Faced with an ever-growing mountain of diapers, getting the hang of feeding, and trying to find just a moment of shut-eye, being a new mother is hard enough. And with well-intended public health campaigns praising the benefits of folic acid or warning about dangerous co-sleeping and bottle-born infant gut bacteria, it’s no surprise that women are scared—terrified even—of making mistakes. According to new research, all this discussion might be causing a rise in anxiety during the perinatal period.
For a paper published in Women’s Studies International Forum, researchers held discussion groups about the experiences of 20 new Australian mothers with infants younger than one year old. Forty percent of participants reported above-normal anxiety symptoms, and 45 percent reported experiences of moderate and severe stress. The researchers, from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, concluded the “a good mom does” environment in health and social issues seemed to trigger new mothers to overestimate the risks to them and their children and ultimately undermine their confidence.
So how to create a nurturing environment for new mothers? “We need evidence based, public health campaigns and non-judgmental advice to ensure that women feel supported and know that society values the work of mothering,” study author Dr. Heather Rowe said in a statement. So instead of touting the (myth) of maternal instinct, it should be replaced with messages more along the line of “Relax! It will all be OK (even if it doesn’t feel like it)”—messages that emphasize mothering is a learned skill-set that develops over time.