Feed, Comfort, Sleep: A Parent’s Guide to Self-Care
You’ve read the baby books and booked in for the antenatal courses to help you feel prepared for labour and all the skills you need to master when looking after a newborn – everything from swaddling to changing nappies, burping and beyond – but what about ways to look after yourself throughout this monumental time in your life?
As the wise saying goes, “You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.” That’s why we’re looking at the importance of self-care this week, and sharing some expert tips on resting well, eating well and looking after yourself once you become a new mum.
“It’s absolutely essential for new mums to eat well,” says Melanie McGrice, an advanced accredited practising dietitian and host of Nourish With Melanie. “Mums need a nourishing diet to provide them with energy, to help their body heal after the birth of their baby and to pass on good nutrition through their breastmilk to their growing baby [if they are nursing].”
This may sound like a classic case of much easier said than done, but there are simple snacks and meals that can benefit busy mums on the run. “It’s important to have plenty of nutritious snacks on hand, especially if your baby isn’t yet in a good routine, because then it’s particularly difficult to find the time to sit down and eat a proper nutritious meal,” says Melanie.
“If you don’t have time for proper meals, pack a lunch box of healthy snacks so that you know exactly what and how much you eat each day. Great snacks include fresh fruit, tubs of yoghurt, unsalted nuts, air-popped popcorn, vegetable sticks and wholegrain crackers.”
A (warm!) cup of tea is a simple, heavenly (and totally bloody deserved!) reward when you’ve successfully gotten your baby down for a nap. Do make a point of swapping the odd cuppa for a glass of water throughout the day too. “Hydration is really important for new mums, particularly those who are breastfeeding,” says Melanie.
“Keep a bottle of water on your kitchen bench so you can have a sip every time you walk past. Getting dehydrated will make you feel more tired and can impact milk supply. Adequate omega-3 is another key nutrient, as this is passed through your breastmilk to your baby to help build their rapidly growing brain, and a lack of omega-3 may increase risk of post-natal depression. Vitamin D and iron are other particularly important nutrients to be aware of at this time.”
While the leisurely julienning of vegetables may be off the menu for the next little while, there are lots of fast meals you can make for lunch or dinner that are delicious and nutrient-dense. Keep things simple and stick to whole foods as much as possible, with quick dishes such as scrambled eggs, toasted cheese and tomato on wholemeal bread, or canned tuna over spinach leaves with some chopped avocado and cucumber. “Vegie patties are a great lunch as they can be made in advance and frozen, and are nice eaten hot or cold,” says Melanie. “As for mornings, bircher muesli is one of the best brekkies for new mums as it can be made in advance and is low-GI so will keep you feeling full.”
Finding time to rest
So many of us new mums are told by well-meaning family, friends and old ladies in supermarkets to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. A lovely idea, and while sometimes possible, it’s often far from practical in everyday life when you put your newborn down for a nap and the to-do list – laundry, eating lunch, paying online bills, doing some work or entertaining older children – takes precedence.
Some days it may be possible to have a lie down while your baby is sleeping, but on other days there may still be moments to down tools, even if just for a short while. To get the full benefit of those moments, try to truly put everything aside – social media, telly, chores – the lot, find somewhere comfortable to sit or lie down, and relax. If it’s a nice day outside, sitting in the garden or on your balcony for a few minutes of fresh air might help you to unwind.
If you’re finding it hard to fall asleep at night, try some soothing activities to help you wind down at night, such as taking a warm bath or reading a light book.
And if you think a few minutes of simple breathing or meditation might help, try sitting quietly while taking slow breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth – for three to five minutes, or make use of a meditation app such as Insight Timer which offers short meditations in a variety of styles (chimes, music, nature sounds, spoken word) and for as little as just one minute long.
As for night times, negotiate. If you’re up all night doing feeds, make a deal with your partner to get up in the morning for nappy changing and breakfast duties so you can squeeze in a bit of rest. And don’t be afraid to speak up if the lack of sleep starts to affect your moods. Your mental wellbeing is everything, so talk to your doctor if you’re feeling down.
Check in on yourself
The early weeks of life with a newborn can often feel hazy, and it can sometimes feel as though you’re falling through the days. In fact, for most of the time we’re raising young children, one thing is true for all of us – life with young babies and children is BUSY.
So, just when you’ve ticked off the last thing on your day’s to-do list, add one more item (it’s a good one, we promise!): check in with yourself. Take a moment to think about how you’re feeling, how you’re coping, whether you’re looking after yourself and whether there’s anything that could be helpful to you right now (and if there is, ask for it).
Use the emotion Tracker and symptoms Checker on your Moment Health app to keep a record of your moods and how you’re coping. Take care of yourself, and then take care of others. We’ve got your back!
A bit about Moment Health…
Moment Health is a technology company that aims to prioritise Maternal Mental Health and provide new parents with the tools and knowledge they need to sustain good mental wellbeing – from pregnancy through to parenthood.
The Moment Health app has been developed with clinicians and healthcare professionals. It screens for perinatal, postnatal and associated anxieties, and includes additional features such as a helpful guide to practical and accessible coping strategies.
At Moment Health, our mission is to make maternal mental health mainstream #MakeItMainstream.