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December 13, 2016

Mission impossible: Motherhood

Tips for tackling parental stress when life feels overwhelming

Parenting Motherhood
katie_Gagnon_MissionImpossible Katie Gagnon /for PhillyVoice

Katie has learned to say yes to help every time it is offered. Her mother and father have provided a lot of assistance as Katie has learned how to be a mama to Killian, pictured here in his MomMom's arms.

The joys of motherhood are innumerable. Most nights when my son wakes to nurse, I do not feel sleep deprivation, I feel elation. My baby boy makes me happier than anything else has before. Every moment with him feels like a divine gift.

That is not to say that I haven’t experienced moments of overwhelming stress since he was born. There have been plenty of times when I have snapped at my husband, needed to count to 10 and shed a few tears. Becoming a mother happens instantly, and there is a lot to learn quickly. I have relied on advice from family, friends and books plus my own intuition and experience with yoga and meditation to assist me when motherhood feels like Mission Impossible. Here are some things that have worked for me that you may also find helpful.

Take a Deep Breath

Cliché, yes. But boy does it work. In the moments when I am covered in spit-up, changing my shirt for the third time without yet taking a shower and holding a wailing baby in my arms, it feels like everything is going wrong. In these overwhelming moments, I close my eyes and take long, cleansing breaths. I tell myself that all is OK, all will be OK and I can handle it. I soothe my son’s crying, put on a clean shirt and know that a shower will come soon enough. Taking this restorative pause calms me so I can continue to be a patient, loving and strong mama.

Read a Book

With all your free time, right?! Trust me, this book is worth it. "The Happiest Baby on the Block," by Harvey Karp, M.D.,  gave my husband and me invaluable tips for caring for our baby. A crying infant can really take a toll on parents, leading to frustration and stress. Whether your fussy baby occasionally wails or has been diagnosed with colic, this book is going to help. It details the 5 S’s for soothing babies. An informative, quick read, I am so grateful that good friends of ours recommended it prior to Killian arriving. We swear by the 5 S’s.

There’s an App for That

A cellphone can be a great resource for new parents. I use two free apps every day. Baby Tracker helps me remember how many times my baby has been fed and changed throughout the day. It also reminds me which side I last nursed on. Sound Sleeper provides white noise that is proven to soothe babies. Killian’s favorite sound on the app is called Mountain River. I always put my phone on airplane mode when I use Sound Sleeper to reduce my son’s exposure to the radiation emitted from cellphones. I pop a pacifier in his mouth and play a little Mountain River – instant relief for us both.

Say Yes to Help

People are going to offer you help. Say yes and be specific. Be prepared with a list of chores and errands that your friends and relatives can do when they visit. I am a bit Type A and like things done a certain way. But right now if someone else is doing my laundry, I could not care less if they fold my towels differently than I usually do. And if the wrong brand of paper towels is purchased, I am still grateful that someone else ran to the grocery store for me. Being a Super Mom does not mean you have to do it all. Know that it is OK to rely on others who want to help.

Get Outside

When my son was first born, I started experiencing long days in the house. By the time my husband arrived home from work, I would feel desperate to get some fresh air. So I would jump in the car and drive around town for 20 minutes blaring Bruce Springsteen. There were a few evenings when I would simply walk outside and look up at the stars. Even on a cold winter’s day, getting outside and taking a walk will feel like a mini vacation. I bundle Killian in his stroller and we walk for a couple miles around the neighborhood – great for my mental and physical health!

Communicate with Your Partner

If you are sharing your parenting duties with a partner, communicate with him or her every day. People are not mind readers. If you need to pass the baby to your partner so you can do yoga, take a shower or get a manicure, speak up and say it. If you are too tired to make dinner, do not force yourself into the kitchen; explain you need a pizza delivery night instead. Communication is crucial.

These strategies have really helped me as a new mother, but admittedly, I have it pretty easy. Killian is a sweet, healthy baby; my husband is a committed, devoted partner and father; and we have a lot of family help nearby. Plus, I have not struggled with postpartum depression.

As many as 1 in 7 women experiences postpartum depression. If you are experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression like severe mood swings, feelings of worthlessness or reduced interest in things you used to enjoy, talk to your doctor, your partner and/or a close friend or relation. If you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, please immediately tell someone or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. If you think someone you know has postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis, help them seek medical attention. They may not recognize that they need help. Take action right away; do not just assume things will get better.

The struggles and frustration experienced by a new parent are very common. Have faith in yourself that you are a great parent who is capable, loving and strong. Find strategies to combat stress that work best for you and your family. Know that you are not alone.

What tips do you have for combating the stress of parenthood? Share in the comments below or Tweet me @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.

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