Lists of self-care tips for new moms may seem obvious, but when dealing with a new baby, moms often forget to take care of themselves too. After having my son, it seemed so easy to address his needs first and put mine on hold. However, I soon felt depleted because the demands of mothering don't stop.
Psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz uses a perfect analogy: “You have to put on your oxygen mask first. If you go to pieces, everyone is going down with you. So you have to give time to yourself. That is healthy, not selfish or narcissistic. That is a tough concept for a lot of women.”
Not only is it hard to remember to make time for yourself, but it sometimes feels impossible to find that time. Even if it’s just 5, 10, or 15 minutes, I encourage every mom (no matter how old her kids) to stop, take a breath, and work towards finding her center.
Bask in the Healing Power of the Shower
Having a loved one watch the baby for 30 minutes so you can soak in the tub or take a leisurely shower has a profound effect on your ability to relax. Add plants, aromatherapy, relaxing nature sounds, or candles to create a spa-like atmosphere in your bathroom. Sometimes a quick shower is all you need to feel human again; I kept a bouncer in the bathroom so I could sneak in just to wash my hair when no one was available to watch my son.
Find Sanctuary and Solitude
We spend so much time setting up the nursery we forget to carve out space for ourselves. Find a cozy nook in your home where you can unwind; a fireplace, fountain, bird feeder, or fish tank can produce soothing natural sounds that distract you from worry. A new chair or desk enhances comfort and a defined sense of “place.” Locations with plants and natural lighting are ideal for relaxation.
The beach has always be a place of comfort and peace for me, and when my older son was a baby we lived close enough that I could go walk in the sand every day. Watching the waves roll in has always kept me centered; it reminds me that no matter how life changes, some things are constant, like the tides, and the waves, and the sand beneath our feet. There is a sameness, a familiarity; even though this wave is new, I've been here before. The comfort of the beach is like an old familiar friend.
Assemble Your Village
Whoever said “it takes a village to raise a child” was exactly right. While multigenerational homes and close-knit communities aren’t typical in modern society, the best thing you can do for your family is build your support system.
After the hubbub of the delivery and everyone wanting to meet your baby, it’s natural to want quite time together as a new family. Once you’ve spent a few days (or weeks) getting familiar with the ins and outs of first time motherhood, reach out to your friends, family, coworkers, or neighbors. Most of your loved ones will happily donate their time or resources for a few baby snuggles.
Since I’m blessed to live next door to my sister and her family, we frequently share cooking and childcare responsibilities, which helps alleviate the day to day stress of parenthood. There’s a saying that your siblings and cousins are your first friends, and I love that my sister and I get to watch our kids play together.
Let your mother-in-law bring dinner one day a week to free you from cooking. Ask neighbors to help mow the lawn or shovel your driveway. Call a friend to grab a few items from the store for you, run a load of laundry, or take your dog for a walk. Hire a postpartum doula to assist with childcare and help you feel more confident about breastfeeding.
Take an Adventure
It’s so easy to let your world shrink to the confines of your home after having a baby. Schedule time with your friends to get out of the house: grab a cup of coffee, get pedicures, have dinner, walk in the park, or see a movie. Make your time together a ritual, so it doesn’t fall by the wayside.
If your baby enjoys rides in the car or stroller, use that time to explore. Head off on a day trip with your partner, find a place you’ve never been or always wanted to see.
Plan a date night together: get all dolled up and go to a fancy (or not so fancy) restaurant. (Try The Angelina Nursing Gown for a comfortable transition from nursing at home to looking beautiful and poised in public.)
Or venture out alone. Leave the baby home with your partner and take a few hours once a week to go somewhere you WANT to go: a book reading, play, museum, or park.
Pursue a Passion with Your Partner
Our lives are so busy and full it’s easy to forget to focus on our relationships on autopilot. Healthy relationships take work, time, and intention. Resentment is quick to surface if you and your partner stop communicating, especially about the individual qualities you love about each other.
Psychologist Melanie Schilling says, "…find an activity [you] can do together that celebrates shared values." Maybe you love cooking, so you plan to make a “real” dinner together once a week, or you enjoy exercise so you learn a new sport together. Even committing to a screen-free night to focus on each other can make a huge difference.
When I first started designing nursing pajamas and bras, I was thrilled to have my husband join me in building the company. His belief in me and our products bolstered my confidence, and it was a pleasure to see how his insights strengthened our goals.
Reclaim Your Day
Herbert Benson, MD has conducted extensive research into what he calls the “relaxation response.” It shows that regularly engaging in a hobby—knitting, playing music, meditating, or “anything that breaks the train of everyday thought”—can induce anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes that combat stress in the body.
Allow yourself time to play. While it can be tempting to use the time when your baby sleeps to catch up on household chores, you can also take a few of those minutes to catch up on reading, work in the garden, play with pets, bake, sew, paint, dance, sing, or any other number of things you may enjoy. Reserving time to do things you loved before baby helps keep you whole, so you can be at your best.
Take Care of Your Body
Remember Dr. Saltz’ analogy: “You have to put on your oxygen mask first. If you go to pieces, everyone is going down with you.” Your postpartum body is still going through all sorts of changes so you need to take good care of yourself.
Eat: You may be eager to return to a pre-baby body soon, but remember your body needs extra calories and nutrients to breastfeed. Be gentle with yourself and focus on eating wholesome food.
Drink water: this may seem like an obvious one, but many moms forget to listen to their bodies so they don’t stay hydrated. Try adding lemon or cucumber slices to your glass to add some variation.
Sleep: Plan one day a week to sleep in, while your partner takes care of the baby. Try to sync your sleep to your baby’s to compensate for all the night feedings. Use and app like Relax Melodies, which provides ambient sound to help you doze off faster. Neuro-Linguistic Programming “deep sleep hypnosis” audio books also work wonders if you want to wake up feeling more refreshed. Pick up a comfortable sleep bra to protect you from leaks and provide easy accessibility for nursing. Some nursing moms may find they get better rest co-sleeping, so they can feed on-demand without getting up.
Exercise: I didn’t realize I was in a “slump” until I began exercising again and found my days filled with more energy and enthusiasm. Working out is dedicated time for yourself. You may not be able to hit the gym hard like you used to, but you can go for a run with a jogging stroller, bike with your baby, or find a local “mommy and me” exercise class.
Rid Yourself of Mom Chaos
Some days I felt like my wheels were just spinning: that scattered, fragmented, exhausted feeling when you’re doing more than one thing at a time, but nothing is done well. Hours pass “getting stuff done,” but there’s no sense of completion or accomplishment.
Focus on one thing at a time. Even the tiniest baby can make a huge mess. Diapers, spit-up covered clothes, burp clothes, towels, bottles… the list goes on and on, and it can be frustrating to feel like you’re not making a dent in your “To Do” list. When days like this happen, the best thing you can do is pick one task, finish it, and move on to the next.
Let go. Sometimes it’s easier to keep your sanity if you give yourself permission to let go. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, order pizza instead of making a gourmet meal, let the laundry or dishes sit, and don’t worry about answering the phone or keeping up with social media. Everything will still be there in an hour (or the next day).
Do a brain dump. When the thoughts in my head start swirling too fast, I take a few minutes to write down everything that’s running through my mind. Whether they’re items to add to my “To Do” list, ideas for future products, or moments I want to cherish with my boys, “writing it out” helps me clear the clutter of my thoughts and get focused again.
Track important events and milestones. Find a calendar or agenda you love and USE IT. Tally your To Do list with Wunderlist. If you want to track poops, pees, feedings, and naps, Baby Tracker can be a Godsend.
Talk to Siri (or a similar app). When you’re sleep-deprived and constantly interrupted, it can be difficult to keep track of what you’re doing. I’ve found that Siri has become one of my best friends! I often use this app to remind myself to complete certain tasks. For instance, I’ll ask her, “Siri, remind me to text my husband back in an hour,” or “Siri, remind me at 1 pm today to change the laundry.”
Equip Yourself with Knowledge
Sometimes I felt so bogged down with the stress of learning how to parent “on the job” that a few hours of unwinding didn’t help. What I needed then wasn’t “a break,” but a piece of truly insightful advice.
My pediatrician was a great source for book recommendations when I wanted to know more about a particular topic. Books like The Happiest Baby on the Block, 1-2-3 Magic, and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk provided me with invaluable skills and helped me become a more confident parent. A half hour of reading with a cup of tea and a heated neck pillow is the perfect way to wind down before sleep.
Take Time for Reflection
Find at least 15 minutes in your day for reflection and meditation. You may do this before the kids get up, during the first few minutes of their naps, or at the end of the day. Reflecting on your daily struggles and triumphs enables you to grow spiritually in amazing ways. Spending time in nature, attending church, and taking a yoga class are other ways moms habitually stay in touch with their spiritual sides.
No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “childhood is fleeting; these years go by fast.” Qeepsake is my favorite tool to make reflecting on my motherhood journey a habit. When the app texts you a question about your child, simply text back with your response, and it’ll be added to your private baby journal. You can add memories, photos, and milestones, and print out the journal into a keepsake book whenever you’re ready!
Throw Kindness around Like Confetti
Parenting is a tough job, especially when you’ve tried everything and your baby won’t stop crying. It’s normal to feel sad, negative, or angry sometimes, so don’t be hard on yourself about those feelings. Focus on the things you can control, and celebrate small victories. Remember that a tough moment does not make a tough day or a tough life.
When my firstborn was young, I kept repeating “It’s a phase; it’s a stage” for both the frustrating and uplifting moments. My boys won’t always want hugs and snuggles, and someday they’ll go to bed without fussing. Nothing lasts forever.
Take your time to ease in to parenthood. Like pregnancy and delivery, every parenting experience is unique, so don’t judge yourself by who others are doing. Remember you’re exactly who your child needs; no matter where you are in your parenting journey, you’re the most important person in the world to your child.
Set Realistic Expectations
Part of happiness lies in setting realistic expectations. Be gentle with yourself with regard to losing baby weight, planning social gatherings, and achieving your life’s ambitions. Whenever possible, postpone major life changes until you’ve settled into your new role as mother. Don’t forget, parenting is a job, and no one can work a job 24/7 without taking a break. Carve out that self-care time for yourself; both you and your baby will be better for it.
You’re doing an amazing job!
Be you bravely.