Does Parent Stress Affect Baby?
Calm parents = calm baby: Do you worry too much?
Opportunities for teaching your baby how to handle stress
By now, you may be worrying. You may think that because you've been having a rough time with a deadline at work and coming home stressed and overwhelmed, you're sentencing your sweet baby to a lifetime of health problems. That's not the case.
Your baby may certainly notice mild to moderate stress that's relatively short-lived, as Cynthia Schames found. But that "tolerable stress" doesn't have long-term consequences. And some stress, such as starting a new day care or getting a shot, is even considered "positive." The baby or child experiences a surge in heart rate and changes in hormone levels, but if the parent or caregiver comforts the child and supports the child, the child learns to manage and overcome such stress. And that's an essential life skill.
What's important, experts say, is developing good coping tools to help you manage your stress. That way, your baby isn't overwhelmed by it or stressed more than necessary. And the situation doesn't escalate into something more severe. Garner says, "The less stressed your baby is, the more they will respond to you, the better they will eat, the better they will sleep, and so on."
Some simple tips for reducing parent stress
So how can you de-stress in order to calm your baby? The simplest solutions are often the best, says Weiss. "It sounds simplistic, but really, taking a deep breath and counting to 10 automatically brings down your heart rate and helps to relax tension right in that moment."
More long-term stress-reducing strategies include:
- Relaxation programs. These can include yoga, meditation, and other kinds of therapies. Often, such classes are offered by the hospital where you gave birth. Or you can find out about them through your doctor or midwife.
- Massage -- for both you and your baby. Infant massage is very relaxing for both parent and baby. And research has found that it has a host of benefits, including relieving stress for both the baby and the parent. You can take a class through Infant Massage USA (infantmassageusa.com), or simply Google "infant massage techniques" to find tips on baby massage.
- Exercise. "Exercise is one of the best stress relievers there is," says Garner. If you're having a tough time fitting exercise in with your parental responsibilities, look for a local chapter of Stroller Strides (strollerstrides.com), which gets you out to exercise with your baby and other parents.
- Getting out with a friend. Just because you have a baby doesn't mean you don't need time for you. Taking a break from your parenting duties for an evening once a month can bring you back relaxed and rejuvenated. "You need to have your time so you can let go of the stress of being a parent," says Weiss.
- Finding a support group -- online or in real life. "Having someone to talk to who is going through something similar can be a great stress reliever," says Weiss. Support groups for various issues --- like working moms or single parents -- can often be found through local hospitals or doctor's offices, or online at the community forums of web sites (like WebMD).
- Setting realistic expectations. "My experience has been that the more professional and goal-oriented a person is, the harder their transition is when they have a baby," says Garner. If you feel like you have to be crossing 10 things off your list every day, you're going to be stressed when you don't. You get less done with a baby, and accepting that can relieve stress.
You may think, "I don't have time for yoga, or exercise, or a night out with a friend. I have too many parenting responsibilities." But making time to take care of yourself is a parenting responsibility, says Weiss. "You're not being selfish. You're doing this for your baby just as much as you're doing it for yourself. Relieving stress in your own life benefits both you and your baby."