As a nurse, one of my favourite things about delivering parenting programs in Toronto is hearing the personal stories of new parents caring for their children, and the things they learn along the way.
There’s one story in particular that sticks out to me, and it’s one that I share with most new parents I meet in my line of work. It reminds us of the importance of emotions and mental health, and how you feel can directly impact your baby.
One parent’s story
When her son was four months old, he developed what she thought was sudden colic that lasted for about one week. Nothing seemed to help – at least nothing she tried. She was fatigued, lacking sleep and couldn’t think straight after a few days. She called it “the longest week of her life,” and told me how it was difficult to breastfeed as the baby cried a lot and slept very little. Her doctor assured her that there was nothing physically wrong with her baby.
She remembered that week being very stressful. Her husband was away, and her older daughter had just started junior kindergarten. She was on her own with their new baby for the first time.
When her husband returned home that weekend, he lent a helping hand and the baby settled very quickly. It was at this point that she realized her baby was not colicky, she was just unable to settle him. There were no problems with her settling techniques, but rather baby’s restlessness was a direct result of his mother’s stress.
What does this mean?
This mom’s story shows how young children, even infants often copy their caregivers emotions. Some people believe that infants are too young to understand what’s going on around them or to feel stress, but experts disagree. Babies are very sensitive to their parent’s emotions and actions.
Babies depend on parents or caregivers to soothe them when they are in distress, and when a parent is under stress, distracted or worried, they’re not able to offer the helpful comfort and calming actions their baby needs.
Watch this clip from the “Still Face Experiment” to better understand how changes in a parent’s mood and actions can also cause changes in her baby.
The Good News
It’s important to know that stress is not always harmful to your baby, so long as there is a caring parent or caregiver there to help calm, comfort and support. We need to understand and recognize symptoms of stress and reach out for support when we need it.