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The myths and realities of new parenthood

Becoming a parent is seen as a joyful and natural life event. But the reality is often very different.

Mum bottle feeding baby

We absorb images and stories on social media and advertising, which can result in an unrealistic picture of families - perfect mums, dads, couples and parents who are hands on and always present, babies who are easy to manage and lives which are fulfilled and perfect.

We know that many new parents come to parenting with certain expectations of themselves as parents, and how parenting will look in their new family. Sometimes symptoms of postnatal anxiety and depression can develop when the shock of unmet expectations or adjusting to your new reality feels overwhelming and stressful.

In the early days and weeks of life with a new baby, parents need to learn new skills including nappy changing, breast or bottle feeding, and “settling” a crying baby, all while being sleep deprived.

Birth mums are recovering from labour, childbirth and/or caesarean delivery. Primary carer parents find they need to re-orient their lives around their baby, at least in the short term. And partnered parents confront a changed dynamic in their relationship and the need to accommodate a third family member.

Common myths of parenthood

  • Mothers should be calm, grateful and confident.
  • Mothering is intuitive and comes naturally.
  • Childbirth is to be embraced and celebrated in its entirety.
  • Mothers bond with their baby immediately.
  • A mother is selfish if she expresses her own needs.
  • A good mother is always available to her child.
  • Couples always agree on approaches to parenting.
  • Birthing a healthy baby brings closure to all prior pregnancy related losses.

Realities of parenthood

  • Being a parent is a challenging and stressful job that involves long hours and little respite.
  • It can take many weeks for a new mother or father to bond with their baby.
  • Motherhood is not simply instinctive; a woman learns how to parent over time.
  • Couples can often experience unexpected differences in core parenting values and approaches, and this can sometimes cause conflict and tension.
  • The birth of a new baby can often reactivate past trauma and feelings of loss and grief.

Helpful Information

Parents on playmat with baby
Connecting with your baby
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Mum breastfeeding on the couch
Adjusting to the challenges of parenthood
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Mental health checklist

How are you going?

Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting is unique and brings different rewards and challenges. Our mental health checklist can help you to see if what you’re experiencing or observing in a loved one could be reason to seek help.

Checklist for

Expecting Mums
Expecting Dads and Non-birth Parents
New Mums
New Dads and Non-birth Parents
Partners and Carers

Myths about bonding with your baby

One of the most common myths about parenting is that mothers will bond with their baby instantly and naturally. At PANDA we even hear many women tell us that while they were pregnant they heard that this could happen, but they never thought it might be a problem for them.

The truth is, your baby is a little person that you need to get to know and form a relationship with, just like anyone else. This can take time.Sometimes new mums who are overwhelmed and exhausted are disappointed that they’re not having that ‘wow’ moment they have anticipated for so long.

We know some women also develop difficult feelings if they believe their partners are bonding more quickly with their baby. This can include guilt for not feeling more strongly about the little one, resentment towards the partner, or sadness that they are not feeling something they thought they would.

Many new mums and dads come to parenting focussing strongly on the first few weeks, expecting everything to happen at once. It’s important to remember feelings of love and strong bonding with the baby can sometimes take time to develop. And that the baby’s well-being will not be negatively impacted if it does take time.

Connecting with your baby

Understanding myths

As a new parent, it’s important to understand your own definition of what a ‘good enough’ parent looks like. Being aware that you might have had ideas and expectations of how you would be as a parent, and understanding why, can help you make sense of your reactions if things don’t turn out how you expected.

In the same way, if you can understand that many of the beliefs you held before becoming a parent are actually myths, it can help prevent those misconceptions from negatively affecting your views of yourself as a new mum or dad.

If the gap between your expectations and the reality of parenthood is negatively affecting your emotional and mental wellbeing and impacting your day-to-day functioning, then it’s time to seek help from PANDA or a trusted health professional.

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Talk with friends or family

Consider talking about how you are feeling with someone you trust. This might be a friend or family member. Once you starting talking you might be surprised at how many others have had similar experiences and the support they can provide you.

Talk with your doctor

Talking with your doctor can be an important step to getting the help you need. They should be able to give you non-judgemental support, assessment, diagnosis, and ongoing care and treatment. They can also refer you to specialists such as a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Get help now

If you are having suicidal thoughts or are feeling disorientated it’s important to get help immediately. PANDA is not a crisis service, if you need immediate support call Lifeline 13 11 14 (24/7).

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Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting is unique and brings different rewards and challenges. Our mental health checklist can help you to see if what you’re experiencing or observing in a loved one could be a reason to seek help.