Self Care: Caring for yourself means caring for your baby

New parents don’t necessarily feel ‘on top of the world’ in the months following childbirth. Some people love being a parent right from the beginning, while others take much longer to adjust. It is important to remember to practice self-care and not to expect too much of yourself. Try to take each day as it comes.

As new parents, it may feel like all your energy is focused on your new baby, so much so that you forget to look after yourself. Even if you may not seem to have the time it is important to take care of you. If you are healthy; physically, emotionally, and mentally, you will be able to better manage the challenges of being a new mother, father, or partner.

Look after your mental and emotional health

You can cope with stress in ‘helpful’ or ‘unhelpful’ ways. Many of your patterns of coping were learned during childhood—for example, hiding in your room when your parents argued (withdrawal).

It can be useful to think of ‘stress’ as arising from two sources: internal and external. Examples of internal stressors include feeling physically unwell, constantly worried or thinking negatively. Examples of external stressors include problems at work, relationship troubles and financial hassles. Because having a baby brings about both internal and external changes, it is considered to be a major life stress.

If a coping strategy helped you manage in the past, then you are more likely to use it again when feeling stressed. However, what helped you cope in one situation isn’t always useful in another. For example, withdrawing or emotionally shutting down on your crying baby may not be helpful. In the past you may have yelled at your partner when angry—however, an infant will find this frightening, so parents often need to learn new ways of coping with relationship stress. New stages in your life can challenge you to develop new strategies.

Parents tend to model ways of coping for children. Your parents influenced you, and you will influence your child. It is not unusual for parents to find themselves responding to their children at times of stress in ways they vowed they never would!

Trust yourself

Once you feel able to be realistic about what you can achieve and not overly worried over little things, you will feel more confident in being assertive. When others offer what seems like well-meant but misguided advice – ignore what feels wrong and do what you know is right for you. For example, when you are caring for a new baby, there may be times that you just feel overwhelmed by too many visitors, too much contact from relatives and too much ‘free advice”.  When you need your own space to be respected, communicating your wishes clearly, calmly and in a positive polite manner will help you get what you need without creating conflict.

It is not always easy to manage the challenges of parenting. When expecting a baby, it is helpful to start thinking about and talking to those close to you about the day to day challenges and how to manage these. Once the baby arrives, talking to others, joining in with other new mothers, and sharing experiences can help you adjust. There are community supports for young families in most local communities so you will not be alone. Open communication with partners, friends and families is essential.

Be kind to yourself

You are juggling a lot right now. Becoming a parent is one of life’s biggest transitions and it takes time to adjust to this role and the associated challenges and joys of parenthood. Additional changes may have also occurred for you and your family at this time. Many of us have transitioned to working remotely or have lost employment. These unforeseen circumstances can understandably lead to additional stress and fatigue. While this is not what you had envisioned as a new or expectant parent, you are responding the best you can. It is helpful to be realistic about the expectations placed on yourself at this time. Speak kindly to yourself, as you would a good friend. Together, we are all learning about the importance of self-care and how to best navigate the way forward.