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Baby Cries, Mom Stresses Out

Motherhood is a joyous messy struggle, and it's not easy. Just ask any mother who has listened to a Barney song 151 times or pulled bubble gum off the cat. CBS News Correspondent Tracy Smith kicks off a three-part series on The Early Show about the stresses of motherhood.

According to the Geneva Conventions, sleep deprivation is an acceptable form of torture. Whoever came up with that must have been a mother, because during the first few months of an infant's life, mama is generally operating on her very last nerve.

It's hard to imagine the tempest in Joseph Jr.'s tiny body, but in the six weeks since he was born, Heather Mikucki, first-time mom, has had quite a lesson in shock and awe.

Her dream of being a mother was nothing like the one she is experiencing.

She says, "I think that if any of us thought it was going to be like this, we might have a smaller population."

Mikucki's life has changed dramatically overnight. Her hormones are raging, and Joseph Jr., adorable No. 1 son, is a 24-hour baby.

She notes, "He was up at 2 in the morning; 4 in the morning; 6 in the morning; 8 in the morning; and I don't know why."

According to nearly every study, the biggest stressor for new moms is lack of sleep, making the first few months shaky and surreal.

Jessica Shapley, director of Momsupport.org, explains, "The sleep deprivation clouds everything. Your sadness is sadder. Your confusion is more confusing. Your fears are scary."

Mikucki says, "You're not asleep; you're not awake; you're too tired to function, but you're not tired enough to go to sleep right away, and you're constantly in the in-between."

Add to that the sound of a baby crying, between one and six hours every day, on average about 4,000 times before the age of 2.

Mikucki says, "We would sit there and go, 'What is the matter? Just tell me! Why can't you tell me? Can't tell me, I can't help you.'"

Shapley notes, "When given the chance to sleep or rest, do it. Leave the dishes in the sink; leave the paperwork on the table. You need to recharge; you won't have it in you for the next three hours."

Experts say it is imperative for new mothers to get some help to preserve some semblance of physical and mental health.

Mikucki is lucky that her mom and sister are close, and her husband, Joseph, who works in real estate, can be home to help out.

"We had some rough nights," Joseph Mikucki says, pointing out that life has not been easy for the couple. "We screamed at each other."

So the baby is screaming, Dad is screaming, Mom is screaming, everybody's screaming.

Joseph Mikucki notes, "He pees on me; I yell at her; and she yells; and we're all flipping out, trying to figure out what to do, and this is all at 3:30 in the morning."

New parents have hundreds of things to figure out, and frequently worry that they're doing something wrong.

Heather Mikucki says, "I'm sure we're going to do something to mess up his life in some way."

One major decision was whether to breastfeed. Heather Mikucki was sure it was the best thing for her baby, but suddenly that wasn't working out.

She says, "When we first came home, I was in so much pain from it that I wouldn't go near the baby. And then, I started resenting the fact that he would wake up and cause me pain. And then, I got mad at myself for thinking such things, and it's not the baby's fault. And then, the whole hormonal guilt. It all just started tumbling. And then it was: 'This isn't working. If this isn't working, what else can I do?'"

Guilt and frustration are common with new moms and can cause serious stress. Experts say: Calm down and let it go.

Shapley says, "Forgive yourself for not being perfect and know your baby's going to be OK."

Despite the feeling that nothing is going well, new moms are equipped with systems that protect them. Studies have shown the hormone oxytocin, which promotes relaxation, is released when a mother holds her baby close.

Dr. Kathy Light, psychiatry professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explains, "Our studies have shown she has lower stress hormones; she has lower blood pressure.

"Hold the baby close; rub that tummy; rub that fat little arm and get as much skin contact as you can; and that will engage the maximum oxytocin response, and hopefully fill you with that sense of mellowness and relaxation."

Heather Mikucki agrees, "No matter how stressed he makes us, you sit down; you hold him; and he just looks at you. And you could sit there and go, 'OK. This isn't so bad.'"

And that makes it all worth it.

"It does," Heather Mikucki says. "It definitely does."

Get help; get sleep; take it easy. Know that this too shall pass. And remember: It's not your fault that your baby is crying.