Throughout your pregnancy, you eat the right foods, drink plenty of fluids, rest and try to keep stress to a minimum. Once your baby arrives you may feel like you can relax this self-care regimen, but caring for yourself should remain a top priority to ensure the health of both of you.
Drink plenty of water since most obstetricians will tell you that one of the key elements to optimal recovery after delivery is hydration with water. This is important for replenishing your body after giving birth and to prepare for and during breastfeeding.
Nourish yourself with nutritious meals. You can plan ahead with preparations before the baby arrives, assembling healthy meals to stash in your freezer. Ask family and friends to deliver food after the birth. In the midst of caring for a newborn, you’ll be less likely to eat poorly when you can quickly pop a nutritious, ready-made meal into the oven or crockpot. Stock up on protein-packed snacks to keep your energy up. If you choose to nurse, consult with your healthcare professional to determine how many extra calories you should be consuming each day according to your activity level and weight.
Sleep as often as you can. Birth and postpartum doulas recommend that during those first days home from the hospital, you should rest, rest, rest and spend as much time skin-to-skin with your baby as you can. Sleep when the baby sleeps. This can help make a smoother transition for baby from womb-to-room and for new mothers as well. Rest is one of the best ways you can care for yourself. Being rested helps you cope more effectively with both physical and emotional changes. If you are unable to catnap, be sure to find time to relax with your eyes closed.
New mom Irisa Irvine of Mount Shasta agrees and is very grateful for the support of her husband David Scott Irvine and says, “He is an engineer with CAL FIRE and they have a great family first approach. He was able to work out a six-week baby leave. My husband was there for my much needed naps and allowed for me-time which was invaluable.”
Integrate gentle exercise since many moms are surprised that they still look pregnant after delivery. Don’t panic; that’s normal. Although the uterus decreases in size right away, you will still appear to be about five months pregnant when leaving the hospital. By following a healthy diet and exercising according to your doctor’s instructions, you can get back to your pre-pregnancy body.
Many moms enjoy group exercise activities like “mommy and me” yoga and Fit4Mom where you can also experience companionship with other moms. Walking is very beneficial. Not only will you get exercise, but a stroll around the block will do wonders for your emotional well-being while helping you to feel mentally refreshed, more patient and more positive in general.
Take extra care if you’ve had a cesarean delivery and only gradually increase your activity level according to your doctor’s instructions. Current recommendations include no driving the first two weeks postpartum and no heavy lifting (anything over 15 pounds) for the first six weeks.
Hormonal fluctuations are to be expected in new moms who can feel overwhelmed, tired, anxious, tearful or mildly depressed. Exhaustion, hormonal changes and isolation after the birth of a baby may lead to what is referred to as “baby blues.” Postpartum Support International reports that 1 in 8 women suffers from postpartum mood disorders, and isolation can aggravate those symptoms. To some degree this happens to everyone. It’s natural and not permanent. Talk to your doctor if postpartum depression symptoms persist for more than two weeks. Anxiety and depression can also be linked to thyroid issues, low levels of iron and vitamin D deficiency.
Check with your doctor to find out if your hospital offers a postpartum emotional support group. These groups typically provide moms with information, resources and compassionate support from professionals and other moms who are experiencing similar feelings.
Accepting help from your community is one of the most important ways to take care of yourself – and by extension your family – and helps to maintain a thriving social network that provides a healthy dose of physical, mental and emotional support.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help or request a visit from a family member or friend. They are often eager to assist by holding the baby or watching siblings to give you a chance to nap, shower, go for a walk or run an errand. Nothing can replace a deeply satisfying conversation with a friend or a warm hug. Get together for coffee, lunch or a walk. Just a short burst of time spent with friends can boost a woman’s oxytocin levels, a natural hormone that decreases stress and anxiety.
Esther Yi of Mount Shasta says, “The time leading up to and after the birth of our first child was incredibly exciting. Once our daughter Olive was born, it was amazing to finally meet this little person, but it also felt like being dropped in the deepest part of the ocean when you’re not really sure how to swim. Needless to say, it was a very steep learning curve. I consider myself very independent and tend to be shy about asking for help. I don’t like to burden or bother people. Accepting support from others was invaluable – not just in a physical sense – but emotionally and mentally as well. In my experience, people genuinely want to help during this special but very tender time, especially mothers.”
Postpartum education along with support is crucial. “Gone is the era of social childbirth, with its volunteer woman-to-woman help,” writes Richard and Dorothy Wertz in Lying-In: A History of Childbirth in America. “During a 3 month lying-in, as it was called, the new mother would rest, regain her strength, and bond with the baby while her helpers would keep up the household.”
“It seems apparent that the absence of postpartum education is the underlying cause of the postpartum depression epidemic we see in our country today,” says Sue Wolcott of Shasta Midwives Birthing Center in Mount Shasta. “It can take months to properly heal from childbirth. Overexertion after labor can lead to depression, infection, increased uterine bleeding, lack of or decreased breast milk, or prolapse. Woman are discharged from the hospital with no idea of what is going to happen next. Their bodies are sore and the newborn baby may be colicky with feeding issues. Her breasts are swollen and throbbing. A new mom is pressed to take care of herself, which is impossible to do when you’re not sleeping. Nobody likes to talk about how messy it can be. We are committed to educate and support women through the lying-in period, bringing it back, one mom at a time.”
“My husband and I are deeply grateful to Sue Wolcott, Donna Bringenberg and Sally Cooper at the Shasta Midwives Birth Center in Mount Shasta for their heartfelt and generous support during pregnancy and afterwards – even to this day,” says Esther.
Support for breastfeeding can make all the difference in the success of your new nursing experience.
“The ability to sit and talk with other women with similar experiences is wonderful,” Irisa says. “Our breastfeeding circle meets the first Wednesday of every month at the Shasta Midwives Birth Center. Mona Angelini the lactation consultant does a wonderful job offering support for anyone with breastfeeding issues. My midwife, Sue Wolcott, is great with postpartum aid when I have questions or concerns about mothering my daughter, Addison.”
Join a mothers group or look for parent-child gatherings in your neighborhood. If you work full-time, talk to other working moms about meeting up at the park or indoor play area for a short weekend playdate. Play groups are a great place to share resources, exchange babysitting and learn from other parents going through similar stages.
“The Song and Stories at the Mount Shasta Public Library is a great venue for connecting with other mothers and children,” says Esther. “I continue to find deep comfort and validation when connecting with other mothers.”
“I think there is so much pressure that a new mom puts upon herself to get it right and not show the struggles – myself included,” admits Esther. “Mothers know exactly what you’re going through. Talking about what is really going on not only fosters solidarity but also presents an opportunity to address these challenges. I remember reading about how we are social beings and evolved from a social structure where mothers didn’t do it all by themselves. Mothers had a community. I feel fortunate for my community.”
Nurture your spirit by taking time to do the things that have always brought you personal fulfillment and joy, whether that’s crafting, relaxing in a warm bath, browsing at a boutique or lunching with a friend. Share your interests by inviting friends to join you for a gardening or cooking class, or start a book club. Studies suggest that artistic engagement can reduce stress and anxiety. Many art studios offer instructor-led, one-time classes created specifically for ladies’ nights out.
You have to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of your baby. When you are happier and healthier, your baby will be too.
Shasta Midwives Birthing Center,
Mount Shasta (530) 918-3660
Butte County Women Infant Children (WIC)
Chico & Paradise (530) 891-2767
Oroville & Gridley (530) 538-7455