Anxiety

Why am I so worried about my baby?

It’s normal for mothers and other caregivers to worry about their children, but too much worry can interfere with breastfeeding, affect the well-being of the family, and make difficult situations even more so. Understanding what is normal, having a plan to deal with challenges, and asking for help can limit anxiety and allow families to move forward.  

A) Describing anxiety and stress

It is natural for caregivers to worry about their children but excess worry can interefere with mental health and affect child-care.

Anxiety is common in new mothers (Fairbrother 2016) and can be worsened by stress. The latter can come from:

  • Illness of the mother or the baby
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Financial concerns
  • Mental health issues 
  • Being traumatized by breastfeeding difficulties with a previous baby (Palmér 2019)

Anxious mothers are (Grigoriadis 2018; Hoff 2019; Kitsantas 2017; Stuebe 2019; Sun 2020):

  • Less likely to start breastfeeding.
  • More likely to supplement their babies with milk while in hospital and afterwards.
  • Less likely to feel confident about breastfeeding.
  • More likely to have breastfeeding difficulties.
  • More likely to wean early and not reach their breastfeeding goals.
  • More likely to misinterpret a normal baby's crying as hunger or illness.

Anxiety may have a negative effect on the baby (Oyetunji 2020).

B) Worrying about breastfeeding

1) The baby’s milk intake

Most mothers have a full milk supply and their babies grow well. However breastfeeding mothers often worry that their babies are not taking in enough milk (Gatti 2008; Gianni et al. 2019; Shepherd 2017). 

This can have negative effects on breastfeeding and mothers may (Keller 2016; Kent 2020; Morrison 2019; Sandhi 2020): 

2) Other breastfeeding worries

Other mothers may worry about:

  • Breastfeeding causing the baby’s crying.
  • The quality of their milk.
  • The baby being allergic to their milk.
  • Breastfeeding the baby to sleep.

C) Dealing with anxiety and stress

Confidence on the other hand, plays a large role in breastfeeding success and can be increased by support and education by health care providers and breastfeeding specialists (Asselmanna 2018; Brockway 2017; Chrzan-Dętkoś 2021; De Roza 2019). 

In addition, mothers who feel anxious should sleep when they can and eat well when possible. Exercise, regular outings, and relaxation tools such as music, meditation, audiobooks, and mindfulness can be useful (Mohd 2019; Yu 2018).

Mothers should be alert to possible postpartum depression.

D) Caring for a sick baby

1) The challenges of caring for a sick baby

Families with sick or premature babies have additional, unique concerns including (Greene 2015): 

  • Lack of sleep if caring for the baby in hospital
  • Different caregivers giving different advice
  • Health setbacks of the baby
  • A lack of information about what is happening to the baby
  • The baby being moved into different care settings
  • Being separated from the baby
  • Having to leave the baby and return to work
  • Financial challenges

Every day can bring highs and lows in the baby’s health and progress. Similarly, caregivers' emotions may go up and down like a roller-coaster. They may feel as if they have no control. It is normal to feel:

  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Afraid
  • Helpless
  • Frustrated
  • Isolated
  • Anxious

Postpartum depression has been reported in 20% to 50% of mothers of premature babies (Tahirkheli 2014).

These feelings can stay with mothers and other caregivers after the baby is stable and leaves the hospital.

2) Helping your baby

Families benefit from understanding their baby’s situation and helping their baby. Babies benefit when their mothers and other givers are involved in their care. To help their sick babies, they can:

  • Give kangaroo and skin-to-skin care (Moore 2007; Sharma 2017).
  • Breastfeed or express and provide breast milk.
  • Educate themselves about their baby’s illness.
  • Talk to health-care providers and ask for clarification of anything that has not been explained clearly and thoroughly.
  • Keep a record of:
    • The names and roles of health-care providers.
    • Information about the baby’s status and care plan.
    • Feeding and expressing times and amounts.
  • Advocate for their baby.
  • Learn about their baby's condition.

There are often a bewildering number of caregivers helping the baby. Ask each person to explain their role to you.

3) Self-care

Peer support helps families of premature babies (Meier 2004; Meier 2013). Many hospitals have premature-family clubs or groups in which mothers and other caregivers can meet others who are going through or have gone through the same process.

Every member of a family with a sick baby will have different feelings and different ways of dealing with the situation. It is important to keep the lines of communication open to support each other and avoid misunderstandings.

References

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Brockway M, Benzies K, Hayden KA. Interventions to Improve Breastfeeding Self-Efficacy and Resultant Breastfeeding Rates: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Hum Lact. 2017 Aug;33(3):486-499

Chrzan-Dętkoś M, Walczak-Kozłowska T, Pietkiewicz A, et al. Improvement of the breastfeeding self-efficacy and postpartum mental health after lactation consultations - Observational study. Midwifery. 2021 Mar;94:102905
 
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