Welcoming a new baby is an exciting time. During pregnancy, you eagerly anticipate the arrival of your bundle of joy. But once the baby arrives, feelings of elation and celebration can be quickly replaced by stress, anxiety, and confusion. The momentous journey of new parenthood can be very rewarding, but it brings with it many practical and emotional challenges.
How can expectant and new parents learn to cope better with these challenges? By practicing meaningful self-care. Meaningful self-care means taking the time and effort to tend to your mental and physical wellbeing Having a routine that actively considers your own needs is good for both you and your baby.
Meaningful self-care includes:
Prioritising Sleep and Rest
It is difficult to maintain a regular sleep routine when you have to wake up frequently throughout the night to attend to your newborn. Consider some of the following to help you get the rest you need. Ask your partner, a family member, or a friend to do some night feeds. Hire a night nurse. A night nurse is an expert in newborn care who looks after the baby, including changing and feeding, overnight. Ask a friend or family member, or hire a nanny, to care for the baby for a few hours during the day so you can have a nap. Rest is not only about sleeping – take it easy and be kind to yourself as you go about your days with a newborn. You might want to take breaks during your day to simply sit still or lie down for a few minutes. You can ask your friends or family for practical help (or hire a professional if resources allow) with physically demanding chores, such as cleaning, especially during the first few weeks after birth. Also consider using apps such as “Mind the Bump”, “Expectful” and “Calm” that provide tips and techniques for resting in awareness. You may also try some relaxation exercises on your own, such as meditation and deep breathing.
Getting Regular Exercise
Exercise is an important and effective component of treatment for perinatal anxiety and depression. Try incorporating even a little bit of exercise into your daily routine. Take a stroll with your baby in the pram. You can combine exercise with your daily chores, for instance, walking instead of driving to the shops (and baby can come with – prams are useful for carrying shopping bags!). You can ask a family member or friend to look after your baby while you go to the gym (many gyms offer specialized classes for expecting or new mothers) or go for a walk/run. There are also exercise programs designed for mothers and their babies, including swimming lessons. Or consider an at-home exercise routine – if you don’t know where to start, search online for videos to guide you. Yoga in particular can be an excellent, gentle choice of exercise that includes stretching, toning, and breathing and provides both physical and mental benefits.
It can be hard to maintain a regular meal routine for yourself when you are preoccupied with attending to your newborn. But eating healthy and getting adequate nutrients is important in effectively managing the stress of both pregnancy and new parenthood. Make sure you eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, and wholegrains. Consider meal planning and preparation). The freezer is your friend – stock it with healthy meals (either store-bought or homemade) ahead of time, so when you are too busy with the baby, a nutritious meal is just a microwave cycle away. You can also ask family and friends to prepare some meals for you, perhaps even organize a rotating roster of meal help within your social circle. Finally, consider signing up to a regular meal delivery service. Some services provide fresh ingredients, along with simple recipes, for you to cook at home; others deliver fully cooked meals to your door. Also make sure to drink plenty of water!
Bonding with Your Newborn
Every parent wants to be closely connected with their baby. Even though you might want to spend all your time with your newborn, it is practically impossible for parents to spend every waking moment with their baby. Instead try to regularly spend some quality time actively bonding or connecting with your child. When you are with your baby, focus your attention on your interactions in the moment. You can engage with your baby by talking, singing, reading, and playing. Some examples for talking include: tell your baby what you are doing as you do it; talk about everyday things, such as the weather or what you will have for dinner, with your baby using a kind and expressive voice; tell your baby a personal story or memory, such as detailing your last holiday It is important to know that by simply spending time mindfully interacting, you are getting to know your baby. Babies have their own language and ways of communicating and there is no right or wrong way to bond with them. Try to imagine what your newborn might be sensing, feeling, thinking, wanting, needing, or experiencing; this helps to get to know your baby as a unique person. If your baby turns away or starts to cry as you are interacting with them, it may be their way of telling you he or she needs a break. For more information on specific activities to do with your child, you can refer to this website : http://ltsrp.resourcingparents.nsw.gov.au/program/agegroup/6/love.
Asking Questions and Getting information: Is it Depression or “Baby Blues”?
All expectant and new parents go through a period of adjustment, and about 80% of mothers experience the “baby blues” in the first 3 to 10 days after birth. The “baby blues” are caused by the stress of the birth, hormonal changes following birth, and sleep deprivation. As a new mom you may feel unusually tearful, emotionally fragile, and overwhelmed. Such feelings are to be expected and normally pass within a fortnight, without treatment. But what happens if you don’t feel better after a few weeks? You might be experiencing depression.
One in 10 women and 1 in 20 men experience depression when expecting. Postnatal depression affects 1 in 7 women who give birth, and 1 in 10 men. If you experience any of the following symptoms over a period of at least two weeks, it’s time to seek professional support:
- low mood or feeling flat
- feeling sad or irritable
- feeling resentful or regretful about having a baby
- low motivation
- low self-esteem and a lack of confidence
- feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, and guilt
- feeling unable to cope
- excessive worry about pregnancy or the baby
- a fear of being alone with baby
- thoughts that your partner or baby would be better off without you
- wanting to run away or escape everything
At Mind Health Collective, we are committed to supporting expecting and new parents develop joyful and responsive parenting and attachment relationships during the perinatal period. If you can benefit from psychological support, please contact us at Mind Health Collective for an appointment.