Written by Janelle Daku, Occupational Therapist
Stress is a natural part of becoming a new mom.
A newborn baby can bring so much joy and excitement to your life. It is also very normal to experience stress during this time. Worry, strain or pressure can occur in response to very demanding circumstances, in this case having a new baby to care for. It is common for new moms to feel overwhelmed. You may wonder if you are feeding your baby enough, if you are giving your baby and partner enough attention, if your baby is crying too much or even wonder where the energy will come from to get everything done that needs to be done.
New moms often use all their energy taking care of their new baby and their families, taking care of themselves often gets put on the back-burner. Many moms also feel that their energy should not be spent on themselves; it is common to feel this way, since your natural instinct is to care for your new born infant. This is a destructive thought pattern, since the only way you can care for your baby is if you yourself are happy and healthy.
Sleep is one of the most important self-care activities during the first 6 to 12 months.
Rest at every opportunity you have, for example when baby is sleeping, during a car ride with a family member or during time when you feel you should be cleaning or doing other tasks.
It may be beneficial to create a schedule for both day and night time to ensure you are getting a proper amount of sleep.
You can also create a nighttime schedule for feeding that involves you and your partner/other family members.
Giving birth is among one of the most stressful events for your body, it will take up to 3 years to heal from pregnancy, and sleep will help this healing process.
Eating Healthy will also help your body heal.
Drink plenty of water, have a bottle at your bed side, near where you feed your baby and close to your baby’s play/tummy time center. It may be beneficial to put a reminder every hour on your phone to drink water.
Avoid caffeine if possible. If you feel that you need caffeine, only have a small amount (try to stick to one 6 oz. cup a day). It is also important to time when you drink caffeine if you are breastfeeding (for example, drink your coffee during your first morning breastfeed).
Eat as healthy as you can, with an array of vegetables and fruits. It may be helpful to choose a specific day and time to prepare your meal ideas for the week to ensure you are not resorting to quick unhealthy meals.
Exercise is a very important stress reducer. It may not appear that you have time for long workouts (perhaps as you once did) but there are many little moments in the day that you can get a quick activity in. For example, when baby is playing you can lay down beside him/her and do some activities to improve your pelvic floor muscles, you can take baby for a walk (via stroller or carrier), or there are even classes available that are specifically made for mom and baby.
Mindfulness can also be useful self-care technique to reduce stress and anxiety. Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement. An online example is given in this body scan video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iDKF-TrAfE .
Meditation is also a way of practicing mindfulness, it is usually in a seated posture and you focus on something like breathing. Meditation can be as simple as placing your feet flat on the floor while you are feeding baby and focusing on your breath (counting your breath in for 3 counts and counting your breath out for 3 counts). There are a variety of online examples of meditation, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEfs5TJZ6Nk or https://www.headspace.com/meditation/10-minute-meditation .
There are many other ways that one can be mindful:
Gardening – nurture and grow something with our hands
Exercise – any type – swimming is a very good activity (it forces you to focus on your breath)
Spend time outdoors in nature, kick off your shoes and feel your feet connected with the grass
Art or hobbies ie. Knitting, painting, music
Spending time with children
Spending time with animals
Books, audio books, etc.
Basically, self-care is about creating healthy habits, removing stress by getting something done, or just treating yourself.
Self-care could also look like:
Eating a healthy meal
Respond to that ‘one’ email
Doing the dishes
Medications as prescribed
Disconnecting from social media
Doing 10 push ups
Getting 9 hours of sleep
Social participation is an important component of self-care. It is a protective factor against postpartum depression. Often, new mothers can feel isolated or alone. It is important to stay connected with family and friends. This can be scheduling Zoom sessions on a weekly basis, meeting up for a walk and coffee with a friend/family member or simply texting back and forth with someone you care about. There are also plenty of new mom communities on Facebook or within your specific community (for example, Mommy Connection in Saskatoon).
If you are experiencing feelings of loneliness, isolation and/or are having difficulties coping with your new role as a mother, Family Foundations Therapy offers group services, which is a place of acceptance, sharing of experiences of mood and motherhood and allowing for women to share challenges, knowledge and wisdom that can lead to feelings of empowerment and connection.
Art and creative expression are great ways to express oneself. Art-based practices contribute to psychological healing through improvement in self-esteem, empowerment, rebuilding of identity, sense of purpose, and focus.
Journaling can help new mothers process their birthing experience and challenges they are having in their new identity.
Emotions are normal and will come in waves. Due to lack of sleep, hormone changes and added stress, it is normal to experience a roller coaster of emotions. You are not alone! Most new moms will experience “baby blues” 3 – 5 days after birth and typically end around day 10. It is important to talk with a healthcare provider if you feelings get worse or last for more than two weeks, as this could be an indicator of postpartum depression.
Family Foundations Therapy can help develop a plan collaboratively with you and provide tools and strategies to overcome stress, anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed.
In summary, you should engage in ‘shared occupations’ to promote positive well-being in yourself and your baby – try to be present while feeding your baby, playing with your baby, bathing your baby, etc. By being in the moment you are increasing your connection and bond with your baby, it builds trust and understanding. You will start to understand their non-verbal communication, movements, energy patterns, cognitive skills and communication skills. This understanding will enable you to respond to their needs quicker and/or more appropriately. It is important to be gentle with yourself. All the roles, routines and structure of your life have changed. It is very normal to have feelings of being overwhelmed. But it is also very important to recognize what a healthy amount of stress and anxiety is versus an unhealthy amount. Enlist the help of others when possible (including other children, your partner, friends and family members). You should set up visiting hours that works best for you and your baby, even if this means that family and friends may have to wait a few weeks or months to meet baby. Most importantly, remember that Mommy needs a play date too! Baby will have lots of love and attention but you also deserve love and attention (whether this is a cup of tea, journaling, walking outside for a breath of fresh air or even enjoying a daily shower). It may be difficult to decide how to prioritize in your activities, this is normal when a major role and routine change occurs. One simple thing that I can recommend is not to get caught up in cleaning. If the house is mess, laundry is piling up, or those dust bunnies appear, try not to be tempted to put your energy towards this! Take cleaning shortcuts! Seek comfort in knowing that this stage will only last a short time.
Janelle Daku, Women's Health & Pediatric Occupational Therapist