Practical Solutions for Postpartum Self-care
by Amy Stuart
The birth of my first child didn’t exactly go as I expected. While I hadn’t written up an elaborate birth plan, I had a loosely formed idea in my mind of how things were likely to proceed. Even so, there was a lot that happened that I hadn’t anticipated. I went over a week past my due date and was induced. When the induction failed, I had an unplanned C-section. Breastfeeding was difficult, my infant seemed too hungry to sleep, and I was in a tremendous amount of pain from the surgery. By the time I was discharged from the hospital, I was a sweaty, exhausted, and emotional mess.
Over six years have passed since then and I’m now a parent to three children. While I’m thankful to be far removed from that season, I’m strangely grateful for it as well. To this day, I remember it as a time that was critical in teaching me the necessity of self-care. I had never felt weaker or more physically vulnerable and that time of healing showed me the importance of finding practical ways to care for myself while also tending to my newborn. While everyone’s situation is unique to them, here are some things that worked for me.
- Prior to having your baby, set aside something special to use or plan to do something small to celebrate once you get home from the hospital. It can be a luxurious new lip balm, a cute pair of leggings (or something else stretchy or otherwise forgiving on a postpartum body), a pint of your favorite ice cream, or having your favorite pizza delivered. It can be surprisingly refreshing to have something like this to look forward to when you’re sore from labor or feeling overwhelmed by the new addition to your family.
- Accept help from others. If someone wants to drop off your favorite takeout dish or watch your older children for an afternoon, say yes. Allow your partner to take over household tasks you handled in the past. Depending on your temperament, it may be challenging or feel unnatural to accept so much assistance from others, but it’s important to let others absorb more of your responsibilities so that you can use this time to recover.
- Make rest a priority. Sleep deprivation can make your situation feel much bleaker than it actually is. Take naps whenever possible.
- Find things you enjoy that remind you of who you are apart from your infant. Being a parent is an amazing thing; it is not the entirety of who you are. Listen to a new podcast or audiobook as you feed your baby. Watch a documentary while you do dishes. Even if it’s just a few minutes here or there, continue to invest in yourself as a person.
- Once you have been cleared by your obstetrician-gynecologist, try to get some sort of exercise. This isn’t necessarily about losing weight you may have gained during your pregnancy, but about appreciating what your body has accomplished throughout pregnancy, acknowledging how it may have changed, and doing your best to strengthen it. Beyond the physical benefits, even a quick walk to the mailbox may boost your mood and provide a mental break.
- Enjoy a relaxing shower. Hygiene sometimes falls by the wayside after having a baby, but carving out time to shower, brush your teeth, and comb your hair can provide a surprising mood and energy boost. If you previously enjoyed putting on makeup, put on a coat of mascara or try out a new shade of lipstick. You may find that it refreshes you.
- Savor the peaceful moments with your baby. If they fall asleep in your arms, engage all your senses and hold onto that moment. What do their cheeks look like? Does their nose twitch at all as they take a breath? How does their hair smell? How does their skin feel against your own? This can help you feel more connected to your infant and recall these special moments more vividly later in life.
Finally, one of the best things you can do to care for yourself is to take it day by day. Connect with your partner. Take a breath. Connect with your kids. Take a breath. Do something for yourself. Take a breath. Think about where your mind is going or has gone lately. Take a breath. The days can feel long, but take care of yourself as best you can and reach out if you need help.
Amy Stuart describes herself as both an avid writer and as someone with a desire to be a passionate advocate for those in need, particularly for those impacted by mental illness. She completed her B.S. in Justice Studies at Arizona State University, where she also studied English and history, tutored writing, and was a columnist with The State Press. She later worked with at-risk students and young adults. Currently, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, writing, working out, baking, and volunteering in her community.