It’s strange how much of the care a woman receives during pregnancy dries up when the baby comes arrives. And this isn’t just in regards to other people offering a hand - often, we stop caring for ourselves as much as well. This lack of care does a disservice to not only the mother, but also the baby, as a depleted mama has less to give - but all is not lost!
Making a plan for self-care in the fourth trimester (the first three months after baby is born), and sticking to it, helps minimize the chance that you’ll develop postpartum blues, could support milk production (if you’re choosing to breastfeed), and enables you to hold on to your vibrant sense of self. And while it’s easy to slip into the guilt-trap when engaging in self-care as a new mother, keep reminding yourself that a dedication to your wellbeing is for the greater good of your family.
Here are some self-care ideas to get you started.
- Claiming 30-minutes of me-time every day. Losing a sense of self is something many women report as they come out of the haze of baby’s first year. They feel as though motherhood swallowed up their creativity, and dissolved the curiosities, traits, and passions that made them unique. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Asking your partner, or a friend or family member, to watch baby for a minimum of 30-minutes every day can give you the time you need to keep a foot firmly planted in your autonomous self.
The tricky part about this me-time is that you’re not allowed to use it for to-dos like laundry, dishes, or shopping. You must use this time to do something that makes you feel alive. For example, if your brain does a happy dance when you’re writing, use those 30-minutes to put words on a page. If art is your thing, go outside with your supplies and sketch or paint something. To ensure you don’t waste this time trying to decide how to spend it, make a go-to list of the activities that invigorate you.
Showering. While a daily shower might sound like a no-brainer, many new moms find this simple activity gets stuck at the end of a long list of daily obligations. Because of this, some mamas go days without one. But the thing is, when that shower finally happens it can make you feel like a new woman, as lethargy and that oh-so-unpleasant grimy feeling washes away. You deserve to feel that relief every day. So figure out how to get that daily shower. Maybe it means putting baby in a portable infant bed in the bathroom, or having that person who is taking baby for your 30-minutes of me-time provide an additional 30-minutes. Do whatever you have to do to make it happen, reminding yourself that getting in that shower will clear your mind, and boost your energy.
- Exercise. As a new mom, I had limited thinking when it came to exercise, believing it could only happen if I had free time to go to the gym, or go on a jog. When that free time never came, and I was aching to break a sweat, I got creative. I used the wonders of the World Wide Web to find “mommy and me” workout routines, and strapped my infant into the baby carrier and explored our neighborhood on foot. These forms of exercise not only improved my fitness, but also created potent bonding opportunities for my son and I.
While your body is still healing, find exercise in gentle movements like simple stretching, a stroll with your baby or some restorative yoga. Getting your body moving however feels good to you can improve your body image, significantly enhance your mood, and make you feel more energized.
Hiring a postpartum doula. As you might have gathered from the previous suggestions, seeking support is a key component of quality self care. And there just so happens to be people who have made it their life’s work to help new moms. They call themselves postpartum doulas, but I like to call them Earth angels. They help with tasks like home care, cooking, shopping, holding baby while you shower, nap, or get in that me-time, and anything else you feel would enhance your life. If a doula isn’t an option, consider scheduling friends or family members to come a few hours a day, for at least the first month after baby is born, to help out. Even if you have a loving and supportive partner, it’s a game-changer to have the added support of at least one extra pair of hands.
Asking a friend to create a meal train. Nourishing food! You need it, but you won’t have much time to prepare it. Side step this hassle by asking a friend to set up a meal train for you a few weeks before your estimated due date. There are many free meal train websites that allow the chosen friend to send an invite to your loved ones, asking them to sign up for at least one date where they will drop off a meal at your home (usually a dinner). You can specify dietary preferences on the site, and include instructions for where you want the meals left.
- Saying yes to a lactation consultant, or a breastfeeding support group. For some women, breastfeeding can be one of the most challenging aspects of early motherhood - especially when we’re told it’s supposed to be a totally normal, natural process, and it ends up being anything but. To heal the isolation and frustration that can come with breastfeeding challenges, seek the guidance of a lactation consultant, breastfeeding support group, or both.
A lactation specialist is trained to support you emotionally and physiologically with breastfeeding. When you request their support they will come to your home (in most cases), and watch your baby breastfeed. They then make recommendations for different breastfeeding positions and techniques for helping baby optimally latch, and provide other customized suggestions that will hopefully ease your journey through breastfeeding. In addition, lactation consultants can help with pumping and milk storage, and serve as a sounding board for the emotions that may be triggered as you and baby learn the dance of breastfeeding.
A good breastfeeding support group can also provide breastfeeding tips, but one of their greatest benefits is that they allow you to connect with other women facing similar struggles. This can help you feel less alone, and tap into an amazing wellspring of new friends.
- Having weekly bodywork. Your body deserves more care than your doctor or midwife poking around on your abdomen at your postpartum check up. Give it that care by scheduling a weekly appointment (for at least the four weeks after baby is born) with a masseuse, chiropractor, acupuncturist, craniosacral therapist, or reflexologist (or all of the above if you can!) trained to work with women post-birth. This professional support ensures your body receives the quiet moments, gentle touch, and healing energy it so desperately needs and deserves after moving through the epic journey of pregnancy and childbirth. You can make sure you invest in this care by asking friends to contribute to the cost of the bodywork in lieu of a baby shower gift.
If you ever find that you’re trying to talk yourself out of caring for yourself (it's inevitable!), just keep reminding yourself that it’s for the greater good. You are not being selfish. You are doing what is necessary to become the best mother, and new version of yourself, you can be. You wouldn’t expect a flower to blossom without a bit of water and sun, so don’t expect yourself to blossom into motherhood without a little (or a lot of!) TLC.