Anxiety and a Tiny Baby: Questioning If My Baby is “Normal”

Moms who overthink like me, the struggle is real.

I know some of the struggles mothers face are probably universal, but there are times when those of us that tend to think compulsively are tormented by questions pertaining to the health and happiness of our children. Is my child eating enough? Does my child’s cough mean something more than just a moment of rough breathing? Is my baby’s head the right shape? Is the poop the right color and consistency? Her feet are cold, is that bad? Oh my gosh, he is making noises in his sleep — what does that mean?!

Lately, one of the concerns that has been plaguing my anxious mind is whether or not my son, Theo, is developing “normally.”

I use the word “normally” in quotes because the term is subjective. I am not saying I don’t believe in milestones (holding head up, rolling over, sitting up, smiling, et cetera), but it seems to be a commonly accepted notion that all babies develop differently. Still, I began to worry that my sweet son was not fully on target about a week ago.

I was at the doctor’s office with Theo when the woman next to me struck up a conversation, starting the way typical conversations with mommas holding newborns tend to, “How old is he?”

I told her that he was seventeen-weeks-old. Her response was one I usually hear: “Oh, he is tiny for his age!”

My lips pursed a bit.

It was clear that this woman was very kind, and in no way meant offense. (It turns out she, also, had a tiny baby that wore newborn size clothing until she was five months!) And, to be honest, saying my baby is tiny isn’t really an insult. It is true; he is tiny. He was born tiny at two weeks premature, weighing 5 pounds and 12 ounces. And I know he’s still tiny when I see my coworkers’ newborns that are roughly the same size of my four-month-old. Yes, Theo is a tiny boy.

Coincidentally, his size became the topic of conversation a second time, that same day, when I took him to the daycare at my gym for the first time (the fact that my gym offers cheap daycare is a blessing and, truly, one of the main reasons I decided to join this particular facility). The policy states that children need to be at least 10 weeks of age, which Theo is well beyond. When I met with the daycare employee, she made a comment that suggested she didn’t think he was over 10 weeks. I laughed it off (even though my anger was quietly piqued), stating that he was actually four-months-old.

Neither of these occurrences should have caused my feathers to ruffle. So he’s tiny. Big deal! But, as I mentioned earlier, I tend to obsess about issues pertaining to my child. And sometimes, our anxiety can get the best of us, causing panic when would should, instead, reflect on our emotions to find the root cause of our distress (I know, trying to reflect and reveal inner truths when you’ve only had four hours of sleep and a granola bar to eat all day is easier said than done).

Fortunately, it dawned on me as to why these conversations seemed to strike a newly formed cord deep inside my brain: maybe my son was not developing “normally.”

If you have ever questioned your child’s development, especially while sleep deprived, you may have felt concerned, anxious, depressed, or even nauseous. I began to have these feelings as I started to think that my son was somehow not as healthy as other babies his age. I began to question whether his size would affect him when he was older. Oh no, will his size be a target for bullies when he starts school? I also started to veer down that path we sometimes take when we feel we are somehow to blame for our child’s shortcomings. Was his size a result of him being two weeks early? Was that my fault?

After my initial pity party (which, by the way, I think it is totally normal to have once in a while, even if you are both the guest of honor and the only attendee), I had to take a moment to pull away from my anxiety and look at this situation objectively.

Honestly, Theo has seen his pediatrician several times and his size has not been discussed as a problem in months (it was only a concern when he was born because he was losing weight). But, sometimes, even a doctor’s “ok” is not enough. As mothers (and fathers) it is our responsibility to raise our children lovingly, to keep them healthy and safe. And sometimes, the constant concern as to whether our children are developing into healthy and happy people can lead us to believe that we are not doing enough to ensure that success. Self doubt, even for those that do not already suffer from anxiety, can be crippling.

So, what do we do? To be honest, I wish I had the perfect answer for you. I wish I could provide you with a website, a book, or an app that would help sort out all your anxieties about parenting — providing straightforward answers that would appear unanimous across the Google search results.

What I can do, however, is tell you what I try to tell myself. You can sometimes be your biggest enemy, sabotaging all the great things you are doing (and have done) for your child by thinking it is not enough. You can also sometimes allow fear to engulf your day-to-day instead of appreciating the joys of motherhood by loving your child for everything he or she is. And even though it is difficult at times to do so, it is important to try to show gratitude for what you have and show acceptance for the way things are (let’s face it, you can’t control everything in life and trying to do so can drive you nuts).

As for my little guy, I love him with all of my being. And I know that he is growing, just as I am growing as a mother, with a love that will always continue to “develop normally.”