Having a new baby is an exciting time but can also come with a host of unexpected stressors. In between sleepless nights, diaper changes and constant feedings, women may forget to take some time to focus on their own health.
“I strongly encourage new mothers to acknowledge and reward themselves for their sacrifices. This means making time for self-care,” says Caitlin Deakin, MD, an OB-GYN with training in integrative medicine at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Encinitas.
“With all the bodily changes that occur after having a baby, there should also be a primary focus on good nutritional choices, getting back to nature and an exercise routine can build a strong foundation,” Dr. Deakin says.
Newborns bring great joy, but they require a lot of attention and it’s easy for a new mother to neglect their own needs.
“They might not make appointments for themselves with their own doctor or dentist, and this can lead them to get behind in their preventive care,” Dr. Deakin says. “It’s important not to put off routine appointments and find time for things that bring you happiness.”
Dr. Deakin tries to motivate and educate new mothers on ways to incorporate wellness practices into their new families. “It is not uncommon for new parents to lose their way in their new pace of life, and we aim to guide them back. Many studies have shown the correlation of a woman’s health to the health of their entire family.”
Women who aren’t eating the color spectrum of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and healthy fats to support their healing — particularly nursing mothers — can be at risk for vitamin deficiencies or anemia. Not maintaining a healthy weight and a lack of exercise or sleep could put them at risk of obesity, anxiety or depression.
In addition to healthy eating, getting a head start on physical fitness as soon as your doctor gives you the okay will help keep you on the right track for prevention of chronic disease.
“By leading a balanced lifestyle, not only are you being a good role model for your children, you will have more energy to get through the day,” says Dr. Deakin. “The ‘feel-good’ endorphins that come from exercise help our body’s hormone responses to stress, and help new moms rebound faster from that occasional sleepless night.”
Dr. Deakin notes that even healthy mothers who are trying to take care of themselves can be at risk for postpartum depression and anxiety. Remember, there’s no shame in reaching out to your doctor for help with your mental health.
“Many new moms struggle silently with symptoms of anxiety or depression postpartum and this is not necessary,” says Dr. Deakin. “Speaking to your providers, social supports, trusted close friends and family can often help women cope or find solutions to their stressors. It often takes a community to raise a child and we often forget this in an effort to avoid vulnerability.”
With the hectic schedule of having a baby to take care of, it may be hard to know where to start when it comes to making healthy choices. Try taking these “baby steps.”
Exercise has been linked to better mental health. Go for a walk or do yoga with your child. You can transition to jogging with a stroller when your child is 7 months and can hold their head up steadily.
San Diego is full of trails, sidewalks, and studios. If you enjoyed running before your baby, be sure to take it slow and discuss when it is safe with your provider.
There are many local exercise groups that are designed for moms. They offer healthy camaraderie of supportive women and other new mothers.
Join a gym with on-site childcare. Many fitness clubs and yoga studios offer childcare on site that will take babies six weeks and older.
If your baby is fussy and you are unable to soothe them, try taking the opportunity to go outside for a walk. Sometimes just buckling a crying baby into the stroller and pushing them on a bumpy road will help calm them. The fresh air will also do wonders for reducing mom’s stress.
Eat the rainbow means choosing a variety of different colored-whole foods throughout the day and week. So, stock your refrigerator with pre-packed healthy fruits and vegetables, such as almond butter spread on sliced apples, baby carrots dipped in hummus and frozen grapes.
Look for simple recipes, plan and shop for your meals at the start of each week. When you have a plan and the necessary ingredients, you’ll be less likely to give in to quick fixes like fast food at dinner time.
It may be hard to accept help from partners, friends and family, but it can do wonders for a new mom. Let someone else clean your kitchen or watch the baby for an hour while you take a nap, run errands or go for a jog. Even a little reprieve can help calm the mind and relieve stress as well as build balanced relationships.