10 Ways to Help Me
The days and weeks following the birth of a new baby may be some of the best of your life, but they can also be emotionally, mentally and physically demanding. And while many new moms direct all of their focus onto the baby or their desire to regain their pre-baby body, it's essential that they give themselves some mental and emotional TLC, too. Whether it's catching a few Zs, taking time for yourself or surrounding yourself with loved ones, there are a few simple steps every new mom can take to make sure she's in tip-top shape when it comes to her emotional health.
The Emotional Stress of a New Baby
The mental effects of having a baby can vary from mother to mother, but Dr. Elizabeth Waterman, a psychologist at Morningside Recovery Center in Newport Beach, California, says moms can experience everything from hormone changes and sleeplessness to feelings of inadequacy as a parent and even the fear of judgment from others. “Women often have an idea about what those postpartum weeks will be like -- their ideal of the perfect pregnancy,’” adds Dr. Michelle Kelly, clinical assistant professor at Villanova University's College of Nursing. “Even when all goes as expected, the hormonal changes during and after pregnancy may make routine situations more emotionally charged.”
Related: Dr. Elizabeth Waterman
Surround Yourself With Loved Ones
If it's your first go as a new mother, the pressure can sometimes be overwhelming, and many women make the mistake of hiding their feelings or withdrawing from others due to the fear of being judged an inadequate parent. Instead of isolating yourself, surround yourself with friends and loved ones, whether it’s to share your concerns or feelings with someone or simply grab a quick coffee and get away for a few minutes. The mere act of having someone to confide in or just sit with can help reduce new moms’ stress and feelings of loneliness, says Dr. Elizabeth Waterman.
Though taking time to dance, paint, read or write may not be high on your priority list with a newborn around, finding time and ways to express creativity is key to feeling emotionally healthy in your postpartum days, says Dr. Scott Weiss, physical therapist and owner of Bodhizone wellness and rehab center in New York City. “Being able to be creative again and getting back into yourself helps you get back into your rhythm,” he says. Try writing in a journal for 15 minutes each day, or take a dance class at your gym or the local community center so that you're not only creative, but you're also in the company of others.
Find Some Peace and Quiet
Whether it’s 30 minutes dedicated to mediation or just two minutes to breathe slowly and deeply, instilling a sense of relaxation and peace into your everyday routine can help keep your mind calm and your spirit focused, says Dr. Scott Weiss, D.P.T., and owner of Bodhizone wellness center. “Meditation is really important, and just having some time alone, to count your breaths or watch the wind blow in the trees, can help,” he adds. You can also try relaxing forms of exercise -- such as yoga, dance or tai chi -- to help align your mind, body and spirit, Weiss suggests.
Hit Your Stride
Juggling diapers, doctors appointments, nap time, bath time and feeding times may completely take over your life for the first few weeks and months after giving birth, but the sooner you can return to your pre-baby routine -- or at least some semblance of it -- the better, says Dr. Scott Weiss, D.P.T., and owner of New York City wellness center Bodhizone. Try sitting down for your breakfast or morning coffee while the baby naps, or go for your regular evening run while your spouse takes care of things around the house. “Get back to plugging in, and try to maintain your schedule,” Weiss suggests. “Try to get back on track as fast as possible.”
Make Time For Sleep
It may seem impossible to fit an entire night’s sleep -- or even a short nap -- into your new life with a newborn around, but sleep is essential to regulating your mood, energy and physical health, says Dr. Elizabeth Waterman. “Taking any opportunity to sleep can help a new mother feel happier and more prepared to meet the demands of caring for her infant,” she adds. If possible, get at least seven hours of sleep each night. If that's not an option, get as much sleep as possible at night, then coordinate a daily nap while your baby is napping, too.
Ask For Help
While you may want everything done your way when it comes to the new baby, seeking help from others or letting them lend a hand with your chores -- whether it’s letting your mother babysit for an hour while you hit the gym or having your partner bottle-feed the baby while you nap -- can help relieve some of the pressure and stress you’re bound to feel. “The people around you really will help,” says Dr. Scott Weiss, D.P.T. “They want to support you, and you don’t want to push them away. Just having people around kick-starts the happiness, kick-starts the positive mindset.”
Just as exercise is helpful for getting back into physical shape after giving birth, it’s also key to improving your mental and physical health, says Dr. Elizabeth Waterman, Psy.D. “Exercise has many emotional and mental health benefits, which can help a new mom feel more competent and confident in her role as a mother,” she says. Once you’re cleared by a doctor for exercise, start slowly with walking, stretching or breathing exercises for about 30 minutes a day. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workout, getting back to your pre-baby intensity within a few months of giving birth.
While moderate exercise and adequate sleep can both serve as energy boosters and stress reducers, eating a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet can have its share of mental and emotional benefits for new moms, too. “Eating healthy, nutrient-rich foods can boost a mom’s energy so she can focus on fulfilling her responsibilities as a new mom and working off the extra weight gain during pregnancy,” says Dr. Elizabeth Waterman. Try adding healthful foods like protein-rich salmon; fruits like blueberries and oranges; and leafy greens like spinach, broccoli and kale to your diet to reap the most benefits.
Bond With Your Baby
As a new mom, you'll be spending a lot of time with your little one after giving birth, and any chance of bonding with your bundle of joy can help boost your chances of getting into peak emotional shape. When possible, strengthen your bond by breastfeeding your baby, suggests Dr. Michelle Kelly, clinical assistant professor at Villanova University's College of Nursing. Having this quiet time with your baby can help reduce feelings of anxiety and strengthen the sense of connection between you and your newborn. “Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for baby and has tremendous health benefits for women, too,” Kelly says.
Seek Professional Help
Postpartum depression can be a serious problem for new mothers -- one that should be addressed with the help of a doctor. “You put so much energy, time, focus into pregnancy, and then there’s a melancholy of all things done,” says Dr. Scott Weiss, D.P.T. “Things slow down, and it’s just you and your baby. And that sometimes can just develop a sense of loneliness or depression.” If you notice feelings of loneliness or emptiness, a loss of appetite and a decrease in your pleasure or interest in everyday events, schedule an appointment with your doctor or health-care provider for help with overcoming this common sickness.