A version of this story was originally published on Jan. 22, 2017. It has been updated.
The postpartum period is not the same for every mom, but most often that early euphoria sends a new mom into caretaker action without much thought or effort for her own self-care. Until... the exhaustion, the residual pain from childbirth and the sometimes abrupt realization that you do in fact have other responsibilities outside of the baby sets in.
This can feel like someone dumped a ton of bricks on your already-tired back.
This conundrum is the beginning of the looping question that nearly every mother grapples with throughout most of her life as a mom:
How do I take care of myself while caring for my child & all the other responsibilities in my life?
As a veteran mom of four children and author of "The Self-Care Solution: A Modern Mother's Must-Have Guide to Health and Well-Being," for which I interviewed hundreds of moms, the most important mantra for every new mom who is in the throes of making this life-altering transition and trying to figure out the answer to that question is this:
I will be KIND to myself.
Many moms, myself included, find many of the postpartum days and nights to be a blur. I remember feeling as if I were walking wearily through a very dense fog and sometimes I accidentally stepped in some quicksand. While there are certainly moments of euphoric bliss while gazing at the amazing miracle you created who is resting in your arms, the postpartum period is not for the faint of heart.
Self-care is not high on your list right now.
But I am here to offer you a lifeline: A lifeline that you will need throughout your entire life as a mother.
From this point on, the responsibility of taking care of your child will take up a great deal of space in your heart, mind and body. In turn, the time and energy you need to take care of yourself will be more scarce.
Your self-care needs to be driven from a strong and secure place within you—a place that is fueled by self-love, self-worth and self-advocacy.
Sometimes it may seem that you have to fight for your self-care. And often you will. And sometimes you won't want to fight and will feel like it's too hard to fight for your own self-care when you have so many other responsibilities.
But remember that, as Brené Brown tells us, we are wired for struggle.
Think about how your baby arrived in this world. Their first sound was a cry. Their first audible self-care signal that says, “Feed me hold, me, warm me, touch me, soothe me…" As a mother, you must not only be attuned to your baby's cries, but pay attention to your own cries for self-care as well.
And you are in charge of honoring and tending to both.
Take charge of your own self-care
In the months after your baby is born, in addition to honoring your baby's needs, keep this self-care checklist nearby as a daily reminder of your own care needs.
- I will aim to take a hot shower or bath today or tonight.
- I will eat at least one nourishing meal while sitting down at a table.
- I will keep myself hydrated throughout the day and night.
- I will make sure I laugh today. I may need to call a friend who can find humor in anything or watch a funny show or video.
- At least once today, even for just a few moments, I will ground myself by connecting with gratitude or making a spiritual connection—maybe through meditation, prayer, yoga, deep breathing or a centering exercise like writing or reading.
- I will move my body today by taking a short walk around the block or up and down the stairs, doing 10 minutes of stretching or yoga, or dancing in the kitchen while heating up a bottle.
- I will connect with my partner about something other than the baby. Maybe I will send a thoughtful text, hug or kiss him/her at least once during the day or night, or share a glass of wine or cup of tea after kids are in bed.
- I will do something for myself today that makes me feel special and ignites inner joy. Maybe I will treat myself to a manicure when grandma watches the baby, savor a second cup of coffee, or meet a friend for a walk or lunch.
- I will honor my body's need for sleep by forgoing cleaning, laundry, emails and cooking (relying on my partner's or family's help if possible) if I can grab an extra hour of sleep when the baby is sleeping.
Would you deprive your child of eating healthy foods, moving their bodies, getting enough rest, playing with friends, drawing, painting, reading, exploring, signing, dancing or spending quiet time alone?
Of course you wouldn't. So why would you deprive yourself of those things?
Self-care is not selfish. Self-care is the belief that you are worthy of a healthy and joyful life.