Self-care for New Mums
Struggling with your mental health when you have just had a baby can feel extra challenging but, as the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. This is even more true in motherhood. Taking time for yourself when there’s a never ending to do list might feel hard and even like an impossible luxury, but taking time tending to your own needs will mean you feel more refreshed and able to be there for your little one(s).
Anthropologists and Psychologists have finally come up with a term that new mums have had missing from their vocabulary for centuries. Matrescence references the journey women make as they embark on motherhood. Much like adolescence refers to the journey throughout the teenage years. This time too can be full of bodily and hormonal changes and may be characterised by emotional highs and lows.
Just as adolescence doesn’t happen overnight, the journey into motherhood can take time. It’s okay to find it hard and for it to take some time to re-find yourself as a mum. We have put together some tips that are based on some of the content from our Mums Matter Course, which is available to all new mums in Manchester with a baby under 2.
If little one is awake it’s still fine to practice as long as they are somewhere safe. Try not to worry about the ‘perfect’ time to practice as there may never be one. Once you understand the technique you will even be able to practice whilst boiling the kettle or running your little ones bath. Practicing techniques such as belly breathing when you don’t need them will ensure they are there if you do.
You could also just try tuning into your breath throughout the day; noticing where you feel it in your body as a little check-in with yourself and how you are doing. If you tie it in with something you do regularly such as washing your hands, then you might find this easier to stick to.
Mindful Social Media Intake
Screens may feel like a welcome break that don’t demand anything from us except to keep scrolling. Downtime is important as a mum, but being mindful of how your social media use is making you feel is crucial to mindful use.
Social Media can be full of split-second glimpses into the lives of others; there are filters and light-touch-ups and not everything is what it may seem. Not many parents are documenting the sleepless nights, the nappy explosions and the loneliness that can accompany new parenthood. If using social media is making you feel worse, we encourage you to think about who you are following. Psychologists such as Anna Mathur post their professional and personal experiences on the challenges of motherhood. We encourage you to curate your social media feed to be things that make you feel good and maybe consider setting screen time limits for yourself on your phone.
Research has found that people to take time to write down all the things they are grateful for tend to be happier and more optimistic about the future than people who don’t. There are always simple things to be grateful for each day; fresh running water, warm food, comfy socks etc. As a starter we suggest trying to think of three things each day.
Free apps (such as Presently) help you keep a daily track of your gratitude and also serve as a reminder of all the good things in your life. You could even try keeping a physical diary. If you are feeling down one December day you can look back to July when the sun was shining and your baby smiled for the first time. Taking time to experience the blessings we have each day makes us able to notice and experience them more fully.
Sometime Less is More
Self-care can sometimes be about taking things away, not adding ‘more’; if taking a bath feel like too much effort, try a shower instead. Self-care is different to everyone and may even look different to you each day. The important thing is that you are listening to what your body needs and trying to respond to that positively. Self-care shouldn’t feel like another thing on your never ending to do list, or another thing you ‘have’ to do. That being said, we all have several basic needs which we should aim to meet each day, some of these non-negotiables are:
- Food – we all know we should be eating our 5 a day, making sure that what we are putting into our bodies is going to give us the energy we need throughout the day. Making sure we are fueling our bodies and minds means we are more able to respond to our little ones needs.
- Hydration – drinking 2 litres of water each day is crucial for our health – making sure you prioritise a glass of water or a cup of tea, just the way you make sure your baby gets their hydration.
- Sleep and Rest – sleep is such a hot topic with parents. If you aren’t getting the rest you need your mental health can suffer so it’s important to make this a priority; if you can’t nap in the daytime, try an earlier bedtime or seeing if your partner or supporter can help you get the rest you deserve.
- Refreshing yourself – having a shower every day might feel a challenge during certain seasons of motherhood, but making sure you have prioritised your personal hygiene may have far reaching benefits.
- Trusting yourself – have you told yourself that you are a good enough mum… or that you are doing the best you can… and believed it!
Once you have a baby it seems like everyone has an opinion on how you should raise them and all the things you should and shouldn’t be doing. With so many different, conflicting pieces of information about it can feel really overwhelming. Perhaps you also had your own ideas how you would and would not parent before your little one was here; and many of those may have changed with the reality of motherhood.
This is your motherhood, and your journey with your little one. The decisions you make for yourself and your little one will help you grow and develop as a mother. Undoubtedly, you won’t get it ‘right’ all the time, and learning to be kind to yourself when things don’t unfold the way you hoped is a skill that we can practice.
Some people like to practice affirmations, for example repeating compassionate statements to themselves “My way is okay” or “It’s okay to make mistakes”. Try speak to yourself the way you would speak to a much loved friend if they had made a mistake.
Donald Winnicott was an English paediatrician who studied hundreds of mothers and babies and he proposed the idea of the “good enough mother” to show that it was neither essential, nor ideal for mothers to strive towards perfection.
Remember; there is no one way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good enough one.
Ask for Help When You Need it
Remembering to ask for help if you are struggling is crucial for good mental health. It might feel difficult to ask for help, especially as a new mum because of the myth that mothers ‘should’ be able to do it all. Perhaps you could consider, that asking for help is actually a sign of great strength; that recognising and appreciating where you need support is a positive quality to have.
Read about the Five Ways to Wellbeing for New Mums.
Hearts and Minds Partnership offer a map of services all over England that can support new mums with their mental health.
You may also like to speak to your health visitor or GP, who will know more about the types of support that are available in your area.