"Put your mask on first before assisting others.”
We’ve been told this countless times. Yet, society has very different expectations once women become mothers. We go through 40 weeks of pregnancy where we are advised on what to eat, when to rest, to practice prenatal yoga, to see care providers regularly, to drink enough water, to learn breathing techniques, to capture all of the moments, to journal our feelings — the list goes on. It’s the ultimate time of self-care in many ways, also known as putting our masks on before assisting others.
Once the baby comes, it’s a different story. Going from “pregnant princess to postpartum peasant” is the reality for most women. All attention, energy and resources are now focused on the baby.
A new baby deserves the absolute best care, of course, but so does the woman who has just experienced pregnancy, labor and birth. And is now transitioning into motherhood. There is a lot of healing to do, physically and mentally. Self-care with a newborn is extremely hard to practice, and can come with guilt and judgment from others. It can be overwhelming, but practicing self-care is imperative to your own well-being and can greatly affect your motherhood journey in a positive way.
All new mothers should practice these postpartum self-care tips to ease the transition and to combat feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression, exhaustion and stress.
STAY CONNECTED TO FRIENDS
Friendships can protect us from depression, anxiety and disease. A 2006 breast cancer study found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. Having face-to-face contact with other people releases oxytocin, which counters stress and makes us happier.
HAVE QUALITY TIME FOR YOURSELF
What makes you happy? What fills your cup? Do it. Do it often and do it guilt-free.
MOVE YOUR BODY
There are countless benefits of exercise including feeling happier, losing weight, gaining strength, increasing energy levels, aiding with relaxation and sleep, reducing pain, promoting a better sex life and decreasing stress and tension. In the immediate postpartum period, it is imperative to listen to your care provider and to do your research on best practices for postpartum exercise. Also, listen to your body, and be patient and kind to yourself.
There’s a biological reason why babies do not sleep through the night, which means you are not sleeping through the night. Yet, sleep is insanely important. Instead of worrying about your to-do list throughout the day, take mini-naps instead. Different length naps can have different benefits. Even a 10 minute nap can work wonders.
JOIN A MOTHER’S GROUP
You might have a million girlfriends, but knowing women who are in the same stage of motherhood are a game changer. Motherhood can be isolating, both physically and emotionally. A mother’s group can bring much needed understanding, support and a sense of community that you can count on.
SPEND TIME OUTDOORS:
Science has found that spending time outdoors can reduce inflammation, eliminate fatigue, keep depression and anxiety at bay, lower blood pressure, boost your immune system and has a de-stressing effect — all of which a mother needs. Take some deep breaths while you’re there.
ASK FOR HELP
Motherhood is a team sport. We are not meant to do it alone. Ask for the help you need. This also includes hiring and outsourcing. The old school village no longer exists and it’s ok to build a modern-day one.
PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU’RE PUTTING IN AND ON YOUR BODY
Food has the power to heal, and it also has the power to harm. Pay attention to how food is making you feel and make changes as necessary. If something continues to feel off, ask your doctor to run labs to check your levels. Remember that what you put on your body is being absorbed through your skin and lungs. Make sure to use products without the use of toxic ingredients and fragrances. Chemicals, toxins and hormones found in food and in beauty, hair and skin products can have a negative impact on mood and health.
It’s easy to stare at the clock when you’re dealing with extremely long days, feedings, nap schedules, loneliness and sleepless nights. Do your best to throw expectations out the window and focus on the moment. Practicing mindfulness and avoiding multitasking, can make us much more at peace with “balancing” all roles.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by your role as a mother and the thought of adding in self-care can be daunting. Do what you can; pick and choose options that work for you. Baby steps. These tools are available to you, and for the most part, are free.
If you need more encouragement and are still feeling guilty about practicing self-care, remember that you are setting the example for your children. You want your children to value and respect him or herself, to take deep breaths when they need, to move their bodies, to eat healthy food, to share their feelings and to rest. It starts with you.
Lastly, postpartum mood and anxiety disorders can be very serious. Please seek professional help if needed. You are not alone.