If you’re a new mom someone has likely mentioned something about “self-care” at some point between when your baby was crowning and the first few weeks of postpartum. That’s because becoming a parent is a lot like running a marathon and those who’ve done it before realize that it’s important not only to focus on taking care of your new infant, but to take care of yourself, too. Parental burnout is common and so are postpartum mood disorders. In fact it’s estimated that around 15% of mothers experience postpartum depression.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the health of your new baby is the only thing you should be thinking about. But your mental health is important, perhaps now more than ever, so it’s important to stay in touch with your own needs, too. Still, when you’re knee-deep in the fourth trimester- the first few weeks after birth when your baby is essentially attached to you at all times, it’s not unlikely that you’ve found yourself wondering when in the world you’re expected to make time for all this luxurious “self-care” everyone keeps reminding you about. Self-care might just sound like one more demand on your long list of obligations.
Here’s the truth about taking care of yourself postpartum: self-care comes in small doses. No- you may not be able to find the time for a massage, a spa day or a night out. At least not right away. But that doesn’t mean you have to neglect yourself completely. Simple remedies, that keep you in tune with your own needs, can go a long way when you’re recovering from birth and learning to take care of your baby. There’s already so much to do. Self-care shouldn’t feel like more work.
Here’s a few simple ways to take care of yourself in the fourth trimester:
Actually sleep when your baby sleeps– This age old advice might feel impossible or just astutely irresponsible during the reality of postpartum. The second your baby is asleep, you’ll likely feel hit with the avalanche of tasks that you haven’t been able to get done all day and now have the short opportunity to complete. But there is an alternative to turning into a 10-armed mom-magician who runs around doing all the laundry, dishes and getting the house back in order. And that alternative is simply, not doing any of it. Leaving it for the next day, or week, maybe, and taking a nap might feel like uncomfortable territory. But chances are, you may need a nap more than a clean kitchen. The fourth trimester won’t last long. At some point your baby will take longer naps, sleep longer during the night, and they’ll be time to reinvest in your other household obligations. So for now, listening to your body, instead of the to-do list that nipping at you, can be like giving yourself a wonderful gift.
Recruit a friend or family member to help out for a day– If you’re lucky, you may have a few people in your life who won’t mind dropping everything to run over and hold your baby, bring your a meal, or do your dishes for you. If so, don’t be afraid to let them. If you are fortunate to be able to afford a day or a week of hired help, postpartum doulas provide professional support. They do everything from laundry, to diapers, to even staying overnight to help you get some rest.
Slack on making meals– Ordering in for the third time in a week isn’t lazy. In fact, if you’re postpartum, not making dinner is self-care. Hopefully, you have a nice little stash of lasagnas that a few caring people have delivered. But if not, don’t sweat the idea of ordering in yet again because you just didn’t have the time to cook. Take advantage of grocery store delivery services, too, so that you can stock up on healthy items that will ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need postpartum.
Take an herbal or epsom salt bath– It might not be a day at the spa, but taking a warm bath with herbs, essential oils, or epsom salt (which nourishes the body with magnesium) can be a wonderfully restorative practice. If you don’t have any extra arms to hold your baby, you can take a bath with your baby and both enjoy the calming benefits of the water.
Go for a leisurely walk– Even if you aren’t feeling up to full-on exercise yet, once walking is comfortable, sometimes just getting out of the house can be a positive practice. Taking a walk can provide tons of benefits for your mind, body and spirit. If you’re babywearing or pushing a stroller, you may find that the motion calms and quiets your baby. But enjoying fresh air and gentle exercise will give you an energy boost and mood boost, as well.
Watch your favorite show– Sitting around in front of the t.v. might make you feel like you’re just being lazy. But here’s the thing- your body is still healing and you should treat it accordingly. There is nothing wrong with a bit of indulgence in your favorite t.v. shows or movies. So Netflix and nurse (or feed) and don’t feel a tad guilty about it.
Say “no” to visitors when you need to– Everyone wants to come and meet your new baby. But often times, during postpartum, visitors forget that a new baby and tons of visitors on top of that, can be more stressful than it is helpful. Ask friends and family to call or text before stopping by and arrange a time that works for everyone. If you aren’t up for having guests, you should feel free to be open and honest about that. Especially if there are other young siblings trying to adjust to the new flow of life, visitors can be extremely draining. Exercise your right to say “no” or at the very least, “not today” and arrange a better time for a visit.
Practice a few gentle, restorative yoga poses- It’s probably not time to return to the gym just yet. But yoga doesn’t have to be strenuous. In fact, many poses can be purely restorative and postpartum is a great time to begin or get back to using those postures to aid your body in recovery. Rather than pushing your body to get back to exercise before it’s really ready, relax into poses that feel good, restful and restorative. Child’s pose, legs up the wall, reclined bound angle pose are all great examples of poses that will feel amazing to your postpartum mama body pretty much anytime.