“Self-care” is a charged topic.
For me personally, the term is a misnomer.
Here’s what I mean. Self-care is often used, particularly as it relates to mothers, to put the onus on the individual to better their circumstance. Before long, it starts to feel like blaming the victim and shaming new mothers into thinking that if we are not happy, content, and blissed out all the time, it must be because we aren’t making the time to care for ourselves (cue the cycle of guilt and judgement).
The message new moms receive is this: prioritize your baby and the needs of your family, and enjoy every second because it goes by so fast, but ALSO, don’t forget to take care of yourself! Additionally, self-care fails to acknowledge the systemic and societal role (and responsibility!) we have as a collective to care for new mothers.
In an Ideal World
If I ran the world, self-care for mothers would look something like this:
- Paying them more
- 6-months paid parental leave
- Providing childcare at their place of employment, free of charge
- Doulas, coaches, therapists, lactation consultants, and pelvic floor physical therapists for all
That is what caring for new mothers should look like.
Imagine the possibilities if we as a society decided collectively to care for new mothers?
The purpose of this blog is to change the definition of self-care for mothers such that it does NOT mean playing an active role in your well-being by taking bubble baths, long walks outside, and meditating daily. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good bubble bath, but honestly, who has time for that on a regular basis?
My Self Care Journey
For me, the mandate for daily self-care too often feels like something to check off my to-do list-- which is more than long enough already. So, where does that leave us?
Personally, my self-care journey has evolved over time. On most days, it looks like practicing present moment awareness. And sure, some days it looks like meditating or taking a walk, but sometimes it doesn’t. It can also look like cooking a nourishing meal for my family and enjoying the smells and sounds as I go, having a long talk with a friend, reading a (non-parenting) book, and dancing it out in my living room.
I try to make self-care more about reminding myself that each moment is temporary. Whatever may be going on will pass. Mindfulness helps with this. My mindfulness work is to tune into my body and ask myself two questions:
What would make my soul exhale?
What would feel nourishing to me in this moment?
How to Build Self-care Into Your Schedule without Having to “Make Time”
When working with new moms as a pediatrician and postpartum coach, the biggest barrier I hear to creating a self-care routine is time. One of the most common things I constantly hear from new mothers is that there’s not enough time.
No time to exercise, no time to eat (let alone cook), no time to meditate, no time to spend with a partner. So instead of putting pressure on women to do the impossible and create extra hours in the day, I work with women to be more deliberate about opening up space within the activities of daily life they are already doing.
Spoiler alert: It’s not about creating a color-coded master schedule.
Make Micro-adjustments and Increase Your Awareness
Opening up more space for self-care is about making micro-adjustments and increasing your awareness. Here’s what I mean. Instead of feeling guilty about not taking 30 minutes to do your exercise video, be intentional about going for a walk outside with baby in tow. Don’t get mad at yourself for not sitting in silence for 20 minutes and focusing on your breath. Instead, mindfully wash the dishes piled in the sink. Pay close attention to the temperature of the water and how it feels on your skin.
Find moments to indulge and nourish yourself every single day (read that again).
Maybe that looks like picking up your morning coffee from a local bakery instead of brewing a pot at home. Maybe you take 30 seconds longer in the shower to feel the warm water massage your neck and shoulders. Perhaps you close your eyes when you eat to truly capture the sensory experience of your meal. Maybe you remind yourself to focus on your breath throughout the day, whenever you can.
Whatever we do, it’s about shifting our attention (and intention) back to our own motherhood experience and incorporating habits/rituals into the parenting activities that we already do every single day.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
While self-care, in the sense I talk about in this article, is important, there is no replacement for taking care of your mental health. The Baby Blues and Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) are common, real phenomena that can’t be wished away with your breath or a bubble bath. If you are exhibiting signs of a PMAD, reach out to your care provider. You are not alone, and there is treatment. See below for Baby Blues/PMAD warning signs.
The Baby Blues
- 60-80% of women will experience the Baby Blues after giving birth
- Onset is around 3 days postpartum
- Symptoms include feelings of exhaustion, overwhelm, and sadness after having a baby
- Are due to the dramatic, sudden drop in pregnancy hormones (estrogen and progesterone)
- Should be fully resolved by about 2 weeks postpartum
Signs of PMADs
- If you have symptoms past the 2-week mark, such as sadness, anxiety, rage, obsessive or compulsive thoughts, or anything else that is interfering with your ability to function in daily life, contact your healthcare provider ASAP
- Note: if you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room
- Remember, anxiety, depression, and other postpartum mood disorders are medical illnesses that can be treated
- Resources: Postpartum Support International (https://www.postpartum.net/)
You're never alone and there are amazing communities of women just like you supporting each other and cheering each other on every day. Reach out for the help and support you crave at any point in your parenthood journey.
© Ariana Witkin 2021 arianawitkin.com/work-with-me