenges of Becoming a Mother

For the first-time mother, the uncertainty as to how she will cope in her role can bring about feelings of anxiety coupled with adjustment in lifestyle and the establishment of a new family. Some of the common challenges that first-time mothers face are discussed below:

  • Mother and primary caregiver

The reality of becoming a mother can be very different to what many women 'think' it is going to be like. Usually a mother is the main caregiver of her baby during the early months. What takes many women by surprise is that time - as it used to be before Baby - is no longer theirs to spend as they please, and with this can come feelings of being completely consumed. There may also be some anxiety because of uncertainty and 'learning on the job' to care for Baby. Feeling isolated from 'the rest of the world' can also be common. What can be confusing is that while such feelings can be seen as 'normal' they can also be symptoms of postnatal depression, depending on the severity of the feelings and how long they have been going on for (discussed in Postnatal Depression). Importantly, mothers need support (discussed in Parenting: From the beginning → Social Support).

  • Good Mother - Bad Mother

Super MumUnfortunately in our society there still tends to be a notion of what is a 'good' and 'bad' mother. Research has shown that many women fear they will be thought of as being inadequate and a 'bad' mum if they ask for and accept assistance and social support (discussed further on in Parenting: From the Beginning), and admit to negative/depressed feelings they may be experiencing. This is because a 'good' mum should be able to relentlessly cope with the demands of caring for her infant, carry out household tasks, and should always appear happy and never ruffled by the constancy of it all. Do not put extra stress on yourself by thinking you need to live up to some superficial image. Being a mother is not about 'keeping up appearances'.

  • High Expectations of daily achievements

Having high expectations of what you think you should achieve in the new role as parent puts excess stress on yourself and then filters into your interactions with Baby (discussed in Bonding and Beyond → What Can Disrupt Parents Bonding with their Baby). Focusing on what you can't achieve is draining. Have realistic expectations of what you CAN achieve each day beyond meeting Baby's needs (Getting time to have a shower can present a challenge some days!). Remember that the early days and weeks of your parenting 'career' means that you are learning on the job with many of you having very little prior experience that can help. With a gaining of knowledge about your baby's development and practise of your caregiving skills, your confidence as a mum will increase.

  • Feelings of unpreparedness

It is common for new mums to feel unprepared for the tasks associated with caring for a baby and themselves. It may challenge your confidence. Although some of you may have been around others with children to experience from a view what's involved in being a mother, this type of experience sometimes has no bearing on what you are to experience as a mother. Don't expect to be instantly skilled in caring for your baby. Just like my first-born son was learning about me as his mum, I too was learning about him and his little ways - all of which took precious time.

  • Feeling as though you are 'out-of-control'

In the early weeks you may for the first time in your life feel 'out of control' as there is little predictability within your days. You are exhausted and you may start feeling as though life is chaotic which can result in mothers doubting their parenting ability. Research has shown that couples who support each other in sharing the caregiving and household duties are able to more readily adjust to and have greater satisfaction in their new parenting role compared to other couples. If you are an unpartnered single mum, importantly the social support of trustworthy people around you is highly likely to provide you with assistance that is needed in raising a baby (the need for support is discussed in Parenting: From the Beginning → Social Support).

  • Loss of professional identity, financial independence, and management of your life

The loss of these factors by becoming a mother can bring about feelings of insecurity. You are starting a new role and learning on-the-job which may be the most challenging role you will ever have and hopefully the most rewarding. The giving of yourself to raise your baby brings about a need to change priorities as part of adapting to your new role. The reward comes from seeing the joy that you bring to your baby, with the fun that you can have together and knowing that you are essential in her/his life.

  • Fatigue and sleep loss

New mothers are initially overwhelmed by their fatigue - both physically and emotionally. Firstly, you are trying to recover from the birth coupled with sleep loss. Then there is the physical demand of caring for the baby and often some anxiety associated with your parenting role. Ensure relaxation is part of your day ... (discussed in Shaping the Day).

  • Breastfeeding

First, it cannot be ignored that breastfeeding provides babies with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends babies be breastfed exclusively up to 6 months of age. However, the task of breastfeeding is one of the most common problems that new mothers experience. Many mothers have high expectation about their need to breastfeed and the sheer intensity (both physically and emotionally) associated with it can cause much stress and anxiety to Mum and Baby (Breastfeeding is discussed in Caregiving Routines → Feeding).

  • Conflicting advice

No doubt people will give you differing advice about parenting which can cause some confusion, leaving you to feel vulnerable. Family members and friends may be 'well-meaning' but this so-called advice may not be the best practice for you to carry out with your baby (discussed further in Parenting Styles → Conflicting Ideas About Raising Baby). Seek as much (good) knowledge and demonstrations that health care professionals can give you and of course, expect there to be differing ideas with this information also. Then, think through it all and weigh up the consistency of what you are being told. From the knowledge and your practise of caregiving tasks you will start trusting your own judgements in being able to meet your baby's needs.

  • Lacking a positive role model in your own family when growing up

How adults were parented in their childhood can influence how they go about parenting their own children (discussed in Parenting Styles → Child Rearing Practices). Research has shown that both mothers and fathers may continue to carry out parenting practices experienced in their own childhood, some of which cause harmful effects on the children, such as neglect and abuse. Importantly, the cycle of such parenting behaviour can be broken with the support of a partner and other sources of social support (discussed further on in Social Support and Parenting) together with health professionals to address ongoing concerns. Your baby's love for you will be shown in her smiles, and when you hold her and bring her comfort you will be communicating that she is in safe arms.

  • Relationship changes with your partner

Research has shown that the arrival of the new baby can come between the intimacy in the relationship with a partner. Because of emotionally 'giving' to the baby, some mothers feel there is little left of themselves at the end of the day. As far as the sexual relationship goes it can be the last thing on a new mother's mind because of the tiredness and the whole emotional imbalance that can come from the constancy of caring for the baby. Also when a new mother is distressed it is highly likely that her partner may also become distressed. Then, as the months progress a pattern of behaviour has developed with you both. Everyone goes to bed to get a good night's sleep because you are emotionally and physically exhausted!!!! From all of this you may be feeling as though there is no enjoyment in your relationship. Then, before you know it you are all suffering including the baby. To combat the stressors that can take over in the relationship both you and your partner need to support each other and show affection. While you may have less time to devote to each other you now need to share your time together creating a warm loving environment for you and your baby.