Taking care of YOU while learning to care for your new baby.
“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born.
She never existed before.
The woman existed, but the mother, never.
A mother is something absolutely new.”
I love that quote because it is filled with so much grace for new moms.
Did you know that having a baby is one of the most stressful life events that you might go through alongside things like the death of a spouse and moving house? Having your first baby completely changes everything about your life.
EVERYTHING (even your name – you shall now be called insert baby name’s mom – I wish I was joking on this one.)
Between the sleepless nights and feeds and diaper changes, you, as a mom, can start to feel frazzled, lost and desperate. It’s not a good place to be and though tiredness is part of being a new mom, there are ways to take care of yourself, because…
And you know what?
Taking care of yourself will make you a better (and happier!) mom, the kind of mom you want your child to remember.
So don’t for one moment even dare to think that it’s selfish to take care of yourself, okay?
Your physical well-being
You need to sleep.
Okay, you can stop laughing now.
It feels impossible doesn’t it? It is most likely that your night time sleep will be seriously interrupted during the first few months; that is a very real part of parenting a newborn.
And it stinks.
So how do you get that much needed rest so that you can function like a partial human being rather than a mommy zombie?
You do the best you can. Try the following, figure out what works for you and then make it a priority because it is virtually impossible to feel ok if you are continually sleep-deprived.
- Nap at least once during the day while baby sleeps
- Go to bed early
- Ask a friend or family member to come watch the baby for a while so you can nap
- Ask baby’s dad to handle one of the night feeds (either with expressed milk or a bottle of formula milk) so that you can have a longer stretch of sleep.
- Try to get baby in a routine around the 6-8 week mark so that your night time feeds become regular (twice a night is reasonable around this age).
You need to eat.
“Yes! I like this one!” you’re thinking to yourself.
You need to eat for sustained energy especially if you’re breastfeeding a little boobie-monster. Try to eat foods that don’t cause spikes in your blood sugar (which will ultimately leave you feeling even more drained). This is what we suggest:
- Limit high sugar-content foods and refined carbs (please still enjoy treats and your favourite things, you’ve earned them!)
- Eat regularly (keep snacks handy in your diaper bag if you go out)
- Eat nutrient-dense foods – one of the best ways to take care of yourself is to take care of what you give your body in the form of nutrition. Eat whole foods such as fresh fruit, nuts, vegetables and healthy proteins. What you eat can affect you far more than you would think. Be kind to your body, give it what it needs. If you’re breastfeeding you have an even greater reason to eat well.
- Eat proper meals – while snacking is important, eating balanced meals needs to be part of your lifestyle too. This also has a wonderful social element to it; there is something refreshing about sharing a meal with someone. If cooking is too much of a challenge in the crazy newborn stage then find ways to work around this, wait until your husband is home from work and handle it then or cook in bulk when you do have a chance etc.
- Avoid dieting in the first few months after having a baby. Your body has been through an incredible amount over the last year from conceiving to morning sickness to squashed organs (and bladder – yikes!) and then of course, birth! You need to heal, your body is sleep-deprived and you might be establishing a breast-milk supply, your hormones have been playing on a rollercoaster and you have every reason in the book to give your body time to settle. If the baby weight is bugging you then eat well (healthily) and slowly start exercising again.
Listen to your body, it’ll let you know when it’s ready.
You need to shower
It’s amazing how a lovely hot shower (or relaxing bath) and clean clothes can refresh you when you’re a new mom. While it’s tempting to stay in your PJ’s all day long (and there will be days when you do – no judgement here) I strongly recommend finding a way to have a daily shower.
Now, I’ve experienced this and other moms agree; stepping into the shower triggers a switch in your head that plays a not-so-beautiful melody of a baby crying in the distance. I found it almost impossible to shower in peace if I was at home alone with the baby.
So, I made a plan every day to shower while my husband was around – best decision ever! I got to actually enjoy my shower and as they say, when you’re a new mom, a 15 minute shower is as good as a day at the spa (maybe not quite, but we’ll take it!)
I know it sounds silly given that you’re home so much of the time in the early days but putting on some make-up and pulling my hair into a bun reminded me that I was still a lady, not just a mommy, it was a pick-me-up when days were long and nights even longer. Look nice for you, it’ll cheer you up. Sometimes I even got a bit wild and gave myself a pedi!
You need to love your body
This is a tough one. I remember standing in front of the mirror when my baby was a week old and crying – sure I was tired, hormonal and not quite myself but the fact is, I didn’t like how my body looked. I felt ugly, scarred and overweight. And I was scared. Scared that I’d lost a part of me that I’d never get back.
Most of us are our own worst critics (and worst enemies too) so I want to encourage you dear mom. Your body will heal, stretch marks fade and the weight comes off (slowly sometimes but it did take 9 months to put it all on).
Be gentle on yourself.
A miracle took place in your body and it grew a human being! An actual human being!
Your body rocks!
Pamper yourself; luxurious baths and indulgent body cream, a new haircut can do wonders too. And whatever you do, dear mom, put clothes on before standing in front of the mirror – trust me on that one.
And just so you know, most men don’t care a bit about a little loose skin or white lines on your belly, you made them a dad!
You need to move.
There are these wonderful little critters called endorphins and boy do they make you feel good!
Gentle exercise can do wonders for new moms, it often involves leaving the house and getting in some sunshine (hooray for vitamin D!) by taking baby for a walk in the stroller which alone can lift your spirits. I also loved wandering through the mall and browsing in the various stores around the hustle and bustle of other people and with a delicious café mocha in my stroller cup-holder (I wore my sunglasses so I felt glamorous and no one could spot the dark rings under my eyes – fabulous!)
This will also make you feel like you’re taking care of you!
Not so keen to leave the house?
No problem – I loved pre and postnatal yoga workouts that I had on a DVD. It was a gentle and effective way to get my body moving and the breathing was so relaxing.
Figure out what works for you, take your personality into account and involve your partner if you can, but do it. Trust me.
You’re worth some of your own energy!
Quick side note: Check with your doc first, especially after a c-section, they usually recommend taking it very easy for the first 6 weeks.
You need to enjoy your environment
Ok, so you’re stuck at home a lot in the beginning and you know what?
It can get boring!
Depending on what you did or where you worked before baby arrived it can be quite a shock and you can easily feel isolated and a bit miserable at home all day.
This is what I suggest:
- Stock up on favorite TV series (chilling in front of the TV while baby sleeps on your chest or while you’re feeding can be pretty relaxing) and it’s something you can enjoy. I especially loved doing this during baby’s growth spurts/feeding marathons.
- Invite people over for tea (people you feel relaxed around and who don’t mind the house being a bit untidy – we like these people!)
- Enjoy music? Play your favorite albums as white noise for baby and enjoyment for yourself or keep the radio on (hearing news headlines will remind you that life is carrying on as normal out there and you’re still connected).
Your social well-being
The isolation of new motherhood was the biggest challenge for me. The most effective way to combat this was to connect with others in my life and keep my relationships alive.
Connect with your partner
My son was about 3 weeks old when it hit me.
I missed my husband.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was available and an amazing hands-on dad, but with the addition of our little person, the sleepless nights that followed his arrival and the constant attention he needed from us, we had very little chance to connect.
And it really got me down. At times we argued and were short-tempered and irritable with each other – this is totally normal by the way, you are both EXHAUSTED and overwhelmed. Move past these squabbles as quickly as you can and decide in advance to choose to think the best of the other person. Not easy but it helps a lot.
Going on dates without baby wasn’t really possible for us then, so we had to be creative and find ways to connect in the crazy of it all. And we did.
- Less time on our phones
- watching movies on the couch while cuddling our little one
- cups of coffee in bed after a rough night (might be as romantic as it gets in the first couple of months – that’s okay)
- talking and being open and honest about the changes we were experiencing.
Your man might be battling and missing you too, in fact some men feel jealous of the attention the new baby gets from mom; spend time on your relationship, it’s worth it. Promise.
Connect with others
There is something so comforting about knowing you’re not alone in something. That’s the wonderful thing about finding some “mommy” friends. Ladies who “get it” – who understand the exhaustion and can share a laugh over an explosive diaper incident. The other bonus to this is that your little ones will most likely become playmates in the long-run if you maintain the friendships.
Right, so where do we find these moms?
- Some hospitals have mom support get-togethers
- Baby classes
- Prenatal classes (don’t forget those big-bellied ladies will pop about the same time as you)
- Churches often run a moms and babies weekly catch-up group
Stay in touch with your old friends, the ones you had before Junior came along. Getting together with them will allow you to be part of conversations that don’t involve diaper rash or spit up. It’s refreshing and it’ll allow you to be YOU, a break away from mommy-hood, just for a bit.
No man is an island and no new mom is one either (although some of us feel as big as one after pregnancy – sigh!), having friends and connecting with other moms who lift you up and encourage you can be a beautiful thing.
Your emotional well-being
Develop a support system
You’ve never been a mom before and there are so many things to consider and decisions to make that it can easily get overwhelming. You’re bombarded with information from all directions (especially on social media), even random strangers spew forth instructions and approaches, so how do you know what to try or which way to go?
This is where a support system can be really helpful. I was once given the best advice EVER. I was told to choose 2 people and 2 books.
Choose two ladies (fellow moms) who have been there and done that, people you trust, whose personalities are similar to yours (please don’t forget to consider this!) and ask them if they’d be willing to mentor/support you as you find your way in the crazy world of parenting.
Then choose two parenting books, carefully. Books that give you ideas on things like feeding, sleeping, routines, milestones and how to handle issues that arise.
So, when you find yourself overwhelmed or confused you can either chat to a mom you trust or pick up one of your books and do some reading.
What about what everyone else says?
Nod and smile and then do whatever you feel is best, feeling secure that your support system won’t let you down. Make decisions that work for your family. You are unique, your needs are unique and you are the best person to make decisions for your growing family.
Your personal well-being
What do you love to do?
Read, write, bake, paint, dance, sew? If you have a hobby, try to keep at it. Even if you only get to it once a week, don’t stop! Keep your interests alive, they’re a part of you and when your whole world feels like it’s turned upside-down it can be soothing and reassuring to come back to an “old friend.”
You know what’s also really cool about this? Your child will grow up witnessing you using your gifts and talents and that might spark his/her interest in developing a skill. Pass on your love for art or music or books to your kid and then enjoy them together as he/she grows.
I hope the above ideas help you to take care of YOU as you grow as a mom. You are a strong and capable woman, your body has grown and birthed another human being, be gentle on yourself and remember when things get crazy and you don’t know how to keep going…
This too, shall pass.
And, you’re not alone.