Postpartum Self-Care (image credit: Mariah Aro Sharp @mightymooseart)
Rav’s Repro is a column in which Erin explores all topics related to reproduction and reproductive rights.
Self-care can be a challenge for many of us. We are distracted and preoccupied with to-do lists and finance and jobs and relationships. It can be easy to allow sacred space and time for oneself to slip away.
Add a newborn and a body recovering from childbirth, and postpartum self-care gets a whole lot tougher.
If it was challenging before baby, it can feel darn near impossible to get any semblance of self-care in place post-baby. And the thing is, new parents (especially those who are going through the physical aftermath of childbirth) need it more now than ever.
Those who know me or have been reading this column know that it’s not always easy for me to prioritize self-care (see: working in the NICU), but I do have a framework that I rely on, time and again, to get myself back on track with making time for ME.
The concept of putting yourself first, at least for a few moments throughout the day, can seem foreign to a tired parent with a child (or two or four). But, it’s so important. Not only can it help stave off or ease potential postpartum depression or anxiety, but it will make you a better parent.
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So, how do you make postpartum self-care happen?
When life feels out of control, and the thought of a mani-pedi or yoga or lunch with friends seems unattainable, I like to take it back to the basic-est of basics. Have you eaten? When? Are you drinking water? No? Then get a glass right now. Peed? Splashed cold water on your face? Put on some lip balm? Maybe some lotion on your feet?
I promise you can put the baby down for a few minutes, even if they’re screaming their little head off. Put the baby in the crib. Take two, three, four minutes for some minimal basic act of kindness, nay necessity, for you.
Yes, these count as self-care. To-Do Lists save my sanity. That’s not hyperbole. In times of chaos, like when a newborn has come to live with you FOREVER (okay, at least a good 17-18 years), a to-do list will be your best friend. And put everything on it.
I do this at night before bed. I have a dedicated word doc, and stuff that didn’t get done gets left there for the following day. But, the top of the list is the most important because that’s where all the super basic stuff goes. A sample of my to-do list in those first few weeks postpartum:
- Wake Up.
- Make the bed.
- Brush teeth.
- Five minutes of meditation.
- Pump (if possible).
- Text Dad back.
- Call mom back.
- Email A’s school.
- Order from Jet.com: toilet paper, paper towels, cat food, diapers, counter-spray….
- Go for a walk.
- Work. (Mine said this; yours should not. Don’t be like me.)
- Eat lunch.
- Drink WATER!!!!
- Nap with the baby.
You get the idea. Brain dump all the stuff you forgot to do today onto tomorrow’s list. If not, Mom may never get a call back. (Also, science backs me up on this.)
Asking For Help
I am awful at this. Like REALLY, REALLY awful. But, having a newborn again forced me to ask for some help. Reach out to family members, friends, your partner, hired help (if you can afford this).
You don’t have to be a superhero. It’s okay. This is a big one for me. My Reiki healer (who has helped me beyond measure) said something that was spot on, as I was flailing and feeling like a failure a couple of months after Franklin was born. She said that I need to show myself some compassion, that the expectations I’d been setting for myself were cruel and impossibly high.
She was right. I advise people all the time to treat themselves with compassion, and here I was, a masochist, pretty much setting myself up to feel like a failure every day.
Although this is a lesson I am continually reminding myself of, that was a turning point for me.
Moving Your Body
First six weeks postpartum (and longer if you’ve had a C-section), you won’t be running any marathons, but moving your body is a big part of self-care.
Now, when I say “move your body,” I don’t mean — move your body, so you get that pre-pregnancy body back. This is not about that. I mean — move your body because it will make you feel better.
Movement releases endorphins and changes your headspace. Movement helps the body heal.
Now, sure, moving your body can mean exercise. It can mean cycling or running. It can mean pilates. It can mean baby yoga. But, it can also mean dancing around your living room with your baby to Cardi B. It can mean just taking the baby outside for a walk. Which leads me to…
Anyone who has tried to get out of the house with a 10lb. Bundle of Joy knows this particular category of torture: Here we go! Oh no, a poopy diaper. And we’re off! And baby just spit up on me. And FINALLY. And, I forgot my phone/keys/head.
Just go. I have found that sometimes I just need to GTFO the door and get some fresh air. Throw that bebe in a carrier and take a walk around the block. The air and the sun and the people outside will be good for both you and the baby. And, it’s okay if you have spit up on you and you forgot your phone. Sometimes, outside supersedes all (except a poopy diaper).
Finding five minutes is possible. I promise. Find them. Take them. Use the mediation tools of your choice. Lately, mine is listening to this, lying down, and holding a few crystals. Yeah, it’s woo, but it works for me.
There are many, many ways to meditate. There are also many, many apps. Find the way/the app that works for you and do it.
You will be astonished at what a difference five minutes of meditation can make for your brain.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Perhaps the most crucial rung on my self-care ladder is this one: acknowledging what I am feeling. Sadly, many of us have been taught or learned this f*cked-up technique of concealing, minimizing, or outright denying our feelings.
The greatest act of self-care is saying, “This is what I feel.” NO ONE should ever tell you that what you’re feeling is wrong. Your feelings are just that — yours.
This is extra important postpartum because being aware of and acknowledging your feelings on a regular basis makes it a whole lot easier to clue in if postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety kicks in.
If you are feeling depressed or anxious, please tell someone. Start with your doctor. Lean on your partner and your friends and family. Taking care of your mental health is vital to basic self-care.
And it will all get easier, even the pospartum self-care part. I promise. I’ve lived to tell the tale.