Being a mother of four with a school-age brood myself, I love being with new moms. Conversations about the myriad struggles mixed with newborn baby snuggles offer a magical blend of a familiar life stage to me.
Recently, the sun came out and a new-mom friend and I decided to put her littles in the stroller and go for a walk. Inevitably, we began discussing anxiety. I don't think I've met a mother who isn't racked with the fear that her newborn might stop breathing during the night or starve from an insufficient milk supply. New moms deal with body changes, breasts the size of melons, jeans that still don't fit and to top it off, anxiety. Although anxiety usually lasts somewhere around six weeks until the new routine becomes normal, hormones regulate and the body recovers, sometimes anxiety grows like a pervasive bacteria.
My friend was showing signs of new-mom anxiety that troubled me, not because I think she is ill, though anxiety disorders are prevalent. I was troubled because the self-care required to mitigate her new-mom anxiety seemed nearly impossible for her. During this initial stage, most moms are exhausted. The tasks of caring for a baby, a home, possibly other children and maintaining a relationship with a significant other, not to mention maintaining an outside profession, is monumental.
To ask a new mom to care for herself often seems like just one more duty. People look at me sideways when I say I am still recovering from my 14 years of being a stay-at-home mom. I'm not kidding. When I was in the new-mom stage, I did not know how to care for myself. I am just now recognizing what true self-care means. What are self-care practices a new mom with limited time and finances can implement? Self-care is defined as activity designed to purposefully care for one's mental, emotional and physical health. Self-care is not one more task to add to the list. Though choosing self-care takes volition, the outcome is a refueled self, providing a new capacity to love those who are important.
Here are nine practical self-care tools for new moms:
Exercise: This was my sole self-care for years. Choosing each day to exercise will increase serotonin levels and physical energy. Also, some exercise, such as yoga, will counter act the body's response to anxiety.
Acupressure mat: For a mere $20, you can lay on small spiked plastic disks that stimulate your body's acupressure points, helping it to release natural endorphins. I won't lie, the first few times it feels like lying on tacks. Persevere to slowly build up to 10 minutes for a natural, gratifying calm.
Weighted blanket: Often used for ADHD and anxiety disorders, it provides the body with a sense of being held that can soothe YOU, as you spend so much time soothing your infant. Consider napping with one or using it while you read or watch T.V.
Meditation: We often assume meditation takes at least an hour, requires a "zen-like" atmosphere, and is only for Buddhist monks. In truth, even 10 minutes of chosen stillness can enhance feelings of well-being, minimize anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Permission to say "no": When a mother is born, so is a list of new requirements. You will be writing permission slips for your child over the next decade. To balance new demands, write yourself one by saying "no" to even one task that is normally required of you.
Support groups: Join a community group, library group or play group. Put yourself in a place where you can be around women for camaraderie, support and fresh ideas.
Laughter: I will never forget reading Vicki Iovine's "Girlfriend's Guide to the First Year." Her wit and unapologetic truth-telling helped me feel normal. A contemporary read is "Confessions of a Domestic Failure," by Bunmi Latidan. This literary delight had me shaking and snorting in my efforts to laugh stealthily on an airplane.
Eat clean: This is not about your muffin-top. Our bodies are designed to run on whole foods. Feeding ourselves well allows our bodies to function optimally.
Choose one pleasurable thing each day: Take five minutes to sip a warm drink. Take a 10-minute walk. Color or draw. Think about what you love to do, and relish in one activity a day, however small. We spend each day loving our children. Can we also love ourselves by choosing self-care? Wonder Woman needs her weapons—let self-care be one of yours.