When you’re a new mom, your self-care routine may seem like a distant memory. A very distant memory. After all, how are you supposed to care for your needs when your baby requires your attention 24/7? How are you supposed to care for your needs when you’re consumed with brand-new tasks, such as changing diapers and breast- or bottle-feeding?
Plus, often you don’t have any guidance or “policies and procedures” on how to do things, said Catherine O’Brien, MA, LMFT, a relationship therapist who specializes in helping families prepare for the transition from pregnancy to parenthood by managing overwhelm, creating more ease and deepening connection.
You’re exhausted. You’re overwhelmed. And you rarely get a break. “It’s not uncommon for moms to say they have no time to even eat, let alone shower,” O’Brien said.
You also might be putting a lot of pressure on yourself to get things “right” and to do things on your own. Many moms tell O’Brien they feel bad asking their partners for alone time because they’re back at work.
But, as she pointed out, you’re “at work,” too. And you deserve and require rest, too. As such, O’Brien shared five tips for practicing self-care as a new mom.
Sleep or rest when your baby does.
A common self-care tip for moms is to sleep when your baby is sleeping. But many moms just can’t sleep, O’Brien said. That’s why she suggests resting. Because if you don’t feel like sleeping, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to go a cleaning spree.
“Sit down on the couch and read a book or a magazine, or even lay down.” Listen to a podcast or to music that makes you happy, crochet, meditate, journal or make a cup of tea, she said. “Do whatever is relaxing for [you].”
Move your body — whatever this looks like.
This might be walking around the block and getting some sun and fresh air, O’Brien said. This might be stretching your body, dancing to your favorite songs or taking a yoga class on your computer.
If outdoor activities aren’t an option, walk the mall or even Target, she said. “After my son was born, we had a particularly rainy year and I often found myself walking up and down the aisles at Target. [It was definitely] a sanity saver for me to get out and have a place to go.”
“New moms often feel isolated and lonely staying home all day,” O’Brien said. She stressed the importance of finding a community of support. “It is so validating to have support from other moms as you are transitioning into motherhood.”
O’Brien suggested checking out local moms groups for new babies through local hospitals, meet-up groups, churches or synagogues, La Leche League, baby-wearing support groups or library story times.
You also can ask moms in your neighborhood where they found support, she said. And if you’re pregnant, attend meet-up groups for moms now. O’Brien has found that moms who attend her group while pregnant have a much easier time coming after they’ve given birth, because they’ve already made connections.
Be mindful of the moments.
For instance, be mindful as you’re feeding your baby. Take deep breaths. Focus your attention on what you hear, smell and feel. According to O’Brien, “What sounds is your baby making? Can you smell the sweet baby smells? How does it feel to hold them and their warm cuddly selves? Are you sitting in a comfortable chair or lying on your bed? How does it feel? What do you see?”
It might be everything from your baby’s beautiful eyes to the trees blowing in the wind outside your window, she said. “Keep taking deep breaths and relax into them.”
Ask for help—and accept help.
You don’t have to go it alone. Ask for help — whether it’s asking your spouse to watch the baby so you can take a walk, or seeing a therapist because you’re struggling with anxiety or depression or something else.
(Indeed, please seek help if you’re struggling. You can find excellent resources and support at Postpartum Progress.)
“When people ask you what you need, tell them,” O’Brien said. She suggested keeping an ongoing list of tasks, such as doing laundry, washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom and cooking a meal. Then ask the person to pick something off your list.
It could even be “having them hold the baby for 30 minutes so you can take a shower and rest for a while in your room.”
Remember you deserve help, O’Brien said. “We weren’t meant to do it all by ourselves.”
Taking time away from your baby can be tough, especially in the beginning. But the quality of time you spend with your child is much more important than the quantity of time, she said. (For instance, see this study.)
“So, if you are tired and stressed out, honor yourself and take some time to ‘fill your cup.’ Your time with your baby will be better for it.”
New mom photo available from Shutterstock