No one talks about what a mother needs to do for herself when the baby is actually here. Sure, they tell you to sleep when the baby is sleeping, but is that really all that you need in order to survive this new journey of adjustments you’re about to embark on?
So many new moms dedicate all their energy to their newborn and neglect their own needs, myself included. There were days I felt like I didn’t have time to shower or to even eat. “I don’t have time.” I kept thinking to myself.
When you don’t take care of yourself physically and emotionally, you won’t have much energy to care for your newborn. You’ll find yourself more anxious and stressed, as well as less patient and happy.
Here are 10 tips that will help you survive these beautiful yet challenging months ahead:
1) GET OUT of the house and get some FRESH AIR & SUNLIGHT!
After having my baby, I was at home for 10 days. I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to step out into civilization. I was terrified of leaving her home and terrified of taking her out in the germ-infested world. But I did it. I wrapped her up, took the stroller out, and took her to the park to watch my husband’s football game. I came back home and felt so rejuvenated! Feeling the breeze outside and the sun shinning down helped me feel relaxed and melted away my stress. Sunshine gives us a boost of serotonin, a hormone that makes us happy and prevents depression! I came back home ready to tackle whatever a new mother had to.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that people who sat for at least 15 minutes in both the park/forest had a sense of feeling psychologically restored. Cortisol levels (stress hormone) significantly decreased in both nature-based settings.
A 2015 Stanford University study found that people taking a walk in a natural setting had decreased activity in the brain region associated with repetitive, negative thoughts which seems to be aiding as a weapon against depression.
2) Just NOD & SMILE
The "baby blues" are a less severe form of postpartum depression that cause mood swings and negative feelings. They affect 70-80% of women according to the American Pregnancy Association. The hormonal changes that occur after giving birth may produce a chemical in the brain that causes depression.
SO taking that into consideration, apparently everyone is an expert on YOUR baby. You find people telling you what the baby needs, what you should be doing, and what you're doing wrong. I remember this one time at an event, I had four people tell me my baby's feet were cold. "Aw poor baby, her feet are cold! You don't have any socks for her?" First off, it's 90 degrees outside, I think she's okay. And no, I didn't think of carrying socks with me. So here I am, getting more and more irritated as a new person mentions her feet. A part of me knows she's okay and another part feels like I'm neglecting my baby.
The point is, you're already emotional so it's very likely you'll get easily irritated, anxious and overwhelmed. You may begin to question everything you're doing. Just remember, you are the expert on your baby, trust YOUR instincts. People mean well and sometimes it's useful information, other times..well not so much. Listen to what they have to say and politely nod and smile.
3) Free mom support/lactation groups
It’s a wonderful reason to get out of the house with your little one and have a sense of community where moms are going through the same thing you are. These groups make you feel like you are NOT alone! Write down questions you have, things you’re unsure of doing, or anything at all! I remember one mom breaking down and crying because she only had 45 minutes of sleep every night for the past week. I felt bad for her but I felt SO grateful for being able to sleep 4 hours each night!
Nursing is especially hard, and Shady Grove Hospital has a wonderful free group that meet for support (if you gave birth there, if not there's a small fee) AND a 24/7 hotline! That woman became my best friend. You'll want to quit every single day, but it gets easier 6-8 weeks later!!
Depending on which pediatrician you choose for your child, they may have free classes/groups as well. For instance, I know Potomac Pediatrics has wonderful free support/classes for new parents.
4) Wear Pretty Pajamas
Sounds silly right? Think of how GOOD you feel and how your mood is ELEVATED when you dress up, have your hair done, or like the way you look one day. You are going to spend A LOT of time in your pajamas the first few weeks. Comfort is going to be a top priority. And if you’re nursing, you’ll want the baby to have easy access. You’ll have plenty of visitors and while you may not have time or feel like doing your hair/make-up, you’ll feel good about yourself if you’re dressed in some cute pajamas. But most importantly dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, in clothes that fit you at the time being.Feeling down about your body image affects your self-esteem—and your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It makes it hard to feel good about your self as a whole. Low self-esteem may even lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Something as simple as wearing cute pajamas can boost your self-esteem and brighten your day just a little!
5) Do something you’re good at!
BOOST your self-esteem and beat stress by doing something you’re good at! Concentrating on a hobby or activity can make you forget your worries for a bit and change your mood. So ask yourself...What activity could you lose yourself in? Cross word puzzles, painting, anything!
6) Eat, Eat, Eat!
I cannot begin to tell you how hard this becomes! I was so wrapped up in taking care of my newborn, that when I had a second to myself, the last thing I wanted to do was cook or think of what to eat. Hours into the day I’d finally think to myself, “Well, I really should find something to eat”.
Fill your refrigerator with pre-packed healthy snacks such as nuts, cheese, fresh fruits, yogurt, almond butter spread on sliced apples, baby carrots with hummus, and whatever else you enjoy!
The first two weeks or so WELCOME home-made meals from your loved ones! Cooking will be the last thing on your mind. When you’re ready, plan your menu AHEAD of time. When you plan and shop for your meals at the beginning of every week, you’ll be less likely to give in to quick fixes for dinner and you’ll feel less overwhelmed thinking of eating.
Stock your freezer up with double batch of dinner or whatever meal you can just pop in the oven for another day.
Mothers who aren’t eating healthy balanced meals, especially nursing moms can be at risk for anemia or vitamin deficiencies.
Nursing moms- ALWAYS have a water bottle ready wherever you end up nursing. I would be so parched mid-nursing session and disrupting your little one to get up to get water is the last thing you want to do.
7) Go out WITHOUT the baby just for an hour or two
In the beginning, I didn’t want to burden anyone with watching my newborn. But grandparents LOVE an opportunity for some snuggle time. And you know baby will be in good hands! Newborns need milk and someone to cuddle with. They won’t notice you’re gone for an hour or two! Go on a date with your spouse, put all the windows down in your car and just drive, walk aimlessly around target until they close (Never thought this would make me so happy), or whatever it is you use to do before having the baby! You will feel refreshed and ready to tackle that sleepless night ahead!
8) Do small things that brighten your day every day
Spend a few minutes each day doing something YOU love. Eat a piece of dark chocolate, read your favorite blog, listen to a podcast you like, meditate, breathe deeply, light a candle, think about happy times (your brain produces serotonin when you remember happy memories). That explains why we love reminiscing about old times. Do these little things as a reminder to have joy and feel calm.
9) Checklists to feel ACCOMPLISHED
When you’re at home all day with a newborn, you may feel like you’re not doing much. I KNOW people say, “How could you say that?? You’re raising a child!” But to me, I felt like I was getting NOTHING done like I use to, in return feeling unaccomplished.
Our brains release dopamine (connected to feelings of pleasure and motivation), when we experience any amount of success. The act of crossing off items from a checklist releases a small amount of dopamine that then fuels us to keep going! I seriously would put things like, do laundry, eat breakfast, make bed..This is especially important if you decide to stay at home with the little one.
10) Seek the help of a professional therapist
If the "baby blues" don't lessen within fourteen days, it could be a sign of a more serious condition such as postpartum depression according to APA. Symptoms of postpartum depression may include:
Worrying excessively about your baby
Loss of interest
Trouble sleeping or trouble staying awake
Loss of appetite or over eating
Repeatedly going over thoughts
or Difficulty bonding with the baby
You are NOT doing anything wrong if you experience postpartum depression or anxiety. Taking care of your health is a wonderful first step, but you should also seek help from a professional counselor. Your hormones are beginning to regulate after the birthing process. This takes energy and time and with the right guidance, understanding, and support, therapy is a wonderful resource.
A mom who is taking care of her mental health, physical health, and gets help when she realizes she isn't coping well, will be equipped to be the best mother she can be.
“Place the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping small children or others.” Announces the flight attendant. That message applies to your every day life! SO if we’re not taking care of our physical and mental needs, how can we be the best version of ourselves we can be for our newborn? So…go on… think of yourself!
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