I talk a lot about the importance of self care during the postpartum period. I can almost hear sleep deprived parents everywhere scoffing out loud at the mere idea of time for self care. Oh my god do I ever understand. I’ve been there, and I’ve learned my lessons about self care the hard way.
The problem is, postpartum self care isn’t just a feel good suggestion, it’s a necessity. One in seven mothers will experience a postpartum mood disorder. That’s a reality. For the ones who don’t, we still may find ourselves with “baby blues” and anxiety and exhaustion. Mental health takes a strong hit when a new baby arrives. Now, a bubble bath will not cure PPD. If you’re experiencing postpartum mood disorders, know that there’s nothing you “should” have done. You have a medical condition that deserves professional treatment like any other medical condition. You may find practicing good self care helps on your road to recovery. It’s also okay to focus on the basics and forfeit that bubble bath for now. That being said, for parents without PPD, we can work on nipping some risk factors in the bud and preserving emotional well-being.
So how do you do it? How do you take care of yourself when you have a fragile, screaming human being who needs you 24/7? It won’t look like self care did before baby arrived, that’s for sure. But there are a few things you can do for yourself along the way.
Follow Doctor’s Orders
No, I don’t mean you need to adopt a highly medicalized model of care. What I’m saying is to treat your birth and postpartum health care with the same degree of seriousness you’d treat your health care at any other time. Actually follow the post cesarean recovery protocol. If you leave the hospital or birth centre with that packet of Tylenol+Advil+Stool Softeners+Peri Bottle, actually use them! Your body has been through a lot, and it needs a little TLC. It’s easy to feel like you need to tough everything out. New parenthood is hard, and you’re exhausted, and who wants to make a trip to the doctors office? Had I booked an appointment about my newborn’s nursing troubles, I may have found out about her lip tie, and saved us all a lot of headaches. Don’t make my mistake. Call the doctor when you need to.
“It takes a village” isn’t just a platitude. The vast majority of humanity sees the introduction of a new baby into a community as a group occurance. The idea that we should walk through such monumental changes alone is a very bizarre one. If you have a doula, they may be around to help for the first 6 weeks postpartum. I know I offer help for my clients. And I can tell you, far too many of them don’t take me up on it. They’re exhausted, they don’t want company. I understand it because I did the same thing when my babies were born. Don’t. I know it’s hard to accept help, but your village is uniquely capable of holding you up. Call your doula. Hire that postpartum doula. Let grandma bring dinner. Have a friend over, even if the notion feels daunting.
My first baby was born in January. In Ottawa. I felt trapped inside. No one is at their best when they go days and days without talking to another adult. The best decision I made for my family was purchasing a baby carrier and an oversized coat. Even when it’s too hot, or too cold, and you’re walking around with a tiny human tucked into your jacket, try to step into the sunshine every day. It’s amazing how quickly you start to feel like yourself with you can feel wind on your skin, and hear people around you.
Take advantage of naps
Your baby will spend more time asleep than awake. The problem is, their sleep/wake cycles are so painfully brief, it feels like they never sleep at all. The reality is, even if it’s just a half hour, you have a “me time” window. It’s tempting to just hold your baby and click around aimlessly on your phone. And that’s great! We all deserve a little mindless clicking time. But try to prioritize yourself during these moments. If your baby tolerates being set down during naps, do it. Tidy up a bit. I can hear you now “like hell I’m going to waste my only quiet moments on sweeping floors”. You’re absolutely right. When you’re struggling to take care of yourself, you absolutely have no need to stress about the quality of your house keeping. That being said, you ever notice how your mind feels a little clearer when your environment is clean? There’s therapeutic value here. Just doing one small thing (I mean “Today I moved the laundry pile from the floor to the hamper!” small) will give you a sense of accomplishment, and one less thing to stress about.
Maybe nap time won’t be tidy time any time soon. This is the real world, housekeeping takes a back seat, I know. Spend that time on you. On something unrelated to baby care. Read a book take a nap. Set the goal of feeling just a tiny bit less stressed at the end of nap time than you did at the beginning.
Physical self care
Here come the bubble baths. Raise your hand if you immediately shape shifted into an unshowered, mom-bun wearing, dark under-eye circled, stranger the moment your first child was born. Imagine me raising my hands here. There’s just so much to do! If something has to give, often it’s our ability to care for our own bodies. I know, in hindsight, this set me up for a great deal of depression. I just felt gross. My clothes were dirty, and didn’t fit. I had no time to shower, or do my hair and makeup. You don’t realize how big an impact basic hygiene and aesthetics has on your mental health until it’s gone.
“How on earth am I going to do my laundry and take a shower when I have a newborn I can’t leave unsupervised?” I’m glad you asked. I couldn’t figure it out at first myself. I’d spend entire days staring at my baby, then pass her to my partner when he’d arrive at night and go brush my teeth for the first time that day. Did you know you can babywear in the shower? You sure can. Strap that baby on and shave your legs. Hell, I’ve sat in an empty bathtub with the shower running over my hair, holding a newborn swaddled in towels on my lap. I’ve breastfed in bathtubs. And when those babies developed neck control, I’ve taken many a shower with the shower curtain wide open, so I could play with my infant sitting in a Bumbo on the other side of the tub.
Are you noticing a theme here? Postpartum self care is really the art of not losing yourself in new motherhood. Of picking yourself up, strapping your baby on, and carrying on. You deserve to make yourself a priority. You are a priority.