Coping with Emotional Distress of Parenthood
Coping with Emotional Distress of Parenthood

The journey into parenthood can have significant and wide ranging impacts on the emotional health for new parents. As a new parent we may find ourselves constantly putting the needs of others first.  Our own needs and priorities can fall to the bottom of the list. Parenting is hard work. It is constant work. It is so easy to stop caring for yourself or to feel overwhelmed with the constant demands of a new baby.

When you stop caring for yourself, your ability to care for your child is impacted and your ability to enjoy motherhood is also impacted.

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Parenting is constant and can be hard work. It is only by taking care of yourself, that you can continue to provide for those who need you, and constantly depend on you.

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Emotional health during pregnancy

When you are pregnant, your baby is exposed to everything you experience. This includes the sounds in the environment, the air you breathe, the food you eat and the emotions you feel.

When you feel happy and calm, it allows your baby to develop in a happy, calm environment. However, emotions like stress and anxiety can increase particular hormones in your body, which can affect your baby’s developing body and brain.

Emotional health after your baby is born

From birth, the interactions you have with your baby helps to shape the way he or she will think, feel and behave later in life. These interactions also help to form important emotional bonds between you and your child.

Good emotional health also helps to maintain positive relationships with your older children and other family. They can help support you and your partner through the challenges of adjusting to a new baby.

For information about connecting and bonding with your newborn, sign up with us.

What if I’m struggling with my emotions?

Often one or both parents experience difficult emotions during pregnancy, or after the birth of a child. You are not alone.

You might be feeling like hiding the fact you are struggling because you feel embarrassed or ashamed.

It is normal to have occasional negative thoughts, dreams or fleeting doubts.

The things that can make you feel this way including:

  • worries about the birth
  • lack of sleep
  • worries about how you’re coping as a parent.


There are things you can do to help yourself get through the more challenging aspects of parenthood. 

When you become a mum

Becoming a mum can mean your hopes and dreams have come true. You may love feeling your baby move inside. You may feel a sense of achievement in giving birth. You may love holding, touching, watching, smelling and playing with your baby. Some mums may not feel that overwhelming sense of love they were anticipating straight away.

Sometimes the happy emotions of motherhood are mixed up with feelings of loss, fear, worry, guilt and frustration. You might think:

  • What if I make too many mistakes?
  • Will people think I’m a bad mother?
  • What about my old life?

It is normal to ask yourself lots of questions when you’re going through a major life change, like having a baby.

Big changes in your life can leave you feeling overwhelmed, especially when things don’t happen the way you expected.

When you become a dad

While women usually start preparing emotionally for parenthood during pregnancy, some fathers begin this process after the birth. As a result, the reality of fatherhood can be quite a shock. Even if you have been preparing throughout the pregnancy, some fathers can feel unprepared for the reality of having a newborn.

Some fathers can feel fierce, protective, overwhelming love for their child straight away, for others it may take a bit longer.

Fatherhood is just as challenging as motherhood, though not always for the same reasons. You might think:

  • I want to help with the baby, but I don’t know how.
  • It’s stressful managing work and family commitments.

You might also notice your relationship with your partner changes a lot too.

It’s normal to feel confused, stressed and out of your comfort zone when you have a new baby.

With any new or difficult situation, sometimes you are able to cope with the challenge, and sometimes you can feel overwhelmed. Fatherhood is no exception.

Just remember – there are plenty of things you can do to support yourself and your partner during this time.

If it is taking more than a couple of weeks to feel a connection with your baby, you should talk to a health professional. 

How will you help your child to regulate emotions?

“How parents respond to their children’s negative emotions will shape how their children deal with those emotions and how they act when they are distressed.”

A child’s emotion regulation skills can be observed by what a child does when he or she feels sad – whether he or she can express that sadness in a constructive way, or suppresses and hides the sadness. Healthy emotion regulation abilities are critical, because they affect a child’s cognitive abilities, as well as the quality of his or her interpersonal relationships.

Although children are born with different emotional temperaments, the ability to appropriately manage difficult emotions is not an innate ability that some children are born with and some are not. It is primarily learned through accumulated experiences, especially experiences early in life. Children learn how to regulate their emotions through the process by which their parents or caregivers respond to their distress. Children deal with emotional distress in healthy ways to the extent that their parents or caregivers help them deal with their distress in healthy ways

 Children can often feel overwhelmed and confused by their strong emotions. Their brains are not yet developed with the ability to calm themselves, think through a situation or experience, and decide how to best respond. Children need to feel emotionally and physically safe to feel, explore, and understand their feelings. 

Research with preschoolers, elementary school-age children, and adolescents demonstrate that the ways parents respond to their children’s emotions is strongly related to children’s social behavior, internalizing symptoms, and behavior problems. When children are emotionally distressed and their caregivers ignore, dismiss, or criticize them, children become confused and unable to manage their uncomfortable emotional experiences in healthy and constructive ways.  Sign up with us to cope with the emotional distress of parenthood.

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