At our Birth Basics class on February 12, 2018, mental health professional Stephanie Straub, LMSW, led a much needed discussion on maternal mental wellness. In addition to unpacking five popular myths that new and expecting moms grapple with, Stephanie shared with us the “Pillars of Self-Care” that she teaches all of her clients.
Sleep. While this might sound like a joke to new parents, or pregnant women (especially in the third trimester), getting a reasonable amount of sleep is crucial to your physical and mental wellbeing. While sleep deprivation has been shown to contribute to Postpartum Depression (PPD), it can also negatively affect your physical health and lower your immune system. What does it look like to sleep decently in pregnancy or with a newborn? Every situation is different. It may mean investing in more pillows, or a mattress topper to make your bed more comfortable. It may mean going to bed at 7pm just to catch a few hours’ rest, if your newborn seems to habitually sleep from 7pm to 10pm every night. It may mean pumping milk or preparing bottles so that your partner, postpartum doula, etc., can take over some of the nighttime feedings. It may mean a soothing cup of tea and twenty minutes with a good book, just to unplug for the day and get your mind and body restful enough so that sleep is possible.
Nutrition. As basic as it seems, you may easily find yourself forgetting to eat when you’re home with a newborn. Again, food is a crucial factor in both our physical and emotional health. In Stephanie Straub’s words, even a BigMac is better than eating nothing at all! She encourages clients to first eat something, anything, and then you can worry about what you’re eating later. Food affects our energy levels, our hormones, our moods. Skipping meals can result in vitamin and nutrient deficiency, fatigue, irritability, and a general inability of our bodies to function properly. You may think your baby’s needs are more important than your own, but in reality your baby needs a healthy and happy parent, as well as a good role model of self-care.
Movement. This pillar is not at all about intense exercise. It doesn’t mean signing up for CrossFit, or going to a yoga class five times a week. Something as simple as taking yourself or your baby for a walk is enough to treat your body and mind to some much-needed self-care. Even the small act of walking has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health, combat fatigue, and improve your emotional state.
Socialization. Caring for a newborn can be an incredibly isolating experience. In those early days, while your baby is brand new and your body is recovering from birth, there may be days and even weeks where you barely leave the house. As part of your self-care, it’s important to reach out to friends, family, moms’ groups, etcetera, so that the time you spend home with your baby does not start to feel suffocating and lonely.
A common myth of motherhood is that your needs come second to your baby. This can leave many new parents neglecting basic necessities like food, water, and rest. The truth is, you deserve to thrive and enjoy in your postpartum period, and your baby deserves parents who are happy and healthy. Don’t feel as though you have to suffer through chronic sleep-deprivation, anxiety, poor nutrition, and isolation, as the price you pay for caring for a newborn. If you want to get a healthy start to your postpartum period, consider hiring a trained postpartum doula who can help you navigate and balance baby’s needs and your own.
If you or someone you know is struggling in the pregnancy or postpartum period, Stephanie Straub, LMSW, is passionate about working with women and couples in the perinatal year. Her contact information can be found on our website (cnydoulaconnection.com), under “Friends of the CNY Doula Connection.” Please feel free to reach out to any one of our trained and dedicated doulas if you feel you may benefit from compassionate and dedicated birth and postpartum support.
~Anna Nieves-Herrera, Birth and Postpartum Doula