As moms, we often put ourselves last, ensuring first that everyone (and everything) else is taken care of before we think about tending to our own needs.
We put on a happy face and tell the world, “I’ve got this” – even when we feel like we’re failing.
We get plenty of reminders to put ourselves first: you can’t pour from an empty cup, put on your oxygen mask first, etc. Far too few of us take this advice to heart, and even fewer of us make the time to care for ourselves.
Through our “This Is Self-Care” campaign, we’re reminding moms how important their health is: mental, emotional, and physical.
It’s not just okay to take care of yourself; it’s a necessity – especially when you’re pregnant and postpartum.
To kick off “This Is Self-Care,” here are 10 easy ways you can care for yourself. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more self-care tips, ideas, and reminders – be sure to share your favorite suggestions with #thisisselfcare – and remember that self-care is not selfish.
1. Assemble your village.
After the hubbub of the delivery and everyone clamoring to meet your baby, it’s natural to want quiet time together as a new family. Once you’ve spent a few days (or weeks) getting familiar with the ins and outs of 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.
Let your in-laws or best friend bring dinner one day a week. Ask neighbors to help mow the lawn or shovel the 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. If it’s in your budget, hire a postpartum doula to assist with childcare and help you feel more confident about breastfeeding.
2. Find your sanctuary.
We spend so much time setting up the nursery we forget to carve out space for ourselves. Create a cozy nook in your home where you can unwind. Spaces with plants and natural light are ideal for relaxation, as are the soothing sounds of a fireplace, fountain, bird feeder, or fish tank. A special chair or rug can help define a sense of “place.”
3. 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 work or chores, you can also take a few of those minutes to read, work in the garden, play with pets, bake, sew, paint, dance, sing, or anything else you enjoy.
And don’t underestimate the healing power of a bath or shower. Having a loved one watch your 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. And if no one’s available to watch your baby, keep a bouncer in the bathroom so you can sneak in to wash your hair.
4. Get out of the house and 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 a pedicure, 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; find a place you’ve never been or always wanted to see. Or venture out alone. Leave your baby home with family and take a few hours to go somewhere you want to go. Take the time to do things you loved before baby.
5. Pursue a passion with your partner.
Our lives are so busy and full it’s easy to forget to focus on our relationships. Healthy relationships take work, time, and intention. Resentment can be 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 dinner together once a week; if you enjoy exercise you can learn a new sport together. Even committing to a screen-free night to focus on each other can make a huge difference.
6. Take care of your body.
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 your pre-baby figure, 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 are so busy they forget to stay hydrated. Try putting lemon or cucumber slices in your water to add some variety. Always carry a water bottle with you.
Sleep: Plan one day a week to sleep in while a family member takes care of your baby. Try to sync your sleep to your baby’s to compensate for all the night feedings. Use an app like Relax Melodies, which provides ambient sound to help you fall asleep faster. Buy a comfortable sleep bra with easy nursing access and breast pads to protect you from sleep-disrupting leaks. Some nursing moms may find they get better rest co-sleeping so they can feed on demand without getting up (always use safe-sleeping practices).
Exercise: Exercising can fill your days with more energy and enthusiasm. If going to the gym isn’t an option, try going for a walk or jog with a jogging stroller, bike with your baby, or find a local “mommy and me” exercise class. Online workouts are a great option for in-home fitness. Just remember to start slowly.
7. Rid yourself of mom chaos.
Some days it can feel like your wheels are 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 cloths, towels, bottles… the list goes on and on, and it can be frustrating to feel like you’re not making a dent. 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: 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 emails or keeping up with social media. Everything will still be there in an hour (or the next day).
Do a brain dump: When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to write down everything that’s running through your mind. Whether they’re items to add to your to-do list, ideas for work projects, or moments you want to cherish, writing them down helps clear the clutter so you can get focused again.
Talk to Siri or Alexa: When you’re sleep-deprived and constantly interrupted, it can be difficult to keep track of what you’re doing. Try using virtual assistant software like Siri or Alexa to remind you to complete certain tasks. For instance, you can say, “Siri, remind me to text my mom back in an hour,” or “Alexa, remind me at noon today to change the laundry.”
Track important events and milestones: Find a calendar or agenda you love and use it. Tally your to-do list with Wunderlist. An app like Baby Tracker can help you track your baby’s poops, pees, feedings, and naps.
8. Take time for reflection.
Find a few minutes each day for reflection and meditation. You can do this before your baby gets up, during the first few minutes of naptime, or at the end of the day. Reflecting on your daily struggles and triumphs enables you to grow in amazing ways.
Qeepsake is a great tool to make reflecting on the 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 include memories, photos, and milestones. Print out the journal into a keepsake book whenever you’re ready!
9. Equip yourself with knowledge.
Sometimes you can feel so bogged down by the stress of learning how to parent “on the job” that time to unwind doesn’t help. What you need then isn’t necessarily “a break.” You may need advice.
Your pediatrician can be a great source for book recommendations when you want 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 may provide valuable tips to help you become a more confident parent. Your library might even have these titles available as audiobooks, which are a great option for late-night breastfeeding sessions.
10. Be kind to yourself.
Parenting is a tough job. 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.
Your kids may not always want hugs and snuggles, and someday they’ll go to bed without fussing. Nothing lasts forever.
Also, remember that 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 a mother.
Like pregnancy and delivery, every parenting journey is unique, so don’t judge yourself by what 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.
Stay tuned to “This Is Self-Care” for more tips and ways to treat yourself, share your favorite ideas with #thisisselfcare, and remember: you are an important part of your family, and caring for your family includes caring for yourself.