By the time our babies arrived, we had learned all the tips and tricks and were (somewhat) confident in our abilities to keep our babes alive and healthy. Our healthcare system works wonders when you're pregnant. Your calendar quickly fills up with all sorts of classes, appointments, and courses. You spend 9 months prepping and learning how to care for your baby as soon as they arrive. But soon after birthing our babies, we realized there was a MAJOR miss in our parent-to-be crash courses and we neglected to read up on caring for a very important person: OURSELVES.
Sure, we could wrap a mean swaddle and properly install a carseat, but we had no idea how to care for ourselves. To be honest, it never even occurred to us that we should be preparing our bodies and minds for a major change. And once our babies were here and we were slapped in the face by our dear friend, Reality, we didn't even know where to begin. Self-care definitely got put on the back burner, because we had tiny babies and that's what mothers do: they put everyone else before themselves.
Hindsight is 20/20, but postpartum is a critical time for new mothers to spend extra time checking in with herself. We constantly preach this message, but we're going to say it even louder for the ladies in the back: you can't pour for others if your cup is empty. It's not selfish to care for yourself (even with a newborn). You are a person. You matter. You deserve to feel your best.
We're passionate about this because we didn't thrive during postpartum. Based on our own personal experiences, there's a better way to approach postpartum and it starts with you. Which is why we're so excited our friends at Mina Families are here to share more information on how to care for yourself during postpartum.
5 Ways To Care For Yourself Postpartum
by: Melissa Gutierrez Nelson
Congratulations! You made a human! Or labored via surrogacy or adoption. No matter your baby’s arrival, you are amazing. And whether this was your first babe or your newest one, no doubt you’re in the thick of things. You are postpartum.
Postpartum is incredible. And awful. And lots in between. You’re exhausted (obviously). And grateful (of course). But other than that, how are you mama? Are you taking time for yourself? Even just a few minutes each day? It’s necessary for your health and for baby’s well-being. And, hello, you deserve it.
I know it’s not easy. The baby needs to eat, and be changed, and held 137 times an hour - and then poof, the day is over. I get it. Parenting is packed full of self-sacrifice to care for our littles. But “me time” doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking. Sometimes knowing where to begin is the biggest challenge.
Here are five real-life self-care practices that can help you enjoy postpartum more.
#1 Make Space for the Chaos
Time: Just a moment, but also ongoing
I’ll tell you a not-so-secret, secret. Balance is not a thing. Not really. And sometimes it’s our relentless pursuit of it - of finding that secret sauce that’s going to make us less tired or more organized or good enough, whatever that means for us -- that pursuit is the thing that makes things feel so hard.
Motherhood has truly been one of my greatest joys - and also one of my wisest teachers. One thing I have learned (and keep learning, I need a lot of reminders apparently!), is that life is rarely static. Often times, as soon as we feel like we find our groove -- the perfect organizational system -- or just the right routine, something shifts and we feel like we have to start over again. And we wonder what we’re doing wrong.
Here’s the thing. We’re not doing it wrong. Life - though full of goodness -- is just really hard sometimes. Oftentimes. It’s a feature, not a bug.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” - Pema Chodron
In postpartum and beyond, let’s try to make space for things to come together and for things to fall apart. That space gives us room to let go — to stop grasping for perfection and control. To find joy in the chaos of motherhood and life.
Part of finding that joy is in caring for ourselves by taking the time to do simple, but ultimately, life-changing things like breathing, stretching, and moving. It comes from strengthening your community by reaching out and asking for help from those that love you and want to support you.
#2 Mindful Breath
Tool: Be with yourself
Time: One minute
You don’t have to be a super enlightened being to benefit from mindfulness. Simply taking the time to connect with your breath (with a bit of intention) can work wonders. And mindfulness doesn’t have to mean sitting for hours with clear, zen-like thoughts. It’s just the combination of breath + awareness. Begin by practicing for one minute a day.
- Set a reminder, or an alarm, on your phone for a time of day that is most likely to work for you.
- Sit comfortably on the floor or a chair.
- Put your phone on do not disturb. Set a timer for 60 seconds.
- Close your eyes and notice your breath, just as it is.
- If your thoughts or body are restless, notice that without judgement and return to your breath.
- Inhale for four counts, then exhale for six or eight counts. Repeat until the minute is over.
- And then, check that off your to-do list and bask in the accomplishment of prioritizing yourself.
- Gradually increase the time you are sitting. Aim for five minutes per day - it’s an amount of time that is sustainable, even for the most tired and busy among us.
#3 Gentle Stretching
Tool: Be with your body
Time: 5 minutes
The physical demands of caring for your baby, including frequent feedings and carrying baby (that car seat, amiright?!). Incorporating yoga poses and gentle stretches can ease aches and tight spots. Just remember that in postpartum, there is still relaxin in your body (the hormone that makes your joints and ligaments flexible, making it possible to birth your baby), so don’t over stretch.
Kneeling Circle and Reach: While on hands and knees walk your hands slightly forward so they are a bit in front of your shoulders. Keeping your palms to the floor, sway your hips back. Make several circles to the right. Come back to your hands and knees. Keeping your left hand down, inhale and lift your right arm to the sky. Exhale, return the arm down. Repeat several times. Then do the entire sequence on your left side.
Tool: Be with movement, expand
Time: 10 minutes - 30 minutes
When you return to movement, do so thoughtfully. Walking is a fantastic place to start.
- If you don’t have a fitness routine to return to, or if it is too early to return to one you loved pre-pregnancy - take a walk.
- As you return to movement, aim for just 15 minutes a day.
- Walk with a stroller or wear your baby. Walk with a friend or neighbor. Or take a bit of time all by your damn self.
- Get outside, if you can, to soak up some fresh air and Vitamin D - levels that are too low can affect your mental health. You can often bundle your baby (either under your coat if you are wearing them, or in warm layers in a stroller), even on chilly days.
- Establishing a practice of getting movement into your day postpartum, can help you continue this healthy habit - which is essential for your overall well being.
#5 Learning to Ask for and Receive Help
Time: Just a moment, but also maybe a lifetime
Most of us are terrible at asking for or receiving help. Because we can do all the things! We really can do all the things!
Maybe. But here’s what I know after two decades of parenting. Doing all the things is an impossibility in the long term. Receiving help when it’s offered, and - harder still - admitting we need help and asking for it -- will most likely not be easy. But like many things, it gets easier with practice. Postpartum is a great time to begin, and to make it easier, here are some get-started tips.
- Make a list. What are you feeling overwhelmed with? Household tasks? Not enough sleep? Time to spend with older kids or your partner? Or simply time to shower, or go for a 15-minute walk (see what I did there)? What would ease your mental and emotional load?
- Share your list with one person who is close to you. Let them be the one to take the lead in coordinating help. Ask them to put together a schedule (there are lots of websites that make it easy), and share it with people in your life that are likely to help. It’s always easier to ask for other people, rather than ourselves. And most people are thrilled to have a practical way to support you. There are even ways to allow people to help from afar by sending a gift certificate for services or meals.
If you live away from family or don’t have a close network of friends, consider the possibility of hiring professional help. A postpartum doula, a sitter, or a house cleaner can be a lifesaver when it comes to times of transition.
About the Author: Melissa Gutierrez Nelson
Provider + Community Outreach at Mina. Doula, prenatal yoga teacher, childbirth and mindfulness educator. Birth advocate and community builder.
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