New to this parenthood thing? Feel like you can barely deal with keeping this tiny human alive, let alone have time to look after yourself? Well, you’re not alone.
There’s a whole heap of overwhelm when you become a parent. Perhaps the birth was traumatic but you’ve barely had time to process it. You’re supposed to be ‘happy’ with your bundle of joy but actually you feel a lot like you’re massively underqualified and experienced to be responsible for this tiny squishy thing that relies on you for survival. You’ve had about 10 minutes sleep, you’re being bombarded with (sometimes conflicting) information from all sides that you don’t have the brain capacity to analyse properly. You don’t have 5 minutes to take a piss by yourself and think that self-care is for people without kids. To top it all off, in the back of your head are all those celebs or friends who magically got back in to their pre-pregnancy jeans and looking like they had their shit back together about 5 days after birth and you look at yourself and go… “well fuck. I’m failing so badly at this!”
Well stop right there. Deep breath. You can do this. I have some ideas of how you can look after yourself at this time.
In his book ‘The Chimp Paradox’, Dr. Steve Peters mentions how the primal ‘mothering drive’ can sometimes interfere with us looking after ourselves (it’s a great book, you should check it out!). Here the ‘Gremlin’ refers to a damaging belief we are telling ourselves, the ‘Chimp’ is the primal part of the brain and the ‘Computer’ is like our memory banks.
Does this sound familiar? I know I have a tendency to put everyone else in the family before my own needs, I’ve had to train myself to look after myself too. It’s definitely worth getting this sorted sooner rather than later though and I think it’s helpful to know that the conflicting feelings we have about self-care are really common and we can work to retrain our brains to feel less guilty about it. Here are some things you can consider:
Talk about how you feel:
Talk to your partner or a close friend and tell them exactly how you are feeling. Sometimes we’re worried we can’t ask for time to ourselves because we feel selfish or we think others will think we’re not coping if we ask for help. Ask your partner how they’re feeling too, men can often be emotional after the birth too but might not initiate a conversation about it because they don’t want to appear weak, or feel they have to be the ‘strong’ one. My husband felt pretty down after the birth of our second child because he felt like he should be a ‘better provider’ (he hated his job at the time and I think the pressure of a new human to look after too magnified those feelings). Remember to keep talking to each other, to be truthful with each other, to ask each other for help when you need it, don’t get all pissed off that they’re not reading your mind. Some people are good at knowing what you need, and others need more …explicit direction!
Accept/Ask for help:
Shit is going to be hard and you are going to be tired. If someone offers you help, fuck politely saying ‘no, it’s fine!’ and just let them help. Really! Meals, washing, looking after baby while you nap or shower, taking older children to the park are all great things people can do for you, if nobody asks you then consider asking them! You can bribe them with baby-snuggles. Another idea is to consider a post-partum doula, especially if your friends and family live far away, they can help support you both emotionally and practically and are generally awesome. It’s important to remember that time to yourself isn’t selfish, it’s necessary!
Connect with people:
It has been said that new motherhood is one of the loneliest times of your life. There can be a real craving for interaction with other adults when you have spent many, many hours only interacting with a baby. As I was the first of my friends to have a baby I found that not many of my friends really understood how tired I was and how hard it was. I also found it difficult to make friends with other mothers when the only thing we had in common was that we’d created a human being. I thought, surely there must be some people like me in the middle of this venn diagram?! Luckily there was, but they did take some hunting down (but it was worth it!)
Try online groups on places like Babycentre and Facebook and either join groups that fall in line with your parenting or personal style or local groups to make some real-life friends and find out about local classes and services. (Fellow mums in Cheshire drop me a line via Facebook or the ‘contact’ form on here if you need pointing towards any local groups)
If you feel up to it you could go out to various real-life groups, my local LLL meeting was my first outing and they were great, but that was when my baby was 6 months old already! (However I am an introvert…) Don’t feel pressured in to attending these things if you don’t feel up to it, your baby will be fine if you don’t religiously take them to baby massage every week. And anyone who tells you that internet friends aren’t ‘real’ friends can jog on 😉
Get out of the house:
The baby will drive you nuts sometimes. Pop them in a sling or pram and go for a walk. The fresh air and change of scenery is bound to do you both a world of good and the bonus is they might go to sleep so you can enjoy 5 minutes of peace. You could also go for a drive, again with the bonus sleep and you can sneak yourself a drive-through coffee! If you can leave the house alone then that would be awesome, have some time to just ‘be’ or go stare at things in the 24hr Asda! (Try to remember the baby isn’t with you, I did once stand in a Post Office queue and realised I was swaying side to side like when I was wearing the baby in the sling… except I wasn’t and I was definitely getting weird looks!)
Not everyone (ok, like, barely anyone!) is lucky enough to bounce back straight in to their pre-pregnancy clothes like someone from The Sims, but it is likely that your maternity clothes will be too big! If you neglect your post-partum wardrobe you could end up feeling down about your weight and shape and put pressure on yourself to ‘loose the baby weight’ immediately and you don’t need to be worrying about that crap! Treat yourself to some comfy items that you can easily slob about the house in but might pass as ‘I managed to dress myself’ if you have to go out somewhere. I like black yoga pants, so comfy, can easily pass for actual pants! Also breastfeeding mamas you’re going to need tops you can get your boobs out of. All. The. Time!
Remember who you are:
Becoming a parent is a bit of a metamorphosis. You’re some happy little caterpillar getting on with your life and then shit gets liquefied and confusing and then you come out the other end of it like a reasonably sorted butterfly. I’m definitely a different person now than I was before I had kids, and that process of letting go of the ‘old me’ and finding out who this ‘new me’ was, was tricky. So if you’re at the liquefied part of your journey right now, you might feel lost, you might feel sad that you can’t go back to the freedom of your pre-baby life and you might feel frumpy and mumsy and crap. Well, I feel you. Hang in there and find ways to feel good about yourself and remember who you are and what you like. Try to get a shower, try to find clothes you like, put on make-up if it reminds you that you are stunning, even if you’re not going out anywhere. Try to squeeze in some exercise that you find fun and enjoy, have a dance in your living room to music you enjoy (maybe the baby will like it, one of mine would nod off to Kerrang! Radio for some reason *shrugs*) Get your hair done or just buy some crazy dye and do it at home! Little things like these will do wonders for your mood and confidence.
Eat (not just cake):
Breastfeeding burns an extra calories and can also make you super thirsty so make sure you keep hydrated. Stock up on easy snacks and meals you can eat one handed in case your baby refuses to be put down. Eat things you enjoy and try to feed your body with love and nutrients as it’s recovering from growing a whole human being! As previously mentioned if you can get people to bring you meals then that would be epic. Invest in travel mugs to keep your hot drinks warm, because you can bet that if you think you can sit down with a cuppa for 5 minutes then the baby will unleash a poonami and you’ll forget about your tea!
Watch out for signs of PND:
Post-natal depression can happen to both parents. You could go to your GP or see a private therapist or check out the PANDAS website for details to see if they could help you – they have a helpline and various support groups, including ones for Dads and partners. So if you are feeling persistently sad, low or anxious for more than a few days, feeling hostile or apathetic towards your loved ones, feel suicidal or like you might harm the baby or maybe feel that you’ve become obsessed and anxious about you or your baby’s health you might need to seek professional help to bring you back in to balance.
Do you have any other ideas to help new parents hang on to their mental wellbeing? Leave a comment below 🙂