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6 Questions for a Mom to Find Time for Herself

with Dana Wood

1. How can a frazzled new mom focus on her own needs, and how soon after delivery should she start?

a mom sleeping in a bed with a eye mask

I think that women should start as early as in the hospital—or at least the day they get home from the hospital! It’s so important to keep tabs on your own health, not just the baby’s. Are you drinking enough water? Did you even remember to eat today? I created a self-care chart when I got home to keep track of things like when I took medicine, ate a meal or took a nap. The important thing is to set the precedent that taking care of you isn’t negotiable. From that first day, make it your business to take care of yourself first, because you can’t take care of your baby if you’re neglecting yourself. It’s a gift to your kids.

2. What if a mom is too overwhelmed to even think about taking care of herself?

a mom feeling overwhelmed by her children

If you're feeling overwhelmed, there are four things to keep in mind:

  • First, let go of your expectations—especially if you’re a first-timer. You don’t know what it’s going to be like to have a baby! This is the hardest time, so be super flexible in those first weeks and months. Literally take each day at a time, and don't stress about the future.
  • You also need to prioritize your own health from the get-go. You don’t have to do 10 amazing things for yourself every day—maybe just eat an apple one day. Bring your mind back around to “Oh yeah, me!”
  • It's also important to celebrate the little victories. A load of laundry done - yay! I made the bed - yay! Recognize and celebrate the little joys, like taking a walk with baby on a beautiful day. Build some kind of fun into your day somehow, even if it’s just for 10 minutes, and even if you don’t have anyone to help you out at home. Eventually the baby does fall asleep!
  • Finally, remember that it does get easier. Again, this is the hard part. Keep in mind that your hormones are going crazy right now, and accept that. Use all the help you can get. In these early months, the baby isn’t going to know that there’s a sitter there. Take advantage of it!

3. Can you suggest some fun and inexpensive ways a mom can “take a time out?” And can she still take them even if her baby is glued to her arms 24/7?

You’ve got to make time for these, or you’ll get burnt out and feel sorry for yourself. If you can afford to splurge, go for a spa day, or even just a mani/pedi. If not, here are some other ideas that don’t cost much:

woman lying on a sofa listening to music

  • Kids crafts. I love these! I've been working on a paint-by-numbers masterpiece of a kitty on a tree branch that I'll lovingly frame for my daughter - no matter what age she is when I finish it. As long as you shut the lids on the pots of paint really tight, it stays fresh for eons. I’m also a big fan of the Klutz line of kids' crafts (www.klutz.com). My favorite, so far, is "Potholders & Other Loopy Projects," but I also bought the quilting kit. What I enjoy about kiddie crafts is that they're so basic, you can finish a project quickly and easily so there's a sense of accomplishment, and just think - you're also learning something to do with baby once he or she gets a little older! (There are kits that are unisex and boy-oriented, too.)
  • Mix-and-match fashion. For a time-out that's a little more "grown-up." I highly recommend the web site Polyvore (www.polyvore.com) for new moms who are into fashion. It allows you to create your own outfits - almost like the big girls' version of paper dolls. It's creative and escapist, and also helps you plan your post-baby wardrobe!
  • DVR your favorite talk shows. Lately, I’ve been recording "The Today Show" and then watching it at odd hours! I love "Matt and Meredith," but hardly ever have time to watch the show live. So Tivo has become my new bestie for this. Ditto for "Oprah"...I watch small snippets until I get through the entire thing.
  • Books on tape or podcasts. If you’re stuck with a baby in your arms, listen to a book on tape or download a free podcast. You can just download a few podcasts once a week so they’re ready to go when you have some downtime.

4. You recommend journaling. Can you sum up some of the benefits, and why it’s a good idea to take a few minutes a day for it?

a mom outside writing in her journal

Keeping a journal is a real stress reliever. It’s a place to just be really open and put down your private thoughts. A lot of times we don’t even tell people what’s really going on in our minds. I love using journals to look back on things, too. Even if you went through a rough patch, you can look back and say “I made it!” Putting pen to paper really helps you work through it. I also love the idea that if you write it down, it will happen. It’s kind of profound and helps you gain clarity on what you want out of life.

5. So you’ve taken care of baby and yourself, too. But what about at night time? We jump through hoops to create good sleep routines for our babies but often neglect them for ourselves. What should moms consider when they address their own bedtime routine, and why is it so important?

I believe that sleep is the number one key to physical and mental health. It’s so crazy important - beyond even exercise, which I’m also super keen on. Sleep affects you both physically and mentally. If you’re wired and working on a lot of stuff during the day, you have to say “work is finished for the day.” Say it out loud. Set a clear delineation between work time and not-work time. Create a routine where you start your wind down time and putting yourself into sleep mode in a consistent way. I started putting patchouli on my wrists at bedtime, so now the smell has a strong sleep association for me. I also wear a sleeping mask. Babies have their little rituals for soothing themselves to sleep, and we need to borrow a page from them.

6. What if a mom feels like she’s so underwater she needs professional help? Can you offer words of advice on taking that step?

That’s one the values of paying close attention to yourself. When you keep a journal or self-care chart, you can say to yourself, “Wow, I really haven’t been so great for a while now.” You’ll get to see the pattern and whether signs like fatigue or the blues are persisting. You can tell whether it has legs and is sticking around or whether just a passing hormonal thing.

woman suffering from postnatal depression holding her baby

For me, I didn’t even realize that I was probably suffering from a little postpartum depression until after it lifted. It was like a light went on. If physical or psychological symptoms last for weeks, that should give you the impetus to get help. Whether that means a trip to your primary care doctor for a checkup and blood work, or a visit to a psychologist, or a session with a nutritionist, it’s every bit as important to take care of you as the baby. And yes, it can be expensive to go to a specialist, especially one not covered by your insurance, but people manage to find money for so many things that aren’t as important as their heath. The baby doesn’t need a new outfit or toy. But your health should be a priority.

 
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