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You've waited nine long months to meet your precious baby, but as your due date ticked closer, anxiety about being a great parent set in. Becoming a parent is probably the most life changing experience you'll ever have, and almost every new mom or dad has moments of doubt, anxiety and even full-on panic attacks.
Not only is this worry completely normal, most of it is biological—and out of your control. Miriam J. Katz, co-author of The Other Baby Book, says, "You'll be overwhelmed with intense emotions like love, fear and confusion, on top of extreme sleep deprivation and, for mothers who birthed the babies, intense hormones."
The reality of new parenting often doesn't match up with expectations, fueled by unrealistic movie scenes of women cradling their newborns blissfully. Now that your little one's here, you're so exhausted that at times, you're simply going through the motions. Don't worry—every parent goes through this and lives to tell about it. In a few months, you'll be a diaper-changing, tear-wiping pro. So, how can you hurdle the learning curve of new parenting faster? The following tips will help quell your new parent jitters:
- Give up the quest for perfection. Getting it completely right is an unattainable goal that you need to let go of, says Aliza Pressman, Ph.D and co-founder of SeedlingsGroup, a non-profit support group for parents. "We can't be perfect," she says, "We're humans raising humans, and we will make mistakes." Instead, enjoy the experience of getting to know the newest addition to your family. Parenting is all about trial and error, so trust that your baby will forgive your missteps. Keep perspective by looking at things from your baby's point of view. After all, she only needs three things: love, warmth and nourishment. If you're providing those three things, everything else (including the laundry) can fall by the wayside for a few weeks.
- Find support. A few generations ago, extended families stayed close by to lend a helping hand when a new baby arrived. Today, most parents are far from family and may feel isolated, which can increase fear. In fact, a 2008 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that Japanese mothers who have opportunities for social interactions and support feel much less anxiety about child-rearing than those who are more isolated. If you don't have family nearby, develop a support system of nurturing friends who understand the ups and downs of parenting. If you're the first to take the plunge into parenthood, look up local "mommy and me" groups or find message boards online where you can share tips and worries with other mamas in your situation.
- Take care of yourself. It's easy to forget about your own needs in the flurry of learning to care for a baby, but carving out some "me" time is essential to your sanity. The more exhausted and stressed you are, the less you'll be able to adequately meet your little one's needs. Nap when your baby naps, go to bed early and get back into a simple exercise routine as soon as you feel up for it and receive the doctor's okay. Hire a babysitter for a few hours each week and cut back on household chores. Have groceries delivered, and say yes to any and all offers of help.
- Take care of the basics. Many parents obsess over a list of what ifs, says Pressman—such as, "What if my baby gets RSV?" or "What if she gets hurt?" Sometimes these worries can feel so overwhelming that they get in the way of enjoying your new family life. Pressman says your best bet is to follow your doctor's advice to make your baby's environment as safe as possible—remove extra blankets from the crib, put your baby down to sleep on her back and follow your doctor's immunization schedule. Then relax, knowing you're doing all you can to keep her safe.
- Trust your intuition. Don't freak out if your instincts haven't quite kicked in yet—parental intuition is something that comes from watching your baby every day and learning what makes her tick. After countless changings, feedings and bonding, you'll learn to read her cries, facial expressions and moods. Eventually, you and your spouse will be the only people who can dry her tears. If you don't quite trust yourself, ask for input on your parenting practices. Since most parents suffer through this, your mama friends will be happy to share their insight.
- Don't forget Dad. Fathers often don't get equal billing when it comes to new parenting, but they experience many of the same anxieties and fears that moms do. Encourage your partner to get involved, says David L. Hill, M.D., FAAP, and author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro. Dads can change diapers, give baths and take part in midnight bonding moments. Spending time taking care of your baby is the absolute best way for both of you to feel comfortable with your bundle of joy and overcome new parent jitters.
Bringing home a new baby is unlike any experience you'll ever have. Those first few weeks may seem to go very slowly, but they'll be a blur in hindsight. Don't fret over sleep and feeding schedules too much at first. Instead, go easy on yourself and your baby. Spend time nursing her, holding her and getting to know her, and soon you'll look and feel the part of the confident, self-assured parent.