Okay, so you now have a brand-new, completely helpless infant to take care of. Loving your baby (and your other children if you have any) means never needing to take breaks from her. Somehow, new mothers all seem to feel guilty at the mere thought of taking a break, convinced that taking time for themselves makes them selfish and bad moms. C’mon….how ridiculous is that?
Sure, your priorities have shifted and you need to take care of your new bundle of joy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have any time to yourself or time to rest. You can’t take care of yourself, let alone your baby when you’re completely drained. You can’t continue on an empty tank, not allowing your body to restore your energy in the form of sleep and adequate nutrition. You are, after all a human being, not a super-being or the Energizer® bunny that keeps going and going and going. No one, not even the Energizer® bunny, can run on empty. The bunny can’t keep on going and going and going without new batteries. If you deprive your body of the sleep, nutrition and rest it needs, there is only so much time before your body will send up a warning flag and succumb to the stressors with which you are faced. Sure, you put the needs of your baby before yourself. You make sure she’s fed, cleaned and comforted. But at the end of the day (figuratively, not literally), you must also be sure to tend to your own needs. With energy, you can put more energy into mothering. Can’t be more logical than that!
Mothers should be allowed/allow themselves to take breaks from the baby at least once a day. If getting more sleep means having someone watch your baby so you can sleep soundly for 4-5 hour blocks and/or take a nap, then so be it. This may mean arranging for that person to take the baby out while you nap or have the baby stay with them overnight. Remember, the more well-rested you are, the better off the baby will be.
If you cannot manage to find a small block of time to nap each day, then the least you can do is close your eyes for a few minutes every couple of hours. You know you need help when you start to feel like you can’t manage on your own. You should not wait until you get to that point, especially women at high risk for PPD. You need to have a postpartum wellness plan lined up and ready to go upon your baby’s arrival. The plan should include ensuring you have someone to help you each day for the first couple of months so you can get a 4-5 hour block of uninterrupted sleep each day, as well as take breaks from the baby once a day. In most cases, you won’t be able to rely on your significant other because they need to go to work. So perhaps your mother, mother-in-law, housekeeper, or nanny. Someone. If you don’t already have a cleaning person, hire one to come by once a week, once every other week or once a month.
Importance Of Self Care
“Taking care of yourself is self respect not selfishness.” – Anonymous
What I learned from my PPD experience is the importance of taking care of yourself. In fact, taking care of yourself is a necessity, NOT a luxury! Aside from getting as much rest/sleep as possible, here are some tips that I hope you will seriously consider adopting for yourself!
You’ll be a lot better off if you lower your expectations for yourself:
- Don’t feel compelled to go to social gatherings or host any parties, particularly if you’re not feeling up to it. There will be plenty of opportunities down the road for all that.
- Don’t expect to keep up with all your chores in addition to caring for the baby, all on your own. Don’t expect to keep a perfect household in the first months postpartum, unless of course, you can hire a housekeeper. Don’t push yourself too hard, and don’t feel bad for not being able to do it all. No new mother can do it all by herself. It’s simply unrealistic. Do what you can manage, get your husband or someone else to help with the rest, or just do it later. This includes making your bed. There’s no need to make it everyday. Doesn’t even matter if the clothes you wear are wrinkled or worn several times already that week. Remember, your priorities are caring for your baby and making sure you get as much rest as possible. The key is to minimize your stress as much as possible and avoid overexerting yourself.
- Don’t feel compelled to pick up the phone every time it rings. Let the answering machine do its job every now and then, especially when you’re busy with the baby or when you’re trying to get some sleep. In fact, if and when you do try to sleep, you should try to forward the calls to voicemail so you won’t be disturbed.
Nothing Wrong With Doing Something Nice For Yourself…In Fact You Deserve It
- Do take the time at least once in the first 3 months to treat yourself to a trip to a beauty salon or massage parlor. Do something you wouldn’t usually think of doing, like get a makeover, a completely new hairdo, a facial or a massage. Or do something that you simply haven’t had time to do and is long overdue, like get a perm, highlights, hair coloring, pedicure and/or manicure. It may be something you can do yourself that you simply haven’t been able to find the time or energy to do since the baby’s arrival, like put on makeup, pluck your brows, or put nail polish on your fingernails and toenails. However, if you are breastfeeding you may want to put off a perm, highlights and hair coloring, since the chemicals can get into the bloodstream and into your milk. I’ve been getting highlights since before I got married in 2000 and had to put it off from the time I got pregnant until I changed over to formula feedings. I was feeling unkempt, not having had a haircut in a while and unsightly, with highlights grown out and long grey roots showing. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to finally get my hair cut and highlighted again. I felt rejuvenated, a new person!
Importance of a Healthy, Balanced Diet
- Do maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Remember, your body has gone through a series of huge biological changes. It shouldn’t have to be explained that sleeping, eating and staying hydrated are the 3 minimum and essential requirements for a person to stay alive. Your body requires adequate amounts of all three to recover from childbirth and recharge each day. Poor nutrition, sleep deprivation and dehydration will make you more vulnerable to illness and stress, putting you at greater risk for PPD. You must be sure to make time to eat (nutritiously). Make sure you get enough carbs, fiber and protein. It is never acceptable to not eat because you can’t seem to find the time to do so because of all the new pressures and responsibilities you now have—not to mention you desperately want to return to your pre-pregnancy weight and figure. Now’s not the time to cut back on the nutrition your body needs to recover and—if you’re breastfeeding—what your baby needs to get from your milk. If you’re not healthy, it makes taking care of your baby all the more difficult. Never mind that your body has just undergone huge changes, blood loss and trauma (some more than others). If you’re like me and suffer from a loss in appetite and weight, you will cause things like vitamin deficiencies, which in turn, can contribute to fatigue and make your PPD worse. Yes, another vicious cycle to try to avoid!
- To repair your body and bring it back to its former condition, as well as develop enough milk and prevent anemia, be sure to eat enough protein. Tofu, beans, nuts and of course meat are great sources of protein.
- To help with constipation, which is common in the first week as your body recovers from childbirth, not to mention a common side effect of antidepressants—eat foods high in fiber, like fruits, veggies and even beans. There is no prep work needed for pre-cut veggies (e.g., baby carrots), bagged salads, bananas, and grapes.
- Rather than eating 2-3 large meals a day, you may be better off with small meals throughout the day.
- Do avoid sugar, including soda and foods high in carbs, since it can cause rapid swings in your blood sugar level that can cause mood changes. The key to keeping your mood stable is by maintaining your blood sugar at a constant level. If you’re experiencing a loss of appetite, try to eat small, nutritious meals throughout the day. Avoid junk foods that are quick and easy ways to satisfy your hunger but have no nutritional value. If you want something quick and easy to eat, yogurt is a healthier option than Tasty Cakes, Twinkies or candy bars. Frozen dinners like Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine or even Subway sandwiches are healthier options than fast-food meals from McD’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, etc. Despite my lack of appetite, I made sure to stick with my 3 meals by eating oatmeal (carbs) for breakfast, ramen (carbs) and bok choy or a caesar salad with grilled chicken (protein) for lunch, soup with meat and veggies for dinner and yogurt if I got hungry again later in the night. Temporarily, my husband hat to eat cooked dinners alone because I didn’t have the appetite to eat more than a couple bites of food at any given time.
- Do avoid caffeine since it can cause mood changes, an increase in cortisol levels, and even insomnia. Coffee, tea and soda all have decaffeinated (reduced caffeine) and caffeine free (no caffeine at all) versions. During my PPD, I abstained completely from caffeine. If you are a regular coffee, tea or soda drinker, it will be especially tough to abstain during the first weeks when you are completely exhausted and want to get a caffeine boost to start off your day and/or keep you awake during the day and/or night. It was tough for me, but not impossible, to go completely without coffee during my PPD. Fortunately, I had already weaned myself during pregnancy to only drinking a small cup of decaffeinated coffee per day, which helped me avoid the usual headaches I get from missing my traditional morning cup o’ joe.
- Do avoid alcohol, since it is a depressant that can cause sleep disruption. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is not a sleep aid. It may cause drowsiness and help you fall asleep, but it doesn’t help keep you asleep and may in fact keep you up the rest of the night. It is especially important to avoid drinking alcoholic beverages while you are still breastfeeding—even if you are tempted to relieve your stress with a glass of wine or two or to believe advice you may have received about alcohol’s ability to promote milk supply/milk letdown—since alcohol can be carried through breast milk to the baby.