I am running on, like, the eighth week of little-to-no sleep. I’ve got a gorgeous, healthy newborn who has been dealing with some pretty sad (and loud) colic and, to be honest, the stress of it all is getting to me a little.
I consider myself a “seasoned” mom given Silver is my fourth baby — I thought I had all this handled. I didn’t know how having a baby with digestive distress and colic would factor into everything. Every night, starting at about 5 PM, Silver starts the same routine. He cries, he wants to nurse, he vomits, he wants to be held, carried, wiggled, vibrated, danced and nursed more. I know that this is to be expected with a young baby, but I am finding that juggling his extra neediness with my work schedule, homeschooling tasks and nurturing my three other children… well, the stress gets to me sometimes. I’m only human.
A new study published in the January 2014 issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, has me working hard to reduce the stress I’m feeling and showing because it can affect my infant. The study done by lead researcher Sara Waters, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco, found that infants not only pick up on their mothers’ stress, but they show physiological changes as well.
This small study took a look at 69 mothers along with their 12- to 14-month-old babies using cardiovascular sensors attached to both mother and infant. A baseline number was recorded before being separated so the mother could go off and give a five-minute presentation in front of two evaluators followed by a Q&A session. Some study participants received positive feedback (like head nods and smiling) during their presentation while others received more negative feedback (like frowning, shaking their head and crossing arms), and a third group received no feedback at all. The mothers were then reunited with their infants and the cardiovascular sensors reattached.
As we would expect, the mothers who received the negative feedback reported to an increase in negative emotions and a decrease in the the positive feelings — much more than the other two groups. And guess what? When the infants were reunited with their moms, the infants picked up on the stresses their moms were feeling. According to a press release from the Association for Psychological Science:
“Infants quickly picked up on this stress response: Infants whose mothers received negative feedback showed significant increases in heart rate relative to baseline within minutes of being reunited with their mothers. Importantly, the infant’s response tracked the mother’s response — that is, greater the mother’s stress response, the greater the infant’s stress response, an association that actually became stronger over time.”
I am not at all surprised by this because I have seen it in action when I am dealing with Silver — it’s all relative to my mood. It seems that I have an easier time handling the stress when I’ve had even some sleep, which means the start of the week (after I can sleep in a little bit on the weekend) seems to be a lot easier on the both of us.
Stress as a new mother is pretty much inevitable, even for the most experienced mother. There are some ways you can help ease your stress, which according to this study, will benefit you and your baby! Here are a few things that work for me when I’m looking to reduce stress:
1. Take a bath. I use warm water, epsom salt and a nice-smelling candle.
2. Take a long nap. Sleeping always seems to help me feel so much better.
3. Ask for help. If you need someone to hold your baby so you can shower or go shopping by yourself for an hour, ask!
4. Let go of perfection. I have this need to have everything the same, but letting go of that perfectionism, letting the laundry pile up a bit and being OK with it will help a lot!
5. Go out! Plan a date with your partner, your friends or even yourself and get out of the house for a little bit. Just getting out of the stressful environment can go a long way.
“Before infants are verbal and able to express themselves fully, we can overlook how exquisitely attuned they are to the emotional tenor of their caregivers,” says Waters. “Your infant may not be able to tell you that you seem stressed or ask you what is wrong, but our work shows that, as soon as she is in your arms, she is picking up on the bodily responses accompanying your emotional state and immediately begins to feel in her own body your own negative emotion.”
So, it’s clear from this study that taking time to reduce your stress and taking time for yourself is not to be put at the bottom of the list — but near the top because it will help the whole family!
:: How do you reduce stress in your everyday? Share in the comments! ::
Photo credit: © Devan McGuinness
Study source: Psychological Science – January 30, 2014
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