The days, weeks and months following the birth of your baby can be some of the most joyful, stressful, loving and overwhelming you’ll ever experience. The array of thoughts and emotions that abound during this unique and special time can feel like a roller coaster ride. Amidst the new responsibilities and topsy-turvy emotions, how can a new mom take care of herself on top of taking care of a brand new baby? It may sound impossible, but practicing self-care is truly one of the best ways to stay healthy and happy as you transition into this new role and relationship. After all, caring for your baby includes caring for you.
Before determining how to practice self-care in the midst of baby-care, the first thing to figure out is what self-care means to you. Self-care looks different for everyone. One mom might love a hot bath with essential oils and Epsom salt. For another mom, what fills her up and helps her come back into a state of ease is meeting a friend for coffee or tea at the local café. Self-care can take five minutes or a couple hours. It really is up to you. It’s anything that you can do daily or weekly that either relaxes you, calms you, lifts your spirits, energizes you, or supports you in some way. It is something that generally helps you to feel better—physically, mentally and/or emotionally. Below is a list of four self-care tips that will support you during the postpartum period. Give them a try and see which ones help you reduce stress and increase feelings of ease.
Ask for what you need. I teach prenatal yoga every week. At the end of our class we all rest in savasana (final relaxation). As the women set up for their time of rest and relaxation, I offer eye pillows, bolsters, blankets etc. Anything to make that time more comfortable and enjoyable. I find that the women are hesitant to ask for what they need or want in order to support themselves in this posture. I joke with them and tell them that this is the perfect opportunity for them to practice asking for what they need before the baby arrives. You are not Superwoman (shocker, I know!). In the postpartum period you will need extra support: help with breastfeeding, preparing meals, cleaning, shopping, making time to eat and sleep, etc. Please don’t expect people (especially your partner) to be mind-readers and know exactly what you need. Ask for support. Your loved ones will be happy to help you during this special and unique time in your life. If you can’t find support, there are many services out there. It will be an investment, but one that will be well worth it, even if it’s only one time or for a short period of time. If you can, set some of these things up before your baby arrives. Asking for what you need is you practicing essential self-care. And it’s not just for you—it’s for your baby!
- Journal. Whether you like writing or not, keeping a small gratitude journal is an extremely beneficial practice. Each day, write a list (as long or short as you’d like) of all that you feel grateful for in that moment. Having an “attitude of gratitude” can enhance your overall wellbeing, especially your mental and emotional health. You can write out your feelings of gratitude in a narrative form or using bullet points. If you’re unable to write them down in a journal, keep a growing list in your “notes” on your phone. Alternately, you can make a routine of taking a few moments each day to bring a few things to mind that you feel grateful for. More and more research is showing the positive effects of incorporating a gratitude practice into your life.
- Move your body. Each and every day move your body, even if only a little bit. You don’t have to go to the gym, nor should you in the first six to eight weeks after giving birth. However, there are many benefits to moving your body, not only for physical wellbeing, but also for mental and emotional health. After you get the okay from your doctor or midwife, begin moving your body. As with anything, determine what feels best for you and your body when it comes to exercise. Postnatal yoga, walking (pushing a stroller), postnatal exercise videos, etc. Whatever feels best for you, be sure to incorporate more movement into your days. This will help to increase your “feel good” hormones and reduces depression, anxiety and lethargy. One other idea for moving your body is to reconnect with your partner. You will both feel the pressures of being new parents. Give yourselves time to connect and slowly introduce sex back into your relationship.
- Snack throughout the day. After giving birth you may feel ravenous, especially if you are breastfeeding, but you might find yourself having trouble finding the time or energy to prep a meal. I used to feel so hungry that I would have to keep snacks next to my bed so that I could eat in the middle of the night. Eating nutrient-dense snacks throughout the day (and night, if needed), will help to keep your blood sugar levels even, and that will help prevent mood swings. For some ideas, try nuts, seeds, trail mix, veggies and hummus, an apple with nut or seed butter and smoothies. Ideally your snacks will contain a combination of carbohydrates, fat and protein.
Once you determine which self-care practices support you the most, use them often. Schedule them into your calendar or write them down on a sticky note if you have to. Even if it’s only for five minutes, having a self-care practice for the rest of your life will help you maintain a state of ease. You will more quickly and easily let go of tension and constriction in your body. Knowing that life is ever-changing (especially when you become a parent), having a cache of self-care habits will help you to ride the waves of life more confidently, allowing you to quickly find balance when the ups and downs occur.
Ultimately, we cannot protect ourselves or our babies from every upsetting thing in life. However, feeling your best and bringing yourself back into balance ultimately supports you in being the best mom you can be. In this way, self-care and baby care are one and the same—so make that time, Mama. (And close the door on any guilt that comes knocking!)