Finding Ways to Establish Self-Care
As a new mother, we are not only faced with a physical body that feels broken - but also the emotional seams that come undone as we bring forth new life. Everything we once knew about ourselves: our relationships, personal boundaries and space, our instantly-changed bodies, and the complete overhaul of our identity can be overwhelming to keep up with. The countless emotions that we feel through this powerful process, coupled with the many biological changes that our body is experiencing can put a strain on our mental health.
The Importance of Mental Health
Maternal mental health issues are a concern on a global level. According to the World Health Organization, about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder worldwide. These numbers are likely much higher, as mental health concerns are often underreported. We cannot deny the manner in which mental health is challenged by the changes motherhood presents.
As much as we want to separate out our lives to make things more manageable, it is crucial to remember that health and healing in motherhood should be a holistic approach. Even if bodies are at the peak of their physical health, we are not well if a mental health issue is left unaddressed. What’s more is that the health of our children and families will also come unhinged by untreated mental health issues, as the wellness of loved ones starts with you.
Your body undoubtedly needs rest, attention, and healing following the days, months, and even years of childbirth. In this healing process, be sure to divert needed focus to your mental health as well, and be mindful of the changes you may be enduring and feeling. Keep in mind that the things you might need to care for yourself mentally may differ from another mother, and that is perfectly okay. It’s a matter of finding what it is that you need, and honoring your body and mind through the healing process. Here are 3 steps to start the healing process:
Give yourself space and time to process what you have just experienced and the changes you are encountering on a daily basis. Here are some suggestions to help you through this process:
- Give yourself unconditional permission to feel your emotions - ALL of them: Yes, the good, bad, and the ugly. The process of becoming a mother will take you on a roller coaster of highs and lows, and it is important to give yourself unconditional permission to feel these emotions. Remember, there is no "bad" feelings. Allow yourself to acknowledge what you are feeling, whatever emotion that might be.
- Engage in Productive Coping Skills: We all have our default ways of coping, but be intentional about finding ways that help you cope through some of the intense emotions you are experiencing. It may be something like venting to a friend on the phone, taking a brisk walk around your neighborhood, jotting down your thoughts in a journal, escaping in your favorite book, or slipping into your favorite pair of pajamas. Self-care doesn't need to be extravagant to be effective.
- Focus on Your Strengths: As a new mom, it can be easy to feel critical of yourself and all the things you "are not doing", "should be doing", or "could be doing better". Critical, negative thoughts can be emotionally and mentally draining and prevent you from truly processing and healing. If you find yourself in a negative thought-spiral, allow yourself to focus on something that you identify as a strength, even if it is only one thing. The fact that you brought a new life into the world is a strength all on it's own, don't forget it!
- Reach Out: Know that you are not alone throughout this process. Communicating your thoughts and feelings to others can reinforce the fact that you have people in your life who care and support you in your motherhood journey.
Talk about what you are feeling and thinking with friends and family, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Here are some practical ways that you can open up to those you love or ask for help when needed to allow you some time and space for recovering:
- Support With Tangible Needs: Even the most basic housework chores can be overwhelming with a newborn. Delegate whatever tasks you can around the house to any family and friends that are willing to help. This might include anything from washing dishes, taking the trash out, attending to pets, laundry and more. Most loved ones want to contribute somehow, and this can allow you time with baby and for yourself.
- Meal Planning and Preparation: Going to the grocery store with a newborn or preparing a meal can feel like an impossible feat. This is another area that families and friends can step in to help. Your physical wellness and mental health are largely influenced by nutrition and how you feed your body, so do not push your needs to the back-burner during the earliest days of recovery. Ask for help in this area as needed.
- Set Appropriate Boundaries: With the many visitors you will likely have over the months following your childbirth, you may feel overwhelmed with questions, comments, well-meaning advice, etc. If needed, delegate someone close to you to help moderate conversations as needed or to let visitors politely know when it is time to go. It is totally okay to reserve the more intimate details about how you are feeling with a selective few people.
- Be Gentle With Yourself: Give yourself as much grace as possible during this delicate time and readjust your own expectations for motherhood. You do not need to be supermom or prove anything to anyone - you just had a baby! Unapologetically give yourself what you need and lean on the support of loved ones who want to help you in your journey.
Enlist a professional counselor or join a mama support group if you need guidance and support from those who understand what you're going through.
- Postpartum Support International (PSI): Check out this amazing resource for mamas and families in postpartum, including a warm-line to call and be connected with basic information and support. PSI also includes a directory of local postpartum support groups, international postpartum resources, and postpartum psychosis help.
- Psych Central: This online directory offers a list of therapists/counselors, which can be searched by area and by specific condition, like postpartum depression. This tool may be helpful if you are looking for a mental health professional for a specific condition.
- Health Profs: This is another online directory that includes registered dietitians, naturopaths, medical doctors, and more. Again, you can search by a specific area and condition to connect with a health care professional, such as "maternal health" for example.
- Call Your Health Insurance: If you have health insurance, you likely have benefits for mental health coverage. Contact your insurance to find out what your mental health benefits include. You can also ask for a specific referral for a professional who accepts your insurance in your area.
As you walk through this journey and all the different emotions that you are feeling, it is important to know that you are not alone. Believe that you are the perfect mother for your child, and you will get through this healing process one step at a time.