Having a child is, in my opinion, the ultimate example of stepping outside of your comfort zone. So it can be scary, and while those feelings are valid, I think it's important for all soon-to-be parents to know that there are new mom fears you really don't have to worry about.
It's important to highlight that I'm not talking about fears that interfere with your quality of life. That sort of anxiety is common (prenatal anxiety affects a reported 13-21% of all new mothers, according to the National Perinatal Association), but not something a person should deal with on their own. If you are experiencing intrusive thoughts, anxiety, persistent sadness, chronic fatigue, persistent self-doubt, or additional symptoms of what could be a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMADs), you should reach out to a healthcare provider.
No, I'm talking about what my personal healthcare provider referred to as "the weird thoughts we all sometimes have." Some of the things I was worried about just weren't possible. For example, I often had this one worry of tripping and, in the process, sending my baby sailing through the air yards away from me like a football. But, like, babies are subject to the same laws of physics as literally everything else, so that was just never going to happen. Other worries were based in some version of reality, but were either the result of misinformation or me simply ignoring the very, very small statistical chance of my fear being realized.
Here are some of the common, sometimes weird concerns lots of new moms have that, for the most part, aren't worth worrying about:
You Won't Love Your Baby
Look, I'm not going to tell you that every mother loves her baby the moment they hold them. Sure, some do, but some don't.
Here's something I will tell you: the mothers who took more time to really feel a connection and bond with their baby are not bad mothers. Sometimes you just need to get to know someone a little bit first — that's totally reasonable! And, in my experience, after a while you really can't tell the moms who fell in love instantly from the moms who took longer. Give it some time and you'll come to realize that motherhood is a big ol' lovefest.
Your Baby Won't Love You
Pfft! Girl, please. You're awesome. Besides, babies are basically programmed to love anyone who feeds and cares for them. They're like adorable, malleable little puppies.
You'll Drop Your Baby
This was huge for me. Not, like, interfere with my quality of life huge, but still a pervasive thought. Stairs and railings were especially triggering for me.
OK, is it possible to drop your baby? Sure. Is it particularly likely that you will drop your baby? Not especially, and especially not more in a way that is statistically very dangerous. According to reporting done by Vice, a parent's arms generally aren't a particularly dangerous height from the ground to cause serious injury.
You'll Do Serious Damage Clipping Their Nails
Ever see the first Indiana Jones movie, where Dr. Jones is carefully trying to steal the golden idol without setting off a booby trap? He painstakingly observes it before gingerly rolling it out of place? Yeah, that was basically me for every single one of my children's fingernails. Because I was convinced that one false move and they would go through life with nine fingers.
I'll level with you: a lot of parents accidentally clip their baby's finger at some point (why those nails have to be so tiny?!) but even when there's blood it's usually far more traumatizing for the clipper than the clipped, who gets over it relatively quickly.
Also, if you're truly concerned: nail file!
According to innumerable Facebook warnings, if your child inhales water at some point they can be fine... and then die. So, of course, we read these terrifying posts and any time our baby sputters in the bathtub we don't sleep for days for fear that it's just a matter of time before our kid is in danger.
But you don't know where you don't hear about dry drowning? (Or "secondary drowning" or "delayed drowning"?) In medical literature. Because it's really not a thing. It's certainly not an accepted medical term, according to Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine.
Very rarely, a child may contract an illness from aspirating water called pneumonitis, but as Dani Stringer, MSN, CPNP, PMHS puts it on her website, KidNurse:
"You don’t have to be overly fearful of 'missing' pneumonitis in your child. You won’t accidentally overlook it. This isn’t a situation where you feel guilty because your kid fell down, looked fine, and you waited too long to get an x-ray of their unknowingly broken arm. Children experiencing pneumonitis will have clear, worsening symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, inability to catch their breath, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and disorientation."
Your Baby Will Be Psychologically Damaged If You Let Them Cry
There's much concern and wringing of hands over the idea that letting your child cry (especially in the context of "cry it out" sleep training) can lead to long-term anxiety and psychological damage.
A robust and increasing body of research shows that letting a baby cry is perfectly safe.
You're Going To Touch Their "Soft Spot"
I definitely understand the anxiety over a baby's fontanelle or "soft spot," where their skull hasn't completely fused together. It's easy to imagine that it's like Achilles' heel — a super sensitive point that, if touched, will lead to tragedy.
Look, you don't want to go banging on your infant's soft spot, but in the relatively unlikely event that you graze it with your thumb or something you really don't have cause for concern. The soft spot exists so that your baby can safely make their way through the birth canal. And if that amount of pressure didn't cause any damage, a light graze isn't going to harm your child, either.
They're Going To Be Adversely Affected By Vaccines
I'm not talking about parents who are anti-vaccination, mind you (that's another very long, wearying discussion for another day), I'm talking about parents for whom vaccinating their children is a no brainer (because science!), but they still can't help but be a little nervous that, actually though, the anti-vaxx people are right and their baby is going to be irrevocably injured.
They're Not Going To Be Smart, Healthy, Or Happy Because You Didn't Breastfeed Them
Breast milk has some excellent benefits for babies and moms, and nursing can be a great way to feed babies. But the idea that it's the only way to feed your baby is ridiculous. Studies have shown that controlling for things like education levels and income may mean those long-term benefits of breastfeeding, like IQ and vocabulary, are not as profound as some researchers once thought.
Every Cough Is A Rare & Horrifying Disease You Once Saw On TV
How would your baby even contract a parasite native to Sri Lanka when they've never left Minnesota, Karen? Give me that remote control! No more House marathons for you!
You're Just Going To Break Them In Some Way
Seriously, mamas I really do feel you. Babies are tiny. Babies cannot do a thing for themselves. We are responsible for every aspect of their wellbeing and, let's face it, a lot of us have never done this before. It's scary as hell and overwhelming.
But here's the beautiful thing: humans have been stumbling through parenting for about 200,000 years. We're still here. Honestly, the fact that you're worrying at all is a great indication that you're not as clueless as you think. You're conscientious and thinking about how to be the best parent you can be. You — and your baby — are going to be just fine.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.