Pregnancy

How to Practice Self-Care

In honor of Mother’s Day and Maternal Mental Health Week, join our mom community for self-care and celebration by tuning into our Instagram Live on May 8 at 3 p.m. EST. Hosted by What to Expect creator Heidi Murkoff and WTE Community Director Sara Stefanik, they’ll discuss how to connect (near and far) with other moms and seeking the support you need.  

Following childbirth, it’s difficult to think of anything other than the new wailing, pooping, spitting roommate you’ve just been tasked with keeping alive — even though you’re also going through a huge transition (not to mention, recovering from a huge physical event). Your brand-new bundle is priority number one, which means you may ignore your own needs. But your mental health could use as much TLC as your throbbing lady parts or C-section incision. Of course you’ll love and care for your baby — but taking care of yourself is just as important. 

In fact, self-care is an essential part of baby care. Problem is, typically when we talk about “self-care,” we talk about indulging ourselves in some way — with frothy bubble baths or pedicures or face masks. And when you’re feeding around the clock and seriously short on shut-eye, self-care as you once knew it may feel out of reach. Even a five-minute shower feels like a luxury.

Fortunately, you don’t need to luxuriate in a tub for hours to partake in effective self-care — even in the age of COVID-19, when social distancing means you may not be able to count on help from anyone other than your partner. Here are a few postpartum self-care techniques that can help even the most harried newborn moms feel human again.

1. Start a one-line journal.

The power of the pen has been well documented: Research shows that journaling may help ease anxiety and depression. However, a rambling diary entry feels out of reach when you barely have time to form an entire sentence in your head. Instead, try putting pen to paper on a one-line journal, where each day you scribble down one line about whatever you’re feeling at that moment.Tapping into these feelings can help you address them in a more effective way — even if it’s just a little message.

Have time to jot down more than a line? Great. But even if you don’t, you’re giving yourself a way to express your feelings and record the early days of your maternal experience.

2. Power down your electronics.

When you’re nursing every hour or two for maybe as long as an hour at a time, it can be awfully tempting to pass the time on your phone. Sure, this might seem like a good way to kill two birds with one stone — to catch up on emails or see what your friends have been up to — but these precious minutes could be better spent.

Put down your phone, close your eyes, take a deep breath and bring yourself into the present. While you’re at it, you can engage in some positive self-talk, like “I’m beautiful, my body’s beautiful and this day is beautiful.”

3. Go for a walk.

Exercise releases feel-good endorphins, but after giving birth you’re probably not up for an intense workout (nor would your doctor want you to!). But even just a short walk — with or without your baby — can give you a serious mood boost. 

4. Delegate tasks.

Another way to find time? Get it from other people. While you may not be able to have friends and family come inside your home to help out with the baby, they can support you in other ways. Always say yes if someone offers to drop dinner off at your doorstep, for example. Or you could leave a bag of dirty laundry on your stoop for your neighbor to wash and fold for you. And you can always hand off a bottle to your partner so you can catch a few Zzzs. 

5. Practice mindful eating.

In addition to making a point to nourish your body with nutrient-dense foods, including plenty of protein and complex carbs (which in itself is a form of self-care), try to incorporate mindfulness during meal times.

While you might be determined to inhale whatever food’s before you as quickly as possible, take a moment to observe what you’re eating. Look at the shimmering sauce on pasta (and by the way we’re talking jarred sauce — nobody has time for the homemade stuff right now). Feel the steam rising. Inhale the garlic fragrance. Take this time to slow down and simply enjoy your meal. 

6. Multi-task in the bathroom.

The one door you might be able to reliably put between yourself and the craziness of newborn-mom life — at least for a few minutes — is the bathroom door. It’s the place where you have to go to meet your most basic needs, and with a little multitasking, it can be your sanctuary, too. Even if you only have time for a five-minute shower, make it something you enjoy by incorporating an amazing-smelling shampoo or a body scrub you love. Did the doctor recommend sitz baths as part of your recovery? Listen to a few minutes of a favorite podcast, do a quick mindfulness meditation or read a magazine while your lady-bits soak for 10 minutes. Or maybe it’s simply taking a minute to apply a calming, lavender-scented lotion after you wash your hands.

7. Allow yourself to feel your feelings — but get help if you need it.

You’ve just gone through a physical trauma and are in the middle of a monumental life change. If you’re sad, angry, resentful — either toward your partner or baby — it’s okay. 

Of course, it’s important to recognize when you’re experiencing emotions that require outside help. If you’re chronically sad, for more than two weeks at a time — and not necessarily initially after giving birth, it can be six months or a year afterward — call your practitioner, as these could be signs of postpartum depression. Other symptoms to look out for: being tearful, irritability, losing interest in activities that you used to enjoy, eating more or less, feelings of worthlessness or obsessive thoughts and behaviors.

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