Self-care for New Parents

Self-care for new parents

Caring for yourself means caring for your baby

New parents don’t necessarily feel ‘on top of the world’ in the months following childbirth. Some people love being a parent right from the beginning, while others take much longer to adjust. It is important to remember to practice self-care and not to expect too much of yourself. Try to take each day as it comes.

As new parents, it may feel like all your energy is focused on your new baby, so much so that you forget to look after yourself. Even if you may not seem to have the time it is important to take care of you. If you are healthy; physically, emotionally, and mentally, you will be able to better manage the challenges of being a new mother, father, or partner.

Look after your mental and emotional health

You can cope with stress in ‘helpful’ or ‘unhelpful’ ways. Many of your patterns of coping were learned during childhood—for example, hiding in your room when your parents argued (withdrawal).

It can be useful to think of ‘stress’ as arising from two sources: internal and external. Examples of internal stressors include feeling physically unwell, constantly worried or thinking negatively. Examples of external stressors include problems at work, relationship troubles and financial hassles. Because having a baby brings about both internal and external changes, it is considered to be a major life stress.

If a coping strategy helped you manage in the past, then you are more likely to use it again when feeling stressed. However, what helped you cope in one situation isn’t always useful in another. For example, withdrawing or emotionally shutting down on your crying baby may not be helpful. In the past you may have yelled at your partner when angry—however, an infant will find this frightening, so parents often need to learn new ways of coping with relationship stress. New stages in your life can challenge you to develop new strategies.

Parents tend to model ways of coping for children. Your parents influenced you, and you will influence your child. It is not unusual for parents to find themselves responding to their children at times of stress in ways they vowed they never would!

Trust yourself

Once you feel able to be realistic about what you can achieve and not overly worried over little things, you will feel more confident in being assertive. When others offer what seems like well-meant but misguided advice – ignore what feels wrong and do what you know is right for you. For example, when you are caring for a new baby, there may be times that you just feel overwhelmed by too many visitors, too much contact from relatives and too much ‘free advice”.  When you need your own space to be respected, communicating your wishes clearly, calmly and in a positive polite manner will help you get what you need without creating conflict.

It is not always easy to manage the challenges of parenting. When expecting a baby, it is helpful to start thinking about and talking to those close to you about the day to day challenges and how to manage these. Once the baby arrives, talking to others, joining in with other new mothers, and sharing experiences can help you adjust. There are community supports for young families in most local communities so you will not be alone. Open communication with partners, friends and families is essential.

Be kind to yourself

You are juggling a lot right now. Becoming a parent is one of life’s biggest transitions and it takes time to adjust to this role and the associated challenges and joys of parenthood. Additional changes may have also occurred for you and your family at this time. Many of us have transitioned to working remotely or have lost employment. These unforeseen circumstances can understandably lead to additional stress and fatigue. While this is not what you had envisioned as a new or expectant parent, you are responding the best you can. It is helpful to be realistic about the expectations placed on yourself at this time. Speak kindly to yourself, as you would a good friend. Together, we are all learning about the importance of self-care and how to best navigate the way forward.

Strategies you can use

There are many general strategies you can use to help you stay in good physical and mental health. You may find you need to learn different ways of managing stress to those you have used in the past. Even if you know you should be eating better and doing physical exercise, the challenge is to actually include this in your daily routine

Encourage yourself to get enough sleep?

In reality, pregnancy and being a mother during the first year of a new baby’s life is often filled by a constant stream of demanding tasks and physical changes. It can often feel like there is no time for self-care. Sleepless nights, feeling tearful, and sometimes just not knowing what to do, are all a part of this. Managing big changes in daily routine,, and learning to look after a baby all require enormous physical effort, emotional energy and patience. Not surprisingly many new parents feel fatigued and sometimes find it hard to manage.

Having a new baby often means broken sleep and needing to find ways of getting back to sleep once woken.

If you are having trouble sleeping or not getting enough sleep, some general recommendations are below. Learn to improvise your own routine based on what works best for you and your family.

  • Try to set a regular bed-time routine, as difficult as this can seem at times
  • Make your bedroom an environment where you feel relaxed and at peace
  • Have a warm bath or shower a few hours before bed to regulate your body temperature for sleeping
  • Avoid exercise, screen time or strenuous activities immediately before going to bed
  • Avoid caffeine or other stimulants in the evening
  • If you cannot sleep, get up and do something quiet in another room. Reading is a good option to help take your mind off other things
  • Calming music and relaxation or meditation exercises can help.

Take time to Self-nurture

There are lots of ways to nurture yourself. Self-care is one of them. Think about what you find rewarding and satisfying. Consider how to bring pleasure to your day in small ways, while you are pregnant and after your baby is born. Self-nurturing need not cost a lot of money or time. Consider doing something pleasurable for yourself each day.

Try to eat healthy meals

Try to eat healthy meals and avoid drugs and alcohol. Many parents and caregivers of young children, can struggle to find the time to cook, stay hydrated and to eat healthily. Set manageable goals for your family and allow for something easy like toasted sandwiches or eggs on toast on difficult days.

Look after your physical health

Taking care of your physical health has many benefits for your mental wellbeing. Look for opportunities to stay physically active and try to incorporate regular exercise where possible. Consider what activities would fit best with your modified routine, which may also include your partner or baby. Healthy eating habits, drinking plenty of water and trying to keep a good sleep routine, where possible, will also help support your general health.

Free and effective online programs

We hope these self-care suggestions help. You can find a lot more information at mumspace.com.au where you can explore free and effective online programs developed for Australian mums to deal with depression and anxiety during pregnancy and after birth.

Following are a few recommendations:

If you are preparing for the changes and challenges of a new baby, you mind enjoy reading ‘Towards Parenthood‘. This book focuses on the main areas of change encountered by men and women as they make the transition into parenthood. Text and thought-provoking exercises prepare the reader for the emotional, social, and psychological changes that may arise as they become parents. The focus is on developing both coping skills and parenting skills.

For all new parents there are great online tools to help you manage the challenges of parenting. Baby Steps is a free online program that aims to enhance the wellbeing of new mums and dads. Baby Steps was written for people having their first baby, but can be used by anyone with a young baby who wants to learn more about caring for their baby or themselves.

What Were We Thinking! is another program that offers new parents two useful tools, the evidence-based What Were We Thinking! program from which a professionally moderated parenting blog and a free mobile app, have been derived and adapted. This Australian program helps new mums and dads learn practical skills for settling babies and adjusting to changes in their relationship with each other.

MindMum App is our smartphone app when you need extra help with life’s ups and downs! The MindMum App is designed to assist expectant and new mothers with the emotional challenges that this time of life often brings. MindMum provides effective strategies to help you lift your mood, strengthen your relationships and feel supported and confident in becoming a mum.