You know the feeling: It’s 3 a.m. and your partner is snoring beside you, but you’re wide awake, playing out 100 different scenarios of what motherhood is going to be like … Will my baby be healthy? What if I can’t breastfeed? What if I don’t know what to do when he goes on a 4-hour crying jag? Though you may feel like you’ve lost your mind, what you’re experiencing is actually a normal part of pregnancy. “Women, when they’re expecting, are typically excited and afraid at the same time,” explains Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, author of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth.
And with good reason. “Motherhood is the most demanding and most rewarding experience that a woman can have,” agrees Diane Sanford, PhD, co-author of Life Will Never Be the Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide. “There is so much expected of you physically, mentally and emotionally that everyone worries they won’t be good enough or get it right.”
The good news? You will. But until your little one arrives and you can see that for yourself, here are tips to calm your deepest, darkest fears so you can revel in the anticipation of impending motherhood.
FEAR #1: What if I’m a bad mother?
You can just picture it: your child as a teenager, slamming doors and screaming “I hate you!” Or your toddler throwing a tantrum in the middle of Target as you helplessly look on, not knowing how to make it stop. Will you be a failure as a mother? “I think this is a concern that women have throughout their whole careers as mothers, and they’ve had it since the beginning of time,” notes McAllister. “Every woman stresses about it, but we don’t give enough credence to the fact that a lot of parenting is instinctual and you grow and learn with your child. You don’t know everything on the day your baby’s born, so don’t worry about what’s going to happen [down the road]. By the time he’s a teenager, you’ll be older, wiser, more mature and able to handle whatever your kid presents you with.” And stop pressuring yourself to be the perfect mom, counsels Sanford. “I tell people the goal is to be a good enough mom,” she says. “Notice what you’re doing right instead of where you’re falling short. And remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect mother.”
FEAR #2: What if I don’t feel an instant bond with my baby?
While you may not feel it now, biology takes over during childbirth and an influx of hormones like oxytocin (known as the love drug) are released from your brain, triggering you to bond with your newborn, explains McAllister. “You can’t even imagine how it’s going to feel,” she says. “Bonding is not a conscious decision that you make—it’s something that happens to you, and it’s one of the most natural things in the world.” Still, we’ve all heard those stories of moms who—biology aside—just don’t feel that instant connection after delivery. Don’t worry: That’s totally OK too. “Your relationship with your baby can take time to grow just like any other relationship,” warns Sanford. “The biological changes that women go through make bonding more likely, but it can still take awhile for you to begin to feel close. If it doesn’t happen in the first few weeks, be patient—it’s just part of the process of becoming attached.”
FEAR #3: I hear horror stories of babies getting their days and nights mixed up. Will I ever sleep through the night again?
A newborn, whether he has his days and nights mixed up or not, will definitely keep you from getting your eight hours of Zs. “So sleep now!” McAllister laughs. “And remember that when you’re a mother, your maternal brain will kick in and you’ll walk over hot coals to take care of your baby in the middle of the night. You won’t miss those Saturday morning sleep-ins quite as much.” Eventually your baby will sleep through the night—and so will you. If you want that to happen sooner rather than later, McAllister suggests that you be consistent with feeding and bedtimes to get your baby on a solid routine. You can also talk to friends who seem to have a good system in place with their children—and who don’t have serious bags under their eyes.
FEAR #4: This is my second baby. Will I have enough love to give two children?
“I had that worry too!” admits McAllister. “I had my first baby 12 years before I had my second, and I was terrified about that. But the good news is that it’s not something you have to work at. As soon as you meet your new baby, you’re overcome with that inexplicable feeling. What I tell all second-time moms is that you have plenty of room in your heart for every baby you have.”
FEAR #5: I’m so worried that having a baby will change my relationship with my husband—and not for the better.
“No doubt, having a baby changes your relationship,” acknowledges McAllister. “And even good change—like the excitement of being a new parent—is stressful.” So what can you do to make the transition as easy as possible? “Start talking about it early so you can understand each other’s philosophies and fears,” she recommends. “And realize you have to make time for each other as a couple so your relationship remains strong.” As soon as baby is old enough to stay with a sitter (or close family member), make date night a priority. But most importantly: “Be very patient, always love and cherish your partner, and remember that it will get easier every single day,” recommends McAllister.
FEAR #6: What if I can’t breastfeed?
There’s so much pressure today to breastfeed in order to give your kids a nutritional head start right off the bat. Fortunately, the majority of women have the ability to do so. “Our bodies were designed to nurse our babies,” shares McAllister. It just may take some women longer than others to get the hang of it. “If you have trouble after two or three days of trying, don’t give up,” she encourages. “The first week is tough, but you’ll get the hang of it.” And though there’s no way to practice breastfeeding before baby debuts, you can still prepare yourself for the task. Contact La Leche League International (llli.org) to find out if there’s a group in your area. They can offer critical support and advice regarding lactation.
FEAR #7: Will I ever lose all this weight?
The good news? Yes, you will. The bad news? “You’re not going to walk out of the hospital in your skinny jeans,” McAllister informs. “Weight gain is a natural and healthy part of pregnancy that’s good for you and your baby, but it did take you nine months to gain that weight, so don’t stress about needing to lose it right away.” Stick to a sensible diet and exercise plan, keep healthy snacks at hand, and breastfeed if possible (it burns extra calories!). Sanford suggests that with minimal effort, you can get your old figure back within six to 12 months.
FEAR #8: I’m the first person in my group of friends to have a baby. I’m worried it will create a divide between us—and I don’t want to lose my best friends.
“As with any life change, having a baby affects your relationships,” notes Sanford. “The honest truth is, some of your friends will be excited and involved and happy to come by and hold the baby, while others won’t. They may drop out for a while, but that’s OK.” The most important thing is befriending other soon-to-be moms. “There’s nothing like sharing the ups and downs of new motherhood with someone who is going through it,” she says.
FEAR #9: What if my baby doesn’t develop as quickly as his peers?
You spent your entire pregnancy comparing yourself to other women: Her morning sickness wasn’t as bad as mine … She popped at four and a half months instead of five … It’s only natural that you’ll continue that pattern and be tempted to compare your child to others as well. Keep in mind, though, that children develop at different rates. “Make sure your baby is progressing developmentally, socially and verbally, but don’t worry about the pace at which he’s doing it,” imparts Sanford. “There’s a lot of variability when it comes to babies, and some walk, roll over and talk sooner than others.”
FEAR #10: I’m nervous that my baby won’t be born healthy or will have a disability.
This is one of the most real fears a new mother is faced with, but statistics are on your side. Only 1 out of every 33 babies is born with a birth defect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which means the odds are stacked in your (and your baby’s) favor. Help alleviate unsettled fears by utilizing the medical technology available to you, such as ultrasounds, which can rule out the presence of many disabilities. And regardless, “you’ll love your baby no matter what,” McAllister assures. “Disability or not, it’s important to remember that nobody is perfect.”
FEAR #11: Will my sex life ever be the same?
After all the changes pregnancy causes in your body, it’s normal to wonder if some of your parts will, er, bounce back to their prepregnancy form. Rest assured, they will—but your sex drive may take a while to catch up. “Hormonally, you’ll be more interested in your baby than your husband for the first few months,” says Sanford. “Moms spend so much time giving to their babies, physically and emotionally, that they may not have the energy left over for sex—and that’s OK. For those first three to six months, just spend time with your husband kissing, hugging and being affectionate and attentive. Doing so will form the bridge in the interim until you’re ready to resume hot, passionate sex with each other.”
FEAR #12: How will I find the energy to do it all?
You won’t. Motherhood is exciting, awe-inspiring and life-changing, but it’s also completely draining —both physically and emotionally. Prepare yourself now that things will have to give. “Having a clean house, preparing home-cooked meals, or doing the laundry every day might fall by the wayside,” warns Sanford. Cut yourself some slack and enjoy being a new mom. With a good support system and peace of mind, you’ll do just fine.