You’ve probably heard this advice: Take care of yourself if you want to be the best parent for your child. While that advice might sound good in theory, you might wonder how on earth you could care for yourself when your baby is your number one priority right now. Is that even possible? You probably forgot the last time you showered, let alone practiced self-care. Do you even have the time to do it?
Quite often, we can lose the sense of who we are as we go through the experience of pregnancy and the birth of a newborn baby. You might have mixed feelings about no longer being pregnant, your birth experience, your baby and your new role as a parent. For moms, you might also feel differently about how you look and your body’s changes. It can be an immensely overwhelming experience.
Especially for first-time parents, coming home with your new baby is an adjustment. In this case, you may find that you’re anxious about your ability to care for your baby. You may also be concerned about obtaining less income if one of you stays home with your baby, or you’re worried about spending less time on other activities and relationships. These are all valid and normal concerns of a new parent. Taking care of your baby on top of the changes in your emotions and sleep patterns could take a toll on your mental and physical health.
Practising self-care as new parents begin with the belief that self-care is essential and something that you deserve. We’ve been taught that putting our child’s needs in front of our own needs is actually preferred; in fact, it’s what makes us a good parent, some might say. But, taking care of your physical, mental and emotional well-being isn’t just something nice to add to your neverending to-do lists. It’s actually critical for your overall health.
If all you do is to give, give, and give, you’re likely to experience burnout which can adversely affect your health. If you think burnout is exclusively limited to work-related issues, you’ve got it wrong. It’s proven by research that neglecting your own needs has negative consequences for you and your baby. Without adequate breaks and time to breathe, parents can experience parental burnout.
Parental burnout leads to harmful consequences for children. Among the most shocking effect of parental burnout includes being emotionally distant from your baby, indulging in escape ideation, engaging in some form of parental neglect and experiencing severe emotional exhaustion.
According to a study published in Clinical Psychological Science, the researchers concur that “whatever allows parents to recharge their batteries, avoid exhaustion, is good for children.” So, are you convinced yet that adding some form of self-care into your life should be non-negotiable? Keeping yourself happy and healthy will allow you to give the best care possible for your baby. Remember, your needs matter too.
Self-care is important; you get it. But, what should you do to accomplish it?
The first thing that you have to do is to be kind to yourself. Caring for a new baby is a lot of work, and no new parent has all of the answers– and that’s okay. Remember, you can learn as you go. Take your time to enjoy and get to know your baby. Your smile, voice, facial expressions and gentle touch will help you build the connection needed to develop a healthy attachment with your little one. You fed, cuddled and clothed your baby today, and the house didn’t burn down? You’re doing great.
Good nutrition keeps your energy level up and boosts your overall mood. Your nutrition is vital, especially if you’re breastfeeding and your body needs the extra fuel. So, go easy on the sugar and ensure that you get plenty of iron, protein and omega-3s. You should also try to limit your caffeine intake to the first part of the day. One way to maintain a healthy eating habit is to stock up on healthy snacks and fill your freezer with your favourite good-for-you meals. Eating healthy doesn’t mean bland food. There are tons of healthy recipes that you can find on the internet. Alternatively, you could also take full advantage of the delivery options out there.
Exercise. Yes, although you’ve just become a new parent, getting regular exercise is a form of self-care. As you may know, exercising keeps you healthy, improve your mood, helps you get better sleep and with the added bonus of helping to manage your weight – everything a new parent needs. You have multiple options when it comes to exercising. Firstly, you could find a way to exercise with your baby, like a mommy-and-me yoga class or baby boot camp. Secondly, you could ask your partner to take care of the baby while you exercise. Another option is to check if your local gym offers child care.
Again, there is a common notion among new parents that spending time for yourself when you have a child is an act of selfishness. This is completely untrue. Sadly, some people will continue to spread the message that doing things for yourself is considered self-centred or greedy. But, you’ve got to ignore these people and seek out supportive people who understand the struggles of new parenthood. Even if it’s just for a short time; do something that you enjoy, such as soaking in a hot tub or reading your favourite novel. You’ll feel refreshed and ready to take on your next challenge.
Let others help you. Now isn’t the time for independence. Your partner, family and friends are there for you and care about you. If they want to be helpful, it’s okay to accept their help. It’s also completely okay to ask others for help if you feel overwhelmed. Also, it’s important to be specific about what you need. Do you need them to do the grocery? Hand them your grocery list. If you need them to fold the laundry, tell them. And remember, they might not do things exactly like you would but don’t let the little things stress you out.
Self-care doesn’t necessarily mean devoting hours to yourself everyday or taking an extended vacation. That sort of thing is out of reach for the majority of typical parents, especially with a newborn baby in the picture. But, that doesn’t mean you should disregard your self-care altogether. Even just spending 10 to 15 minutes per day can be life-changing. The key is to do something you find enjoyable and do it consistently.
Your mood changes, anxiousness and worries will not last forever. Over time, you’ll feel more confident in your abilities to take care of your baby and family. Until you do, don’t forget to incorporate self-care into your day-to-day life as a new parent. You’ll eventually feel more like yourself again. Heck, you might be surprised at what you can accomplish if you start to care for your mental and physical health.