Being a mum is possibly one of the most rewarding things we can do as women, from the first moment your little ones looks up at you – your life will be changed forever. However, as we know, once your little one is here you will have the inner urge to focus all of your attention on your beautiful newborn – but this can mean that you deprived yourself of your own needs and self-care.
Postnatal depression is a type of depression that many parents experience after having a baby. It's a common problem, affecting more than 1 in every 10 women within a year of giving birth, but it is also important to note that it can also affect fathers and partners too. Similarly, up to 80% of new mothers get what’s called the ‘baby blues’ - short-term dips in mood caused by all of the changes that come with a new baby. It may not be as severe as postnatal depression but these common conditions are why it is so important for new mums to look after their self after birth.
We know practicing self-care is extremely challenging when you are a new mum, but it’s also important. Your self-care needs are high, and as you’re busy with a newborn and major life changes, which means just when you need self-care the most is when it’s the most difficult to achieve!
What does self-care really mean?
Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook.
Although self-care means different things to different people, there’s a basic checklist that can be followed by all of us:
- Get the sleep you need
- Eat nutritious, enjoyable food and keep hydrated
- Follow-up with any needed medical care. It is not unusual to put off check-ups or visits to the doctor
- Remember to shower, clean your clothes and change your bedsheets
- Socialise with friends & family
- Exercise/do something to help you feel good in your body and get a rush of endorphins
- Have time to reflect and enjoy a quiet moment alone
(This sounds so simple until you have a newborn baby and finding time to take a shower feels like your biggest challenge of the day)
Why self-care is important, even when it can feel impossible?
According to a joint survey done by HealthyWomen and Working Mother, 78% of mothers reported they put off taking care of their own health because they were too busy looking after their loved ones.
Caregiver burnout is defined as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.” This can be caused by not spending enough time looking after ourselves. It can also cause you to get sick more often which is why it is so important to practice self-care and get support if you are struggling to do so.
We understand many struggle with making time for self-care, especially those looking after a newborn. It’s also very common for mothers to feel guilt for taking time for themselves, but self-care is essential to maintaining your own health and also key to your child’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Self-care also helps you maintain your sense of self-worth. New mums sometimes report that they have forgotten who they are and have lost themselves in their new motherhood identity. But you are much more than just a parent. Self-care can help you remember that you are a person, too. Practicing self-care also sets a good example for your children. If you want your children to sleep well, eat well, take care of themselves, and thrive, they will eventually need to see their mum doing these things.
Remember to show yourself some self-compassion:
A lot of women find new motherhood difficult and frustrating—and then they feel ashamed for thinking that way. That’s why you must remember that millions of other women are experiencing exactly what you're experiencing. This is a concept called "shared humanity" and it can help a person feel less isolated. There's something very comforting knowing that you're not alone in this.
Please be a friend to yourself. Think about what you would tell your best friend if she said she was feeling exactly what you're feeling right now, then tell it to yourself.
Remember, feeling emotional during and after pregnancy is common because of hormone changes. But it’s important to ask for help if you are feeling sad more than you are feeling happy. If you need any help or support don’t be afraid to reach out to family, friends or your midwife. They can help you find ways to look after your emotional health, including getting extra help and treatment if needed.