The #1 new-mom mistake: putting yourself and your needs on the back burner. Easy to do! But doing things that are good for you is more than happy talk. It’s the shortcut to faster healing, fending off postpartum depression and anxiety, and racking up confidence and energy at the very time you need them most.
Try these 8 ideas to help you be more conscious about mama care:
1) A no-visitors buffer
Fair warning: No matter how excited you are to introduce your new baby or how much you could use an extra set of hands, company can make your upside-down new life even more…complicated.
If you have someone—one—you can count on to be the perfect combination of need-nothing visitor and get-er-done helper (Hi, Mom!), go for it. We’re not knocking the extra hands. But if relatives, even close ones, caused stress and anxiety during pre-baby visits, it’s only going to get worse when you’re tired and anxious.
If you have the least bit of hesitation, give yourself two weeks, at least, before having overnight visitors. That gives you a chance to rest, get to know your baby, and figure out what parts of this new life you need help with. It’s especially true if you’re managing both sides of the family itching to come.
Two weeks really isn’t very long.
Another reason to consider waiting for help: You’ll actually need more of it later. Babies tend to get fussier at around 3 weeks, with colic affecting one in five babies from around 3 weeks old to 12 weeks old. And many parents see a peak in neediness (hunger!) and fussiness around 6 weeks, when babies usually experience a pretty significant growth spurt.
2) A sip-and-see
For visitors who just want to “drop by,” have a plan. Put your partner in charge of gatekeeping. Think short and sweet—5 to 10 minutes, no offers of tea and treats. Have ready reasons to wrap up the visit if it starts going longer than you’d like. One good one: “Ah, the baby’s winding down for a nap, and I’m going to get some much needed sleep too.”
You might be able to put off a lot of visitors outside your immediate circle with a sip-and-see party, an open-house-style meet-and-greet, usually set a few months after the baby is born. Limit the gathering to one space in your house (to ease the burden of cleaning) and keep the “menu” simple—donuts and coffee, say, or pretzels and beer. The point is to meet the baby, so nobody expects full-on entertainment, making this possibly the easiest low-bar party you’ll ever throw.
The pluses to a sip-and-see? Invitations sent once the baby is born can signal to potential visitors when you want to introduce your little one (and hopefully hold off too-early visits). You take care of multiple visitors at once. And you have more control over when and how long this visit-en-masse lasts.
3) A postpartum massage
As if the loosened ligaments of pregnancy, childbirth recovery, and sleep deprivation weren’t enough of a body slam, the physical acts of carrying a baby, nursing, and changing diapers—all that leaning in and crouching—can wilt your posture. You’ll feel the strain from your lower back all the way up to your neck and shoulders.
Postpartum massages are specifically designed to target areas under stress now, especially the upper and lower back and hips. Massage can relieve general aches and pains, reduce swelling, and increase blood and oxygen flow (speeding healing). Body work also releases calming endorphins and the mood-boosting hormone oxytocin—helpful for warding off feelings of depression.
Any position is safe, but if your breasts are sore, opt for a side-lying position, or ask for extra cushioning. If you’ve had a C-section, check with your doctor. You may be limited to head, neck, and shoulder massage—still hugely beneficial!—for a month or more postpartum until scar tissue forms.
Optimally, look for someone trained and experienced in postpartum massage.
4) A bath (any bath)
This is not about getting clean or freshening up. This is about giving yourself dedicated time to unwind. Mom-to-mom: Once your baby becomes mobile, even a quick shower gets more challenging. So take advantage now and take baths when you can!
Your doctor or midwife can tell you when it is safe to bathe after childbirth (typically after bleeding has stopped and any incisions have healed).
Try adding bath herbs or an herbal bath bomb specifically designed for new moms. Popular bath herbs include calendula (to reduce inflammation), comfrey (to heal and soothe wounds), and witch hazel (to speed healing).
The much lauded—for good reason—sitz bath helps reduce inflammation and relieve pain if you’ve had an episiotomy or vaginal tearing. Sitz baths are lukewarm, shallow baths for the perineum. You can prepare a sitz bath in two to three inches of water in a regular tub or in a specially designed basin positioned over the commode. Simply soak in the warm water for 10 to 15 minutes, ideally multiple times a day. Or prepare a special sitz bath “recipe” by adding about 1 to 2 teaspoons of Epsom salt and/or 1 tablespoon of baking soda, as well as herbs like chamomile (to reduce inflammation) and yarrow (to help stop bleeding).
5) A chance to tell your birth story
Forget the old saying, “The world doesn’t want to hear about your labor pains; it just wants to see the baby.” We mothers all have a play-by-play inside us of how we knew it was Time, how our partner reacted and coped, what happened during each stage of labor and delivery.
Letting it out—sharing that birth story—has powerful benefits, research has shown.
If something didn’t go as expected or as planned, or if there were complications, telling your story of how you prevailed may help soothe some residual stress and negative feelings. It can also remind you of just how strong you were (and are). Telling birth stories is associated with less anxiety and depression. For all of us, it’s a way of bringing an emotional resolution to a personal story that has preoccupied us for the better part of a year.
A verbal retelling to friends or family can be powerful. Some experts suggest it’s also helpful to share your story with a health care provider (like a therapist or your doula or midwife) who can help you understand and process parts of your experience. Others recommend reviewing and preserving your story by writing it down. Check out other birth stories at The Birth Story Project, a site started in 2010 by a woman who wanted a forum to harness the power of this kind of storytelling.
6) Another new mom
Ideally, she’s at the same stage as you or just ahead—someone to commiserate with, ask questions of, and swap reassurances and survival tips.
Bonus: Time spent with mom friends has been shown to nurture mothers’ mental health and can boost oxytocin.
If moms’ groups aren’t for you, a fellow mom you meet in the neighborhood can fill the bill. Even someone you didn’t previously have anything in common with can make a great companion for this stretch of life, just by virtue of going through baby care around the same time. Or try signing up for an activity that you like but that also targets new moms (like a mommy-and-me yoga class).
7) A nursing station kitted out for BOTH of you
You probably have a favorite chair and a little bin or basket packed with necessities like lanolin cream, extra nursing pads, a water bottle, and a burp rag. Now make it a little more interesting for you—and the hours and hours you’ll be spending there.
Try adding books, a tablet or e-reader, a notebook, pens or pencils, even some snacks—along with your phone, of course.
It’s OK to multitask some of the time you’re feeding your baby. Catch up on books you’ve been meaning to read. Jot down notes or sketches in a journal. (Sitting to feed a newborn gives you precious downtime to think!) If you can’t help being productive, make a to-do list or shopping list, or finally finish all those new-baby announcements or thank-you cards.
Whatever you choose, you’ll feel better regaining a little control of your time.
8) Solo time
It may sound a little crazy to prioritize leaving your baby right now, after you waited so long to meet. You may even get a little resistance from a questioning family member. (“You’re going where?” “But how long are you going to be gone???”)
But no matter how adorable and needy your baby, it’s important to take some time for yourself, by yourself.
No matter how guilty it makes you feel.
Even an hour or two every few days can make a huge difference to your energy and outlook. Take a long walk outside, go window shopping, hit the farmer’s market, take some time for your favorite hobby. Do something that makes you happy. Light exercise will boost your mood. Taking a time-out from baby care ironically boosts your confidence for it.
It’s not selfish. It’s self-preserving!
Which is the whole point of good postpartum self-care—to nurture you along this crazy new road to being a great mom.