When it comes to self-care as a new mom, you have to think like you’re taking off on a holiday. (Trust me; I’m going somewhere with this.) And, while any new mom will tell you that early postpartum life is hardly a vacay, there is a pearl of wisdom perfect for new mama self-care that you’ve likely heard recited by your flight attendant just before take-off: You must put on your own oxygen mask first.
We need this reminder because prioritizing your own well-being isn’t always natural instinct. It’s especially true in motherhood. In fact, there’s a ton of data to show that our brains actually change after giving birth and we’re hardwired to focus on our baby’s needs, even when we’re completely knackered.
It’s biology at work, and for good reason: Our newborns are helpless. But making your needs a priority is important and beneficial to your baby. In the fourth trimester, mama and babe coexist almost as one. Your well-being matters!
Take some time to consider the layers of postpartum self-care: physical, mental, emotional, and don’t feel guilty for a darn second giving attention to your own needs. (In many cultures, a new mom is catered to for the first month or so after giving birth and we really need to inspire more of that.)
If you’re a first-time mom, life is going to be radically different once you give birth. Hold some space for that. If you’re already a mom, finding time to take care of yourself postpartum can be even more challenging with other little people relying on you.
Embrace these self-care tips, from the nitty-gritty body care to navigating the roller coaster of new-mom emotions. We’ve got you.
Alright, mamas, let’s not beat around the bush: Having babies takes a toll on our bodies, however we give birth. So let’s dig into the “I Wish Someone Had Told Me...” files and keep it real, shall we?
Take Care Down There: Whether you give birth vaginally or by cesarean, your intimate bits will need some TLC. Aunt Flo is back in town and she’s going to be sticking around for a while. You can expect to bleed for up to six weeks postpartum, so stock up on pads. Some moms find adult diapers most comfortable and functional in the early days (e.g. Depends), though you might also need a pad.
Witch hazel is a plant-based astringent – meaning it causes contraction of body tissues – and can be applied to a pad to help soothe perineal tenderness, tearing, episiotomy cuts, varicose veins and hemorrhoids. Taking herbal sitz baths is another way to encourage gentle perineal recovery. Herbs such as calendula, comfrey and marshmallow are known for anti-inflammatory properties and have been used for generations to soothe irritated skin and heal wounds.
Ask your doctor or midwife for a “peri bottle” – a small, squeezable bottle with a nozzle. Fill the bottle every time you use the toilet and squeeze a gentle stream of warm water over your lady land to avoid any stinging sensations and help keep everything clean.
When possible, lie down on a towel and go pants-free to encourage healing.
Make Padsicles: To make “padsicles,” apply some of the reserved liquid from an herbal sitz bath to a pad, along with some witch hazel. Some women find added relief if the pad is cold. (Start by putting one in the fridge and if the cooling sensation is welcome, try putting them in the freezer.) If you’ve given birth vaginally, pop the padsicle into your undies; after a c-section, lay it across your incision.
Stay Abreast: Don’t underestimate the time and energy involved with newborn breastfeeding. It’s pretty much a full-time job and there’s always a learning curve for both mama and the baby.
Breast massage under the stream of a hot shower can help to relieve engorgement when your milk comes in. Set up a few nursing stations around the house so you have what you need when you need it (a full water bottle, a few nutritious snacks, headphones, etc.). You won’t want to get up once you’re settled in.
Be proactive with nipple balm to help soothe sensitive skin and prevent cracked or bleeding nipples – ouch! Don’t hesitate to get help from a lactation consultant. Pain is one of the most common reasons why moms stop breastfeeding and many new moms find themselves in need of some guidance. Once you figure things out, breastfeeding can be incredibly rewarding, convenient and budget-friendly!
When possible, keep breasts open to the air for easy nursing and to help prevent thrush – which is a common yeast infection of the nipple.
Soak it Up: If you’re looking for a full-body workout, labour and delivery ought to do the trick! Soaking in an Epsom salts bath is a great way to ease aching muscles and relieve stress. Beyond the physical benefits, spending 20 minutes alone in the bath can do wonders for the spirit. When possible, have someone else prepare the bath and watch the baby while you enjoy a relaxing and healing soak.
Have Smooth Moves: Your first few bowel movements after having a baby will be intimidating, whether you give birth vaginally or by c-section. The muscles you typically rely on are on hiatus and everything is tender. Snack on high fibre foods, like prunes, and drink plenty of water to help, ahem, ease the situation.
MENTAL & EMOTIONAL CARE
Prepare to be swept up in a powerful tide of emotions. Feeling confused, frustrated and full of self-doubt is not uncommon postpartum. The immediacy and constancy of new motherhood can be particularly overwhelming for first-time mamas. Get cozy. Go slowly. You’ve got this and it WILL get easier.
Create Comfort: Fill the house with your favourite foods (before baby arrives), play music you love, pile up comfy pillows and blankets and hunker down. Early postpartum life is exhausting. It also makes for some of the most intimate and magical moments imaginable.
Breathe Fresh Air: A few breaths of fresh air can improve your mood, boost immunity, increase energy and help to clear your mind. Even if you give birth in the bleak mid-winter, make sure you open the windows or step out onto the porch for some fresh air every single day.
Talk it Out: Open communication between you and your partner and/or other support people (your bestie, your sis, your postpartum doula, your mother etc.) is key to keeping your self-care promises. I always suggest that new moms have a confidante – a special friend who can be your go-to person when you need to talk, without fear of judgement. If you’re having a hard time, it’s good to let someone know.
If things begin to feel particularly rough beyond two to three weeks after giving birth, check in with your healthcare provider, as you may be experiencing some postpartum mood challenges. Remember there is no shame in mental health difficulties. Approximately 15 percent of new moms will experience some kind of postpartum mood disorder, though this figure is based on women who seek out help. It’s generally accepted that the number of women who have some mental health issues postpartum is higher.
Take a Break: Make breaks a regular part of your routine whenever possible. If your partner is working during the day, be sure to take a break when they get home. (Hand over the baby and go take that bath!) Try to set yourself up with as much support as possible – a friend or family member coming over – so you can have break in the daytime. If you’re alone with your baby and feeling overwhelmed, remember that you can always put your baby down in a safe place (the crib or bassinet) and take a few moments to yourself. Caring for a newborn can be incredibly overwhelming at times. You’re doing a great job.
Ask for Help: New motherhood was never meant to be a solo mission. You just grew and gave birth to a tiny new human! You need and deserve help. Don’t hesitate to ask for it. It’s a great idea to connect with the people in your circle of support and make a postpartum plan before baby arrives to see who can lend a hand with things like light household duties, meal prep, walking the dog, taking other children out to the park and whatever else you’d find most useful.
Let go of any expectations. Remember that you and your baby are perfect for one another and, like every other mother and newborn, you are figuring it out as you go. Above all else, be gentle with yourself.