Babies are demanding. They want what they want and they want it this instant! The are necessarily self centered and their cries are designed to compel a parent to respond. Living in such an environment 24/7 doesn’t leave much room for self care. But without taking time to care for oneself, parenting becomes increasingly difficult and mental health can suffer. Ten to twenty percent of new parents will develop a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. Self care is a solid piece of preventing and minimizing this very unpleasant possibility.
You will be a better parent for taking time to care for yourself.
Here are my six steps for self care in the postpartum period:
1) Get 3 hours of sleep in a row- everyday—TWICE! Think of this as a goal to work towards if your baby is very young. Three hours gets you a full cycle of REM sleep—this is more restorative than multiple smaller chunks of sleep.
2) Eat healthy foods. Get plenty of protein, fruits and vegetables. Have people bring you healthy food. Try to stay away from processed or sugary foods.
3) Get outside everyday. The fresh air and change of scenery will be refreshing, even if you just walk around the block, plus exposure to sunlight helps your body make vitamin D which is important for brain function. This is important even if it’s cloudy and gray out!
4) Get some exercise. You might not feel like moving much, but you will feel better afterwards with some endorphins! Listen to your body about how much you can do as you recover from pregnancy and birth.
5) Get a break from your baby- Everyone deserves to get a break from the demands of baby care. Read a book, go for a walk, play a video game— do something that allows you to check out from responsibilities for a time.
6) Talk about how you feel. Have people you can talk to about how you really feel—people who will accept you and your feelings for how they are without judgment.
You and your partner are a team in this parenting adventure—try to help each other in these self care steps—making time and space available for these things to happen for each other. If you are doing all of these steps regularly and still feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, depressed or anxious, etc. etc. it may be time to get some professional help. Locally, I suggest visiting the Perinatal Support of Washington website to find a therapist or medication management person to help. Outside of Washington State contact Postpartum Support International to get connected with support.
Here's a handy PDF to download with these tips. Feel free to share so long as you give proper atribution.