You had a baby! This is an incredible, exciting, and often exhausting time. While all of your attention is likely on your new addition, don't forget that your own well-being is a critical piece of caring for your baby. As the tired-but-true saying goes, "You cannot pour from an empty cup". In many cultures there are rituals and customs associated with this time, which are specifically created to honor the person who gave birth, and help them to recuperate. In western society we are often missing these practices, as well as the support systems needed for a smooth transition into parenthood. Self care can look different for everyone. It's important to check in with yourself regularly to ask yourself what you need on this day, and in this moment.
Nutrition: It is not uncommon to find yourself ravenous in the weeks after giving birth. The energy and resources used to bring life into the world need to be replenished. If you are breastfeeding you will also be using an extra 200-500 calories a day to produce milk. Do not try to 'bounce back' by reducing calories. You deserve to be well-fed. If possible try to have meals prepared and frozen before baby arrives. It can also be very helpful to ask friends and family who want to offer support to set up a meal train. Having meals delivered every other day takes a huge weight off of your shoulders, and allows you to be taken care of by your community. Having healthy, easy to grab snacks on hand is also important. Many traditional cultures focus on warm foods like soups, broths, and lentils. There is merit to this practice, as cooked foods are easier for our bodies to break down, and absorb nutrients from.
Set realistic expectations: Do not expect to keep your house perfectly tidy, stay up to date on emails, or host several guests during the first few weeks postpartum. This is a time for rest, and getting to know one another. If you feel pressure to do more, ask yourself how important these things will be in a year and how they benefit you and your family at this moment. Life with children is often full of surprises and distractions. Now is the perfect time to practices setting boundaries with others and yourself to protect your time and energy.
Realistic expectations also means acknowledging that you are not responsible for everything. If someone offers you help, give them the gift of saying 'yes!' and let them help you. When people come to visit and ask what you need, point them to the dishes or laundry. If you need time for yourself you do not need to ask anyone's permission. Let your partner know what you are planning, and trust them to figure out the details. You are both learning together, and you do not need to carry the mental load alone. If you find that anyone in your life is prioritizing their needs over yours in this time, that is a clear sign that they may not be someone you want to continue giving your time and energy to.
Stay Connected: How your needs are met will vary greatly from person to person, but often at least one connection outside of the home each day will help to keep your spirits up. Maybe you truly do want a visitor every-other days. Maybe you feel wrung out after something as simple as a phone call. Both options are okay. Check in with yourself before, and during, every interaction to see how you are feeling. If friends or family are not nearby, but you find yourself craving more connection, schedule phone calls or video chats. Reach out. If you are wanting more friends who can relate to this phase of life, websites like Facebook, Meetup, and even Google can help you find local parenting groups.
Movement: Depression and anxiety are more likely to creep in when we are sedentary and indoors. If you are feeling up to it try to get outside for at least 15 minutes every morning. The vitamin D will be great for you and baby (Bonus: it also tells your baby that now is the time to be awake, and can help regulate their sleep schedule). Take time for yourself a few times a day to gently stretch and move. Do not begin pushing yourself, but do what feels good in your body. Yoga, dance, walking, and other light exercises are all great options.
Self care: Simply put, whatever makes you feel great; do that! The act itself is not as important as the fact that you are honoring your needs, and taking some time for yourself. Enjoy whatever you need, whether it is reading, running, going to a museum, taking a bath, going for a manicure, baking, talking with friends, watching a movie, painting, or grabbing a coffee. Above all, please remember that caring for yourself is not selfish, or lazy. It is an absolutely vital task in caring for your family. By caring for yourself you are showing your family that it is also okay to care for themselves. You are opposing the cultural narrative that only one person is responsible for the well-being of the family, and that person must be a martyr.
If you find yourself experiencing depression or anxiety that feels 'too much' or 'not normal' to you, please trust your instincts and seek help. Reach out to your provider, or a loved one who can help you find resources.