VIP treatment: looking after yourself as a new mum
Mothers are everyday heroes, putting everyone else’s needs before their own. Looking after Mum should be a top priority though, especially when there is a new baby in the mix, as Dorothy Waide explains.
It goes without saying, becoming a parent is a life-changing experience. It is wonderful and amazing. People are quick to remind you that parenting is a privilege, that you are blessed. And while this is true, parenting is also hard work, especially those early weeks when your life has turned upside down and your body – both inside and out – has had a similar cascade.
There’s no way to sugar-coat it, early parenting is physically and emotionally draining. The point of this article is to stretch out a hand of reassurance and support. To offer encouragement that you will get through the tiredness, the self-doubt and the bewilderment. To reassure you that you are the best mother your baby could hope for. While you are caring for your precious baby, however, we also need to take care of you.
My message to new mothers is that your own wellbeing is just as important to your baby’s growth and development now as it was during your pregnancy. The happier and healthier you are, the better prepared you’ll be to care for both yourself and your newborn.
I have five survival strategies for new mothers, and while I admit they may seem easier said than done, they are well worth keeping in mind as goals to aim for. As with most things in parenting (life in general, probably!), don’t worry about 100% attainment, we can aim for 80% of the time, allowing a 20% grace.
As a new mum, aim to:
☙ Look after yourself, as well as your baby.
☙ Ask for and accept offers of help.
☙ Rest when your baby rests; eat when your baby eats.
☙ Pay attention to your feelings.
☙ Worry less about doing things the ‘right’ way.
Looking after yourself could be as simple as taking five minutes out of your day to sit in the sun, go for a walk, talk to a friend, even hang out the washing. It’s not the length of time that matters, or even what you are doing, the value is simply in taking some moments that are just for you. Moments to take a couple of deep breaths, and be mindful of the sun on your shoulders or the leaves that have changed colour on the tree in your garden. Even to smell the clean laundry as you take it off the line! Some days it will be a matter of ‘I’ll take what I can get’, other days you may find yourself with an hour to enjoy a magazine and a cup of tea on the couch while baby sleeps. Whatever it looks like, I strongly encourage you to find a way to prioritise yourself for a few moments every day.
Taking supplements will also help you feel good, as this is one time of your life that you will need some form of pick-me-up. I often suggest vitamin D, plus omega 3s, multivitamins and protein shakes. Your body is dealing with sleep deprivation and it needs as much help as it can to remain healthy and strong. A combination of supplements and a balanced diet will make a big difference.
We are also fortunate to have so many alternative therapists offering support. Some of my top recommendations for alternative therapies for new mums include massage, cranial sacral osteopathy, NET, reflexology, acupuncture, aromatherapy and kinesiology.
Lesser-known therapy NET has many benefits for mums and children, I believe. NET is a mind-body technique that finds and removes neurological imbalances related to the physiology of unresolved stress. For those interested in further information on NET, I recommend a visit to vitalchiropractic.co.nz.
When working with new mums, I often hear the frustration that they are fed up with their maternity clothes. Some women expect to be back into their old clothes quite quickly. Others find their wardrobe doesn’t support their post-Caesarean or breastfeeding body. One solution here is to think ahead and go shopping for a few practical pieces before the birth of baby. This enables you to have something new to wear on those days when you are feeling a little blue – it is amazing the difference this can make.
It is very important to let others help you, but this doesn’t come easy to some women, for various reasons. Many women have been independent for a long time when they become a mother, others don’t want to be a burden. Can I gently (or strongly, if need be!) encourage you to accept that you can’t do everything, nor should you have to. Accept the help of others – from offers of meals and food to help with the housework. People will appreciate being able to support you and, in doing so, welcome your precious babe to the world – trust me, it’s a win-win!
Having a village around you is so important in the early stages of parenthood. When people visit you, let them make the coffee and accept their offer to fold the washing while you sit on the couch and chat. Remember, however, that it is also okay to say no to visitors if you and baby need to rest. This season is about you and your baby, not about visitors.
Naps and snacks
Common advice suggests mothers rest when baby rests, but realistically this will only work for some people, and only on some days! If you can’t sleep during the day, you need another strategy to ensure you get enough rest. I suggest mothers try going to bed early at night, ideally soon after they’ve put their baby to bed. It also helps hugely to not start your day (as in getting up, dressed and occupied) until around 10am. In my experience this worked well when I was in other people’s homes caring for their infants and it enabled me to deal with whatever I was faced with during both the day and night.
Eat when baby is eating is an achievable goal, but it helps to be organised. Keep plenty of nutritious, easy-to-eat snack food on hand and grab something for yourself to eat every time you sit down to feed baby. Breastfeeding takes a lot out of you, and your nutritional intake directly correlates to your baby’s. Fruit, nuts, sandwiches, muffins, shakes and smoothies – these all make great breastfeeding fuel. I’ve even know partners to pack their wife a ‘lunchbox’ for the day before they head off to work – why not? Anything that makes feeding mum easier makes feeding baby easier too.
Communicating with your partner is a must – let them know how you feel, you may be pleasantly surprised that they feel the same. Your partner is also trying to find their feet as a parent. Nurture each other. Remember that before baby you would have time for each other at the end of the day, and while routines may have dramatically changed, that focus on each other is still very important. I often encourage new mums to set up a code system to quickly describe how their day was when their partner gets home. Your partner then gets a quick assessment on how you might be feeling and can then take the baby, allowing you a chance for some time just for you. Later, once baby is in bed, you can address what type of day you had in more detail.
Joining a group of parents with babies at the same stage will provide support in simply knowing that you aren’t alone. It is important to find the right group, however, and it may take you a couple of attempts to find connections with like-minded people. Having a good network, like a coffee or play group, can be hugely beneficial to prevent feelings of isolation. As the babies grow older too, you may find you have the opportunity to share some babysitting duties, so that you can attempt a date night.
I did it my way
One of the most helpful strategies for not only surviving, but also thriving, during the early days of parenting is a simple one – have no expectations. Throw out the to-do list and then even small accomplishments (like having a shower!) will feel rewarding and satisfying. Protect yourself from the high and unrealistic expectations that can sneak into motherhood (be especially careful around social media where parents post their ‘highlights’ rather than their ‘behind the scenes’ reality) and you will protect yourself from feelings of failure on the days when you don’t achieve anything other than caring for your baby.
There is a lot of pressure out there to do things the ‘right’ way and any research on the how-to’s of baby care will turn up conflicting advice. I remind my clients that I am not actually the expert – they are. I just offer ideas and share techniques. Listen to your baby and your own intuition. By all means ask for help, but make sure any advice you receive resonates with your own parenting philosophy.
The key really is to be kind to yourself. Adopt an ‘it’s okay’ mantra. It’s okay if the house is a mess, you’re still in your pyjamas at 3pm, and you ask visitors to wait on you – not the other way around.
Remember this is just a season. You can get back to your efficient and productive ways in the years to come, but as a mother of a baby, you have the most important job description there is – love and nurture that precious little person, and yourself at the same time, and the rest will take care of itself.
|Dorothy Waide is a baby consultant, Karitane Mothercraft nurse and member of the OHbaby! panel of experts. She is the author of You Simply Can’t Spoil a Newborn. Visit her at babyhelp.co.nz.|