Natural born worriers

A little bit of worrying is not a bad thing for a new parent since it keeps you on the ball: the trick is not to lose perspective.

Are you freaking out about every little thing? Scared you are the only one? Relax, you aren’t. Go to any online parenting or pregnancy forum and, amid the joys of parents, you will find a litany of worry and fear. It’s enough to send anyone’s stress levels soaring.

Room temperature, bath temperature, your baby’s temperature, the occasional glass of wine you had while you were pregnant, that glass you had just before you breast-fed your baby, the amount of time you hold him, and the amount you talk to him.

These are just some of the things new parents stress about. And then there are the really big worries: dropping him, falling down the stairs with him, letting him slip in the bath, loving him enough; and what if he stops breathing at night, gets sick, or develops autism?

Many women worry about changing relationships—will their partner feel left out?
Will they be able to love their new baby?

You may feel like you are scaring yourself senseless by letting your mind reel like this, but be reassured that worry, pregnancy, and parenthood go hand in hand. A 2003 study suggested that 65 percent of new parents find themselves obsessing about potential harm to their babies. And, in fact, as any new parent will tell you, pregnancy itself is just the start of a lifetime of worry. But the flip side is, it is also the start of an incredibly rewarding twoway relationship, and worry is just a necessary facet of parental love.

So, worrying in new parents is common. But why do we do it? According to a study published in Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Review, 2011, scaring yourself as a new parent may in fact be an evolutionary hangover from our ancient past, when pregnancy and early childhood—vulnerable times even today—were positively hazardous.

In those days, very real threats came from infectious disease, violence, and accidents. Some psychologists suggest that our brains and hormones change during parenthood to make us vigilant in a way that will protect our babies; although occasionally in the modern day this can slip into overdrive, causing clinical anxiety.

Every parent feels their baby is special, but as far as nature goes human babies really are. No other animal devotes as much energy and time to an individual offspring.
The sheer amount of effort we invest in our children means that each one is precious, so it makes sense that we would evolve strategies to protect them.

Natural born worriers

Modern-day studies of hunter–gatherer tribes show that disease is one of the greatest threats to babies. A 2007 study of a traditional Venezuelan tribe showed the death rate due to “congenital problems,” many of which develop in pregnancy, and disease in newborns was 30 percent each. If these societies are reflective of our ancestral way of living, then our parental drive to worry is not misplaced.

Behavioral changes seen in pregnant women the world over, such as nesting and fussing about food and cleanliness, may occur for good reason: to protect the unborn child from pathogens. Likewise, studies suggest that pregnant women may steer clear of unhealthy-looking individuals, possibly to avoid catching anything harmful.

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