Congratulations! You are a new mom, and you have a brand new little baby. This will be one of the most special times in your life that you will look back on and remember forever. Rocking your baby, cuddling your baby, watching that sweet little newborn sleep and coo and discover the world. As magical as this time can be, there is also a less-acknowledged flip side to all the beauty. Your body has just gone through what was possibly its most challenging physical feat to date, you will need time and rest to recover, and your hormones are making you feel like a weepier, less predictable version of yourself. Not to mention you are now responsible for a tiny human being who is biologically programmed to need you around the clock. Newborns can be challenging and nerve-racking. She’s so tiny, am I doing enough to protect her? Am feeding him enough? Am I feeding him too much? Is she having enough wet diapers? How can someone so little produce THIS MANY wet diapers? I’ve tried everything, and he is STILL crying all night long! How long can I survive without sleep? Am I doing this all wrong?! If you feel like you have just been plucked from your version of normal and transported to a strange new world, you are not alone. Here are some ways to nurture and care for yourself as you navigate the world of new motherhood.
Accept All The Help
Before you became a mother, you may have been a pretty self-sufficient person. You could get everything done around your house that needed to be done, go to your job everyday, feed yourself, walk the dog, and take a shower. As a new mom, it’s easy to forget what a shower is since your main priority is feeding your new baby as you and the dog go hungry. Don’t even think about the dishes and the laundry piling up all over your house. Mothering a newborn is all-consuming, and you need to accept the help that is offered. Allow your family and friends to help you fill in the gaps while you focus on your baby. I promise, you will be able to feel self-sufficient again one day! But as new moms, we need help. When people come over to meet the baby, ask them to bring lunch, walk the dog, load the dishwasher, or hold the baby while you sneak in a quick shower or rest. They will be happy to know they are helping as it truly does take a village.
Stay Home as Long as You Need, But Then Get Outta the House!
You may have seen Kate Middleton leaving the hospital in heels with perfect hair eight hours after delivering Prince Louis, but you need to let go of any pressure to be out and about in the days and weeks after having your baby. Everyone has a different birth story, and everyone’s body recovers at a different rate. In fact, many cultures around the world honor a “seclusion tradition” for new mothers and their babies allowing mothers to recover from birth and bond with their babies while family and friends take care of all the rest. In China, this tradition translates to “sitting the month,” and moms stay in bed with their babies in PJs with no baths allowed for 30 days. Do what you gotta do, mama! Whatever feels best in allowing you to heal and get to know your little one.
When this time passes, it’s time to encourage yourself to get outta the house! Everyone can feel a little stir crazy after awhile at home, so put your baby in the carrier or the stroller and take a walk, take a drive (as long as you don’t feel too sleep-deprived! Plus, newborns oftentimes snooze during car rides), grab a coffee at your favorite coffee shop, meet a friend, or just sit outside in the grass. Anything to get you out and about, even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time.
Take Self-Care Breaks
You know how flight attendants instruct you to put on your oxygen mask before helping those around you? Well, this also applies to moms. You have to take some time to fill your tank in order to provide all the love and care that your baby requires. See if a family member or friend can stay with the baby for a bit while you recharge, whatever that may look like for you. Maybe you schedule a massage, get a pedicure, get lunch with a friend, or run a baby-free errand. Remember that self-care as a new mom can also be as simple as taking a shower, soaking in a bath, or curling up in bed with a good book. Did I say book? I meant nap. For me, it was always a nap calling my name!
Find Your Tribe
The most healing thing when we feel exhausted, isolated, unsure of ourselves, and hormonal is to hear the words, “You too?! I thought I was the only person feeling this way!” Find a way to meet other new moms. If you are breastfeeding, many women’s hospitals offer a free breastfeeding support group. It’s a safe place to bring your baby where you can nurse, change diapers, attempt to calm a fussy baby, shed some tears (the baby’s and possibly your own), and be with moms who are feeling the same way. When you’re in it together, nothing feels quite as daunting. Plus, you need women in your life right now who are also constantly thinking about sleep, feeding a baby, pacifiers, diapers, and sleep. Here in Hawaii, we have an amazing program called Family Hui Hawaii that brings together parents of children of similar ages to learn positive ways to parent and share your successes and challenges of raising your children while forming life-long friendships between families. See if your community offers opportunities for you to gather with other new parents, and you’ll be on your way to finding your tribe.
Be Honest with your Doctor at your Postpartum Check-Up
Around the six-week mark, you will have a check-up with your doctor to see how you are doing physically, mentally, and emotionally. While it can be tempting to pretend like you have got this motherhood stuff figured out, this is the time to be 100% transparent with your doctor. Are you still having physical pain? Do the baby blues feel like they never really lifted? Are you so exhausted that you’re not sure you can function? Speak up! Your doctor has heard it all before and can connect you with referrals and local resources to support you during this time.
Consider Seeing a Therapist
Nothing flips your life upside down quite like the birth of your child. You are healing from childbirth, functioning on very little sleep, dealing with wacky hormones, navigating a new relationship with your partner as parents, and transitioning into this new role as mother. What a whirlwind! It can be extremely helpful to speak with a therapist as you navigate the maze of motherhood. With Smart Talk, you can schedule online video therapy sessions while your baby naps. Since session are only 30 minutes long you will hopefully have enough time afterwards to also rest before your baby wakes up again. Added bonus: no showers required for online therapy! Get the support you are looking for from the comfort of your home.
Hang in there, new mamas, and do the best you can to nurture yourself while you bond with and care for your new baby. You will get the hang of this, and it will get easier, and then it will get hard again, and you might find that you need to reinvest some extra energy into caring for yourself again. That is what motherhood is all about! You are not doing it all wrong, it just really is that hard. But there is a whole tribe of mothers waiting to welcome you into this new world with open arms and a spare diaper, both of which you will need at some point in your motherhood journey.
Written by Krista Harper, LMFT
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