Luca is two months old (time, please slow down), but instead of my usual monthly recap, I wanted to write about something else that’s been top of mind lately: the pressures of new motherhood. There are so many of them and, as we all know by now, there can be a ton of judgment in this space from other moms, family members, friends, spouses, and strangers online. But many of us moms also put pressure on ourselves to be the perfect mother doing things based on how our peers, colleagues, and family members have done them.
This article titled the unreasonable expectations of American motherhood sums it up well:
“Our culture loves nothing more than to judge women for the choices they make, and then rejudge them if they make different choices.”
Breastfeeding is probably the best example of this in my case. I went for a walk with a new friend (who also has a new baby) the other day. When I asked her if she was still breastfeeding her three-month-old, she sighed and told me that she wasn’t and that the hardest part of stopping was having to tell other people.
On my drive home, I realized that I had never once heard a mom tell me why she stopped breastfeeding without an explanation of why.
A few days later, I had some friends over for dinner and the two other moms and I were talking about the same topic. One of them breastfed for a year but had extreme physical pain and anxiety the whole time. She felt pressured to do it anyway. The other mom didn’t have a good supply and felt guilty about not being able to provide for her baby.
I was somewhere in between in that I breastfed Amalia for 4 months but felt anxiety about it the entire time and didn’t have a great supply. This time around, I have a much better supply and much less anxiety but I’m starting to wean for other reasons.
I just spent the last 10 minutes typing out what is going on for us but then deleted it all because, you know what, it doesn’t matter. It’s my choice for my family and I think we need to normalize saying “I’m done breastfeeding” without following up with the reason why. That choice is between a mother and her baby (and pediatrician if there is a medical issue, of course).
My personal opinion on the matter is that when breastfeeding no longer feels right for you or your baby, it’s time to stop. When I made that realization with Amalia it was a huge perspective shift for me both with breastfeeding and with motherhood in general.
Another big pressure I felt was to bond right away with the baby. That did not happen with Amalia and it felt like a devastating blow to me as a woman and mother. If I think about it too much I start to cry (hormones) but you can read more about it here and here.
In the past, when I would see moms posting on social media about how in love they were with their newborns, I didn’t believe it. I thought that everyone was just saying that because they thought they had to (like I did). But then Luca came into my life and I felt a deep, intense love connection to him right away. The moment I laid eyes on him. It was unlike anything I could have imagined.
I’m sharing that not to make you feel bad if you didn’t have that connection with your baby right away, but because I’ve been on both sides of it. I’m here to let you know that if you’re scared to have a second child, it can be different.
Another big one for me is traveling and getting out more with Luca. We basically didn’t leave the house for the first three months of Amalia’s life because I was so anxious about messing up her schedule. Luca doesn’t have a choice because of his big sister’s busy social calendar and I’m grateful to have been forced out of my comfort zone a little, getting him out of the house.
That said, now that it’s summertime and everyone I know is vaccinated, I feel immense pressure to get out and about, and sometimes I just don’t feel ready. I have to keep reminding myself that I have a 9-week old baby and it’s ok to take a beat and just be.
Everyone has a different experience and feels this new-motherhood pressure in different areas, those are just some examples from my own experience. I heard from a lot of moms (see below) who mentioned that they felt pressure to sleep train but it stressed them out. But for me, the idea of my babies not sleeping well gives me anxiety so sleep training has been a big focus with both kids. I had never even thought of anyone feeling pressure about that because it seemed like a given to me.
Side note: I hope that sharing my experience with sleep training never comes off as pressuring you to do the same. It’s just what works for us!
Here are some stories from moms in the Lemon Stripes community who have felt pressure in other ways. The most common answers were about 1. breastfeeding, 2. sleep training, and 3. bonding with the baby, but I also saw a lot of people mention the pressure to “bounce back” after having a baby.
Reading all of your stories made me feel less alone in my current stage of life. But it also broke my heart that so many of us have to go through these feelings. I wish I had a solution to offer up but for now, I think the best thing we can do as moms is to try and be understanding of one another and respect the fact that what works for you and your family might not work for someone else’s family.
Stories from moms in the Lemon Stripes Mamas Facebook Group:
“Definitely had a lot of pressure to bond with my first right away after a long and exhausting labor, as well as pressure from both families to quit my job and be a SAHM (nothing wrong with SAHM…lots of kudos to those who do)! Both my MIL and my mom were SAHM and it’s definitely a generational thing, and it was tough breaking that mold.”
“I think the biggest thing for me was the going fitting in or going on the same path as “most” or what most consider “normal” if that makes sense. I wanted so badly to go by my gut and do what I felt was right for me and my baby. Everyone had/has an opinion and it is overwhelming. As a mom to two kids now, I would give the advice to follow your own instincts and baby’s cues. Don’t feel the judgments around you. Set boundaries. Stay confident.”
“You should let your husband sleep all night when he’s “back at work” and take care of all the babies needs by yourself. Isn’t taking care of a newborn all day also work though? I felt a lot of pressure to “do it all” on no sleep without feeling like what I was doing was even considered work. And it’s a LOT of work!”
“I felt pressure to welcome family and guests immediately. And oftentimes it was family members who had no interest in helping with things while they were here — the visits were strictly to meet the baby. It was overwhelming, to say the least. Especially considering I’m not close with this family.”
“Pressure to have my baby sleeping through the night! It’s like no one can think of a better question than “how’s he sleeping”. Honestly, he sleeps how he should be sleeping. He’s a baby and is supposed to wake up at night, but everyone has their opinion!”
“Pressure to breastfeed. Was always kind of on the fence on it and decided to give it a good effort. My baby had a tongue tie which made it difficult for her to latch at first and I had to begin pumping after every feed. It felt like I was breastfeeding, giving a supplement, and pumping and barely had any time before doing it all over again. I hate pumping and it was a huge drain on me mentally. Recently got the all-clear to reduce supplement and pumping since the baby is eating well now and it feels like a weight lifted! Also, pressure to welcome family to visit. They all said they would do a lot of things to help out but mostly just spent time holding the baby so much she wanted to be held all the time at night too.”
“Pressure from parents about how they’d do things based on what they did when they raised us because it was different than what our pediatrician’s office had told us.”
“A lot of what I experienced has been mentioned above but one other nuance for me was probably having postpartum depression/blues and not really realizing it at the moment. I just didn’t have that instant bond and hearing other people’s stories of how they cried after delivery when they held their baby for the first time or how they just loved the newborn phase so much made me feel inadequate.”
“I felt immense guilt and embarrassment from not being able to breastfeed. All I see on social media and the internet is breastfeeding and I felt like I failed as a mother for not being able to do it. The thing that gets me now is the judgment about being a working mom (I’m a teacher) and the phrase “I don’t want someone else raising my kids.” It’s so hurtful.”
“I was dying to go back to work at 6 weeks postpartum because I was so overwhelmed by motherhood. In hindsight, I was suffering from a mix of postpartum anxiety and unknowingly feeling a very great loss of my sense of self and independence. It took me months, if not years to really come to terms with it all and feel like ‘myself’ again.”
“Pressure to know what I was doing right out of the gate. The worst pressure came from feeling I had to go places or do things faster than I was ready. Going to dinner, going for walks, going on family outings, having people over when what I really needed was space and time to do things as I was comfortable and ready.”
“As a first-time mom I felt this pressure to have a “good baby” I never understand why people always ask “is she a good baby?” Like what constitutes a good baby? I love her guts, but are there days when she is fussy and hard? Is she still the best baby? Yes.”
Also, I was so surprised by the pressure to breastfeed. And how guilty I felt when it just wasn’t working…it was the hardest part of people a new mom and having a baby that wouldn’t latch during a pandemic was tricky. I quit after a week because it was tanking my mental health and I have no regrets.”
“Pressure to take the baby places. All of the other new parents celebrating “we took him to a bar!”, “we took him on vacation!”. Well, taking a baby somewhere takes 3x as long as you would think (the packing, the unpacking), and they nap 3x day. If that’s not added pressure, what is? Unless you’re feeling like a million bucks, taking a baby somewhere is just plain stressful, a lot of work, and usually not worth it.”
“The pressure to breastfeed and enjoy it! Everyone kept asking me how it was going, wasn’t it amazing and the crushing guilt I felt neither of those things. When my babe was born he latched beautifully but nothing happened on my end. We saw consultations, drank the teas, massages, etc. It wasn’t till we switched to bottles (formula and what tiny bit I got from pumping) I even seemed to allow myself to start to enjoy being a mom and bond with my kiddo. The takeaway I learned is it’s the time spent with the baby, the cuddles, the eye contact while feeding not the source of food.”
“Pressure to get my baby on a schedule feeling like a bad mom that didn’t. I don’t feel there’s any right way to parent. If a schedule works for your family amazing, but if you don’t want to be on a strict schedule that okay too! You know what you need best.”
Some quick sound bites from an IG poll where I asked in what area moms felt the most pressure with their newborns:
Feeling happy/so full of love- there are a LOT of other valid emotions that happen!
Pressure to do it without help.
So much pressure to breastfeed even though I didn’t produce anything 🙁
Getting my body back right away.
All the extreme views about how to deal with baby sleep.
Nap schedule as soon as possible.
I felt like a horrible mother because I did cry it out sleep training.
Sleep training at an early age.
Pressure to have the baby nap in the crib instead of my arms.
How or whether at all to sleep train.
I exclusively pumped. It was so exhausting and no one understood how training it was.
I rushed back into exercise because the pressure to “bounce back” is insane.
Pressure to love and embrace every moment when it’s really hard and you’re struggling.
Never leaving your baby! I still have guilt when I go out and my boy is 21 months.
Purees vs baby-led weaning.
Sleep training for sure! Such a sensitive subject and people can be SO mean.
Taking a newborn everywhere because they “just sleep” but for me it was anxiety-inducing.
Allowing the family to visit without boundaries.
To be ok with visitors the first few weeks. I didn’t want anyone in my house yet!
To vax or not to vax.
And just for fun, here is my sweet and smiley two-month-old giving his best cheese: