Expectant mothers are often inundated with advice from friends, family and healthcare professionals. It’s easy to become overloaded with information and you begin to doubt your own instincts.
But by applying simple mind-management techniques, you can be a cool and composed mum. How?
1) Have faith in yourself
Accept that people will offer you advice because they are trying to help. Listen to what they have to say, but always have faith in your own opinions.
“I think the mother’s instinct is the good one,” says Andrew Mayers, a psychologist at Bournemouth University in the UK. “It’s good to hear advice, but as a new mum, you are in a vulnerable place. Appreciate that the advice is well-meant, but do not see it as a criticism.“
Many mums will struggle if, for example, a midwife says not to hold a baby a certain way when feeding. Do what you are most comfortable with, as long as it doesn’t pose any risks.”
HANDY TIP Look in the mirror and practise your “thanks for the advice” smile. When you find yourself getting unwanted advice, putting on that smile will help you to focus on yourself and tune out the information.
2) Judge yourself fairly
It’s impossible to control your labour experience or the first weeks of life with your baby, so you shouldn’t feel that you’ve failed if what occurred doesn’t match what you or others imagined would happen.
"There can be all sorts of reasons why things aren’t going quite the way they are in the book or the way your midwife or mother said it would,” Mayers explains. “Don’t beat yourself up. If you’re struggling to feed, your milk might come in tomorrow. If something isn’t going well, tell yourself to be patient and give it time.”
HANDY TIP Do some deep breathing and loosen areas of tension.
“Kneel down and stretch out your arms in front of you,” suggests fitness expert Carys Jackson. “Sit back on your feet and try to get your back as flat as possible. Relax into your breathing for 30 seconds, then come up and move your hands behind you and push out your chest. Hold for 30 seconds.”
“Reducing the pressure on yourself means you have the energy and mindset to look after your little one fully.”
3) Praise your successes
Focus on all the ways you’re a brilliant mum and you will be better placed to meet the challenges of parenthood. Look at all the things you are doing and focus on those that are going right. Acknowledge that you are doing a good job in the circumstances, and reward yourself for it.
HANDY TIP Give yourself some “me time” — you deserve it. Have some chocolate, read a magazine or watch your favourite TV show. Reward and praise yourself for being the good mum that you are.
4) Ignore peer pressure
Pregnancy and parenthood can bring expectations that a new mum, especially if she’s having her first baby, feels pressurised into meeting. Put your own needs above those of others.
“New mums often find, for example, a pressure to breastfeed. Everyone says ‘breast is best’ (and it usually is) but that pressure comes at the moment of vulnerability when a woman has just given birth,” Mayers notes.
“If her mood is low or there have been complications, then the pressure to breastfeed becomes an additional worry that just makes it worse. If you don’t feel able to do something, then don’t.”
HANDY TIP If bathtime is stressful for you and baby on a nightly basis, do it less frequently. “Reducing the pressure on yourself means you have the energy and mindset to look after your little one fully,” says psychologist Emma Kenny.
Four more ways to shore up your confidence as a new mum…
5) Don’t make comparisons
Accept that everyone is different and don’t measure your own experiences against others, whether they’re celebrities who lose weight in a matter of weeks or friends from your antenatal class who delivered their babies naturally.
“You might hear of a friend’s drug-free labour and think ‘mine wasn’t like that — I’m a bad mum’. But there’s little point in comparing yourself to other people because they are in different circumstances,” Mayers points out. “Empathise with someone who is worse off than you and be thankful for what has gone well for you.”
HANDY TIP Don’t let self-doubt and worries hold you back. Set aside some time every day to relax with your baby. Focus on the sensation of cuddling your little one, taking in their smell, weight and the softness of their skin against your cheek.
6) Manage your expectations
You’ll probably have built a mental picture of the perfect mum, but trying to live up to this ideal is an unnecessary burden. Instead, be realistic about what you can achieve and your mood will stay positive.
“Managing your expectations is a good thing,” says Mayers. “Sometimes, you have all these ideas about how everything will work, and very quickly, a low mood will sink in if you can’t breastfeed or your baby isn’t sleeping well. You might think ‘I will never sleep through the night again’.
“Set your expectations a little lower and take the positives from small things that are going well. Be realistic.”
HANDY TIP If you’ve only got time to do one thing, try straightening your sheets. “It helps the space feel calm, welcoming and fresh,” says Kenny. A US study found that people who made their beds were 19 per cent more likely to report a good night’s sleep.
By focusing on the present rather than the future, you’ll feel calmer and happier.
7) See the bigger picture
It’s tempting to feel you’ve had a terrible day because your baby was sick in the car or you forgot to take a spare diaper with you to the shops. But this is one small part of a day that has been filled with many more wonderful moments.
“If someone is feeling low, there is a tendency to maximise the bad things and minimise the good things,” says Mayers. “Stop this negative bias. The things that went wrong today won’t always go wrong. And even if they do, you will know how to deal with them next time.”
HANDY TIP Take stock of your day by writing a list of positives and negatives. For example, if you’re in the middle of tantrum central, visualise how you want the next few seconds to go: Close your eyes, step back and take a deep breath. Then picture yourself handling the situation successfully.
“Visualisations are excellent for forming clear pictures of what we want and need,” Kenny notes. You will see that your toddler’s five-minute tantrum has really been outweighed by the hours of cuddles and laughter.
8) Focus on the present
It’s good to have long-term aims, but accept that sometimes your current situation must dictate your decision.
For example, you might be weaning your baby on homemade purées, and are annoyed with yourself for reaching for a jar of pre-prepared food when you’re busy. But by focusing on the present — “I don’t have time to cook and he is hungry now!” — rather than the future, you’ll feel calmer and happier.
“Focus on the now,” Mayers advises. “If you think about the future, you might feel anxious. If you brood on the past, you can feel depressed. Instead, enjoy the moment.”
HANDY TIP If you need to get dinner ready without a small person under your feet, don’t beat yourself up if you let them watch something on the iPad — just choose a show with developmental benefits. “Try CBeebies’ The Numtums — it introduces numbers and simple maths,” says Dr Amanda Gummer from play-advice site, Fundamentally Children.
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