Recent research found that babies actually mimic their mom’s stress response—including increased heart rate. Here are the surprising results along with simple steps you can take to benefit you both.
The connection between you and your baby is a strong one—for better and, sometimes, for worse. At some point, every mom feels the stress that inconsistent sleep and 24/7 baby care can bring to her system. But did you know that this stress can, in turn, influence your baby? Recent research seems to confirm the idea that if you’re not at your best, your baby can’t be at her best.
The Stress-Baby connection
Babies mimic their mom’s stress response, showing increased heart rate when her stress level goes up, according to recent research at the University of California, San Francisco. And the more stressed the mom, the more stressed the baby becomes in response.
The researchers believe that long before infants can talk, they communicate with emotion. They’re finely attuned to parents’ voices, odors, and facial expressions, all of which can be influenced by stress. So when you’re stressed, your baby “catches” this and feels stressed herself.
Fortunately there are many ways to buffer frazzled nerves and feelings, which can help both of you.
Tend to “mom care” as well as baby care. Your little one is clearly a high priority in your life. But it’s smart to make time for your own well-being too, even if it’s just the basics: nutritious eating, a little fresh air and exercise every day, and sleeping whenever you can. Even better, aim to keep up activities that relaxed you before your baby arrived, like yoga or reading. Even a few minutes a day can help.
Try to let life flow a bit. Your baby may not follow a strict schedule in the early months—it takes a long time to establish a sleep-wake cycle and consistent feeding habits. Simply encourage a routine of doing certain things in a certain order (feed, burp, play, bathe, diaper). Even then, it’s healthy to cut yourself a lot of slack when things don’t go as planned.
Shoot for “good enough.” Hoping for household or parenting perfection only sets you up for failure. It’s OK to indulge in takeout or sandwiches instead of seven hot dinners a week. It’s OK if your baby’s clothes don’t match. She’s perfect as is; nothing else has to be!
Stay open to help. People love to help new moms. So when they ask, let them know what they can do for you. A hot meal? Running an errand or grocery shopping? Babysitting while you nap?
Play with your baby. When your baby is awake and alert, have fun together. She’ll make you happy, and she’ll also see you happy—which makes her happier (rather than stressed)!
Connect with others. People are great stress-buffers. One idea: Look for local mom groups where you can share with others who know what you’re experiencing. It’s also smart to ask a friend to be on standby, to call as needed.