Another day in the trenches of early motherhood and waking up from a night of broken sleep (were they too hot? Too cold? Should I have tried to resettle rather than feed again?!). Wondering how you might find the energy to get up and shower, let alone get through the entire day with your partner at at work and the visits from friends and family slowing down. A look at the weather app leaves you feeling panicky as you realise the chances of getting out for a walk are pretty slim. Inevitably you check your mother’s group WhatsApp, hopeful that someone might mention a catch up, a coffee, or anything. You are met with messages celebrating the first sleep through, and the two x 2 hour naps yesterday complete with self-settling, and you feel your stomach sink….it’s only 7.25am. Shortly afterwards the googling begins…
Does any of this sound familiar?
The first weeks and months of motherhood provide the opportunity for overwhelm at every turn. Firstly, the physical recovery from birth (regardless of how it occurs) is likely to be unparalleled to anything one has previously experienced, and then comes the challenge of learning how to breastfeed (if we decide to), or the decision making regarding bottles/pumps/formulas etcetera.
For many of us, this may be the first time that our day-to-day lives have looked very different to our partners. It may feel that they are largely continuing with business as usual, whereas we have a completely new life to adjust to. A life that is often more isolated than anything we have experienced in our working lives. Prior to motherhood, many of us may not have had much to do with children, let alone babies. Now we are expected to “trust our instincts” right when we are beginning to question our parenting instincts.
Things have changed a lot since the previous generation, so instead of consulting them (and garnering outdated and potentially unhelpful advice) some of us tend to turn to our trusted ever-ready companion…google. Surely if I was getting more sleep and could count on breaks during the day this whole thing would be a lot easier right? You might think to yourself “time to find a routine online”…and up pops 17 sleep routines for 4-month-old babies, all completely different yet “guaranteed to work”. Challenge one involves choosing the routine, challenge two starts later in the day when you attempt to implement said routine and begin to realise this is actually feeling a lot like hard work and probably unsustainable. Then perhaps you do more online research and review the other routines you found earlier.
The reality is this type of “hyper-googling” does little to quell the overwhelm we are already experiencing in early motherhood. In fact, it often adds to it. It also takes us away from time spent actively observing our babies and getting to know them, as well as chewing up time when we could have been resting – the two things that might actually help! Instead of the perfect routine, perhaps we would benefit from advice that tells us that of course it is normal to not know how to do any of this. You are learning and it will take time, and there is no one size fits all for anything in motherhood. The relentless chase for more information can leave us exhausted, insecure and anxious.
In his 2021 book “Stolen focus – why you can’t pay attention and how to think deeply again”, Johann Hari emphasises that we are living in a culture that is “constantly amping us up with stress and stimulation” and that the way that social media and internet algorithms work against us, in fact they are designed to “shows [us] things that will keep [us] looking at [our] screen”. Hari’s book supports the idea that googling may be one of the worst things for us during matrescence, the transition to becoming a mother.
So who do we turn to for information and what can we do to lessen our overwhelm?
- Firstly, any reduction in screen time is going to benefit you, not only to lessen the information dumping that is occurring, but also because it might give you the opportunity to rest or to engage in a more nurturing activity that you enjoy.
- Secondly, choosing one or two reputable sources of information regarding child development or sleep will be more helpful than consulting multiple sources and switching between them all. Asking trusted friends or family who have slightly older children can be helpful, especially when you feel their style of parenting resonates with you.
- Lastly, give yourself time for your instincts to develop. Observing your own child with curiosity and interest will give you so much more useful information that any plan ever will. As these days of observation add up, you will begin to notice patterns and preferences in your child. This will form the basis of your intuition and help you develop a routine that suits your preferences and your own baby.
In summary, let’s acknowledge that early motherhood is often an extremely overwhelming time in life. There is nothing quite like the 0 to 1 child transition, so please take it easy on yourself. Try and notice what adds to your overwhelm and then try to minimise this. Spend time with people who make you feel calm, confident and supported, and if needed make an appointment with a perinatal Psychologist to further support you in navigating this season of life.
Written by Alyce Young, Psychologist