LIFE

8 self care tips I’d give a new mum (from a new mum!)

MEL NOAKES

The Self Care Coach

Becoming a mum for the first time is an exciting, daunting, overwhelming, joyous, whirlwind, rollercoaster ride.  I’m sure there are a few more adjectives needed but you get the picture.  Even the most prepared woman can’t be prepared for motherhood because some things you can only know when you know.  Some things have to be felt.  Experienced. Endured even.

And one thing’s for sure, looking after yourself is crucial when you have a baby as you’re doing so much more with so much less.  You’re always on. There isn’t a day you can wake up and decide ‘nope, not today’. Caring for your child calls on all your resources – physically, mentally and emotionally.

Becoming a new mum myself, I realised just how critical my self care practice was – and how much I needed to pull on all of my resources and adapt my self care practice to cope with the changes.

When I saw the #whatidgiveanewmum campaign by the awesome Amy Ransom, I knew I had to share these lessons.  So if you’re a new mum or about to become a new mum – I see you, you’ve got this!  If you’re someone who will be supporting a new mum in any capacity this is for you too because she needs people like you, even if she doesn’t realise that yet.

The birth of a child is also the birth of a mother

Photograph by Luma Pimental via Unsplash

Mental wellbeing is the cornerstone of self care

Whoever coined the term ‘baby blues’ clearly had no idea of how the postpartum experience actually feels.  Almost all women (and some men too!) will experience some kind of emotional teariness or weepiness after having a baby.  This period in itself can feel incredibly overwhelming and be isolating as you wrestle with the enormity of becoming a mum, the impact of birth (whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’ experiences were had) and the hormonal changes happening within your body.

It can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and be considered ‘normal’.  However, 1 in 10 women will experience postnatal depression and, according to studies by the NCT, only 50% of those women will seek help.  Some women may even suffer from PTSD following a traumatic birth.

We’re starting to see mental health becoming far less ‘taboo’ yet still there are still mental health disorders that are less spoken about or still have a stigma around them.  Self care begins in our mind and to ignore our mental health is to fundamentally ignore the biggest building block of our overall wellbeing.

If you’ve just had a baby:

Firstly, congrats!  You grew a human, birthed it and bought it into this world.  You are incredible.

Yes, I know things feel a little overwhelming right now.  I know you’re not sure you can cope, but you can and you will and you’ll be amazed at yourself just a few weeks from now.  But for now, be kind to yourself.  Sleep whenever you can.  Let people help you with the baby.  They might not get it ‘right’, but you’re all still figuring things out so let them help you.  Eat well and drink lots (I mean water mainly, but something stronger might be in order from time to time too!)  Give yourself permission to cry and feel the feelings you need to feel.  You’re not wrong for needing or wanting that – you’re entirely normal.

I found the New Mum’s Notebook truly brilliant.  Sometimes it reduced me to tears. Sometimes it made me laugh.  Often it just validated that I’m OK and doing OK.  You don’t need a guide or specific book to journal – just a notebook will do and getting those feelings out is powerful.

If you notice it’s more than a week or two of feeling down, don’t be embarrassed or afraid to seek help.  Speak to people you love, visit your health visitor or Dr and talk to them.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother or you won’t cope.  It simply means birth sent your hormones in a million different directions and you might need a little help getting them back on track.  You’ll find when you start speaking about how you feel many other mums will have experienced the same thing.  It doesn’t diminish what YOU’RE going through, but it will show you it’s more common and ‘normal’ than you realise – you are not alone.

What you can do for a friend/partner/colleague who’s had a baby:

Give her a call around 5 days after the baby arrives and let her know she’s doing an amazing job, she can and will cope and she is still the same resilient amazing person she was before.  In fact she’s even more now.  Offer to bring her some food or take the baby for a walk so she can sleep (trust me, she doesn’t need more flowers, however nice they are).  Give her the chance to cry, vent, or simply reminisce about life before the baby if that’s what she needs.  Give her a cuddle and let her know it’s entirely normal to cry.  Don’t judge her or diminish her feelings – hear her out.

If you notice she’s been down for longer than normal, or spot some of the other common symptoms (listed here) encourage her to speak about her feelings and seek support.

You’ve got the t-shirt – now it’s time to set an example.

 

The female body is amazing – treat it with respect

Pregnancy is not only a different experience for every woman, but every single pregnancy is different.  Some women have morning sickness, some don’t.  Some feel sexy, some don’t.  Some sail through and ‘glow’, whilst some trudge through the pregnancy hot, sticky and uncomfortable.  But one thing is consistent – how incredible our bodies are to grow and birth a human (*by birth I include all forms of birthing because there is no one perfect or superior way).  Period.

And once the baby arrives your body does INCREDIBLE things.  Whether you breastfeed or not, your body nourishes your child.  You comfort, cuddle, rock, stroke and hold your child.  Your smell and the sound of your voice are the anchors to which your newborn attaches itself as it starts to navigate the world. Your hormones start to realign. Your body slowly starts to adjust to a new normal post birth. Your body grew a human.  Celebrate it, cherish it, nourish it.  Remember what you have just achieved is a miracle and it doesn’t come with a specified size of jeans.

To those supporting mums – don’t comment on her body.  Instead focus on how great she’s doing, how excited she is about becoming/being a new mum.  Encourage and support her.

Comments like ‘Are you sure it’s just one in there?!’ make women feel uncomfortable and embarrassed and often like you’re implying she’s not taking care of herself or her baby.  Equally comments about how small some bumps are can make Mums worry and feel insecure.

Put a ring around it

Thank you to the beautiful soul that is Suzy Reading and her gorgeous book The Self Care Revolution for giving me a name for this.

During my pregnancy, I listened to an amazing episode of my friend Chris Sandal’s podcast.  His baby was due shortly before mine and he invited his hypno-birthing teacher, Miriam, to join the podcast.

She noted on the call that many women think they’ll leave birth up to mother nature and not worry about it, but that’s just them being afraid and relinquishing control. I realised in an instant that was me.  Rather than coming from an empowered position, I was simply abdicating responsibility because I was afraid, genuinely afraid, of giving birth because of everything I had seen, heard and read about labour.

As a result of this ‘aha’ I bought an amazing book (if you’re curious which one click here) that helped me to navigate labour, what my choices were, what I could ask for, what power and rights I had and made positive suggestions to make birth easier.  I also attended classes and spoke to mums who’d had positive experiences.

In the end, my expertly packed hospital bag never left the car and my birth plan didn’t go according to plan, but birthing my child into this world was an amazing, powerful, beautiful experience which I enjoyed.  Damn it, loved.  Why?  In part, because I felt prepared for any eventuality (as much as you can be) and empowered because I knew I had choices and options at every point.  Going into labour I relaxed because I felt I had done what I could to be prepared for the experience.

In short, I put a ring around the things I could control and did something about it and everything outside that ring I let go of.

It’s something I’ve used since becoming a mum (*cough* OK so I might have googled the 4-month sleep regression a few million times) so much of life is out of our control, not least with a newborn.  But there are things we can do, so rather than focus on the stuff that we can do nothing about, it’s far better to put our energy into the positive actions we can take.

Surrender to simplicity

Let’s face it.  Many of us today have busy, multi-faceted lives.  We spin plates, rush from place to place and fulfil many roles.  Becoming a mother has taught me a lot about slowing down. And I’m not alone. I have many a successful, driven, career-oriented friend and client struggle in the early days of motherhood.  We’re not used to ‘doing so little’.

To quote a friend who recently said; ‘I mean all I achieved today was going to the supermarket and buying a roast chicken’.

Learning to surrender to simplicity and accept that ‘achieving’ means something entirely new as a mother has been the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn.  Letting go of the need to be ‘productive’ in the old sense of the word allowed me to embrace ‘productive’ in a new way.  You see it’s not so much about ‘doing’ as it is about ‘being’ and focus.  There are so few times in our lives where we truly get the gift to focus on just one thing.

Now rather than pack a day with activities I choose to do one thing a day. I also walk in the park every day and use it as moving meditation whilst my little one sleeps and I reconnect with nature and watch the seasons change (which is magical, I even enjoyed winter this year!) I stay home most evenings, I don’t have hundreds of plans at the weekend and I remind myself that this ‘nothing’ is the most important ‘nothing’ I’ll probably ever do.

Everything is better with sleep

Ah sleep.  No need to paint the picture of the early days of parenthood and the need for sleep, but let’s just say it’s pretty obvious pretty quickly why sleep deprivation is a form of torture.  Setting up a bedtime routine for my little one has reminded me just how powerful a bedtime routine is.  The hour we spend together winding down from the day, having a bath, massage and stories before bed is my favourite time of the day.  No phones, no distractions, just plenty of ‘us’ time as a family.

It made me realise, even though I know this and teach my clients to have routines, I have been guilty of not following my own advice. I might have blackout blinds and turn off my tech before bed, but taking time to wind down before bed, having a routine that signals to me it’s time for sleep – I haven’t done that in a long time.

After so many months of broken sleep, forgetfulness, extreme tiredness I’ve also realised all the unnecessary ways I neglected sleep in the past and told myself I could catch up at a later date, I was never operating at my best.  Now I prioritise sleep, I sleep when I can and often go to bed early to rest.  I ask for help with chores and other things so I can get the sleep I need to function as well as I can.  Sleep is not for wimps.  You can quote me on that.

“The love and attention you always thought you wanted from someone else, is the love and attention you first need to give to yourself.” –Bryant McGillns

You’re now doing so much more, with so much less

Images from Dakota Corbin and Priscella du Preez via Unsplash

Martyrs don’t get medals

Mums, listen Up.  Being a mum is a wonderful joyous and beautiful experience.  But, hear me out, Mums can also be their own worst enemy.  We think we can do it better than anyone else.  That we have to struggle or go it alone to prove we can do it.  That somehow we’re the only ones that can do what we do.  Yes, we may be right (sometimes), but frankly, no one gets an award for being the most exhausted, tired, or frustrated mother on the planet.  It’s not fun to slog it out.  It’s not fun to feel unappreciated.  It’s not fun to always be the one that carries the responsibility for everything.  And it certainly isn’t self care.

Ask for help.  Draw up rotas. Let your partner, friends and colleagues help.  They might not do it like you do it, but give them space to learn.  Delegate responsibility to free up your own space to rest when needed or focus on things where you can add more value.

 

Success is a series of small wins – celebrate them all

 

Seeing the world through a babies eyes is probably the biggest joy of being a new mum.  Their wonder at their own hands, the delight when they first hit their toy, their simple pleasure and joy in their own laugh or voice.  The fact that all of our complex movements start with the ability to learn how to roll (how many times a day do you roll over and not even think about it?!)

We often get so wrapped up in the big stuff we overlook the small, seemingly inconsequential steps it takes to get there.  But when you stop and notice them, they are all magical and deserve celebration.

Above all else be kind

We put such high expectations on ourselves to have stuff figured out, to be the ‘best mum’ and ‘best partner’.  We have such high expectations of our partners but don’t communicate properly.  We have high expectations on our babies and the way we cope with them and they cope with the new world around them.  We have expectations on ourselves and the new role we’re taking on and sadly society often has high expectations on us.

It might be hard to bite your tongue sometimes.  It might be hard to quieten the nagging voice in your head when you’re so tired and worn.  But kindness costs nothing.  Treat yourself with tenderness and respect – you grew a human.  You are doing so much more on so much less.  You can’t do ‘it all’ and you’ll have to find a new normal.  Everything happens in it’s own time.  For now be kind and gentle with yourself.

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