During the excitement, stress, and anticipation that surround you while you’re expecting, you may be extra conscious of what you’re putting into your body, how much rest you’re getting, how you are feeling, planning for your baby’s arrival, and everything in between. But what about after baby is born – will you still ensure you’re taking care of yourself just as well?
In Western culture, this is often not top of mind. We don’t address what we can do for self-care in the postpartum period, how we’ll access support if needed, or ways to continue managing our own health and wellness. But imagine if we did. What might that look like for your baby? For your family? For you? We hear a lot about self-care, and how when we take care of ourselves, we’re able to improve our relationships both with ourselves and with those around us. Why don’t we apply this to motherhood?
You are probably thinking: how. The postpartum period is filled with unpredictables and challenges. What may be helpful is a postpartum plan. Of course, some things we cannot plan for or are not in our control! What we can do, though, is arrange for helpful tools and supports to be in place so that they are easily accessible when we need them.
Let’s start off by defining self-care. We often think of self-care as an elaborate bubble bath, relaxing spa day, or a beach vacation. In reality, self-care can be so simple! When we bring it back to the basics, self-care means taking care of our bodies and our minds. It can include listening to our bodies by moving in ways that feel good to us, getting enough sleep, and nourishing our bodies through food. Self-care means taking care of our minds by allowing ourselves breaks when needed, being aware of our emotions, and surrounding ourselves with what and who makes us feel good. Essentially, self-care means to protect and improve your mental health and well-being.
When we look at it from this perspective, it can be as simple as asking for help from someone you trust, going on a 10-minute walk, or eating meals mindfully (away from work and screens). Practicing self-care during the prenatal period can help set us up for maintaining that care for ourselves during postpartum, too. This can have incredible effects on the experience of the postpartum period, as well as the relationships with your newborn, partner, and family. When we practice self-care, we are fulfilling our own needs, allowing us to be more present, energetic, and less burnt out.
During pregnancy, it may be helpful to reflect on your values; what do you want your life to look like once your baby arrives? What’s important and how will you prioritize? Is work important and you need to look into childcare? If you want or expect visitors, will you set parameters around that – who, when, and how often? Does someone you trust live nearby that you can give a call if you need help? What meals can be easily prepared? It can feel overwhelming to think about these things – but so is trying to figure these things out in the midst of having a newborn! If taking the time to have difficult discussions with your partner, family members, and/or friends, engage in meaningful self-reflection, and have a plan of support in place can alleviate even some of the stressors and challenges you have to navigate as a new mom, then it may be worth considering.
Remember – self-care doesn’t have to be complicated! Whether it’s enjoying your favourite ice cream, taking a short nap, or savouring a peaceful moment with your baby, it’s important that you are taking care of you and engaging in happy, healthy habits. It’s not uncommon for mothers to feel guilty about taking time for themselves when they have a baby; but self-care is not selfish, it’s necessary. When you take care of yourself, you are taking care of your baby too. Be kind to yourself and remember that everyone needs help sometimes. Reach out to someone you trust or a professional for support – you (and your baby) will be glad you did!
Book: The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson