For the first two to three months after a baby is born, the mother’s body goes through many physical and emotional changes. At the same time, she is learning to take care of her new baby and restructuring the family with a new member. [When I was living in Japan] my doctor, Dr. Watanabe, recommended that I stay in bed for three weeks to rebuild my strength after Emi was born. While that tradition may seem a bit extreme in today’s world, the idea that a new mother needs to rest reflects an often-ignored need for self-care.
Even after you have settled in with your newborn, self-care is an ongoing source of physical and emotional strength. You can think of it as an essential nutrient that restores your energy and makes you a more effective parent.
Here are some suggestions for self-care.
Get sleep and rest
Sleep and rest are top priorities, and you may find it challenging to find the time. However, even the recognition that sleep is necessary helps you make decisions about whether to catch up on a magazine or take a nap when the opportunity to rest presents itself.
Simple, healthy food gives you the nutrition you need for physical and emotional health. If you are breast-feeding, then you have additional reasons to eat well. Breast-feeding mothers need plenty of fluids, as well as generous amounts of balanced meals.
The endorphins released during and after exercise can relieve stress, energize you, and uplift your attitude. Daily exercise, with or without your baby along, helps you stay healthy and alert. At a time when it is easy to get lost in the details of caring for a new baby in your home, active time outside can remind you of the larger world. Alternatively, you can look for baby-wearing exercise classes in your community. In these classes, you actually wear your infant as you move. You get a workout, and your baby feels your heart rate increase and learns to appreciate movement.
Babies and young children require a lot of work and create a sharp learning curve, and helpers can ease the adjustment. You can get support from family and friends or from a paid care provider, such as a nanny, an au pair, a babysitter, or a doula.
A positive frame of mind is more important to your baby than an orderly environment. If you are nursing your baby and release your need for the dishes to be done immediately, you relax and your milk flows more easily. Often less is more, and you do not need expensive baby equipment to provide what your child needs for healthy development. To help yourself set priorities, an ongoing question you can ask yourself is, “What are my standards and priorities?”
Advance planning increases your efficiency and frees up valuable time. For instance, a weekly menu with a shopping list can reduce your trips to the grocery store. If you schedule self-care “appointments,” then you are more likely to take the time to attend to your needs. Organization can help you focus and do less while accomplishing more.
Turn off the inner critic
It is stressful and ultimately meaningless to compare yourself with other parents. Every situation is unique, just as every child is unique. Acceptance and a nonjudgmental attitude make for a happier parent, baby, and family environment.