You know when you’re on an airplane and the flight attendant is giving the safety spiel, and they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others to do the same? As a brand-new mama, I find myself thinking about this often, and why no one told me that the same sentiment applies in early motherhood.
Allow me to explain. There are countless books, podcasts, courses, and other resources dedicated to pregnancy, childbirth, and how to take care of a baby. I’m the type of person who likes to be way over prepared, so I consumed it all during my pregnancy. But in all my preparations, I only came across one book that focuses on taking care of yourself in the postpartum period (aptly titled The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide).
My kid is only two months old, but the past nine and a half weeks have been more profound— physically, mentally, and emotionally— than my entire 41 plus weeks of pregnancy. And one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned so far is that I am a much better mom when I take good care of myself.
So here are some of the best tips I’ve collected and put into practice while navigating my way through the so-called “fourth trimester.”
This is one that you’ve heard a million times and can be easy to ignore but is perhaps the most important thing you can do: sleep while the baby sleeps! Or at least make sleep your biggest priority (behind taking care of a baby, of course.)
As a health and wellness professional, I’ve always been aware of the profound positive impact that getting enough sleep has on our health. And as a new parent, this is more important than ever. Our bodies need to recover from pregnancy and birth and a body simply cannot recover without adequate sleep.
Plus, being well rested helps us to be more patient with our little ones during the more challenging times. I know it can be difficult, but napping instead of doing chores, or going to bed at 8 pm when the baby goes down will make you feel so much better. Even just lying down and closing your eyes can be helpful. And remember, this is only temporary. Your baby will start sleeping longer stretches at night and going down for regular naps before you know it.
My next recommendation, and one of the best things I did to take care of myself during pregnancy and in the early postpartum days, was to visit a physiotherapist who specializes in pelvic floor health. No matter how you delivered your baby, pregnancy and labour put enormous strain on the core and pelvic floor muscles. A pelvic floor physiotherapist can recommend exercises to safely rebuild strength in these areas of our bodies. They can also provide help in recovering from any injuries that you may have sustained in childbirth. Slowly and safely rebuilding your core can help you to get back to your regular workout routine (and daily life!) without risk of injury or complications.
Lastly, please be kind to yourself.
There are some mamas who can fit into their pre-pregnancy clothes just weeks after having a baby, but it is 100% ok if you are not one of them. The notion of “getting your body back” after pregnancy is absurd. You just grew an entire human being inside of you, and in some ways your body will never be the same.
But you can certainly be vibrantly healthy after having a baby. Take things slow. There is no hurry to get back to the high-intensity workouts of your pre-pregnancy life. In fact, rushing into intense exercise too soon after giving birth can have serious negative consequences for your body. And forget dieting. This is a time to nourish your body and replenish the nutrients that you gave to the baby in the womb. Eating enough also helps to keep your energy levels up. And if you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need to make sure you’re eating up to 500 extra calories per day.
So instead of keeping an immaculately clean house or running 15 k every day, rest and nourish your body and cherish this special time with your sweet baby. The time will go by so fast and when you look back on these days, it’s the skin-to-skin naps, the cuddles, and the sweetness of rocking your baby to sleep in the night that you’ll want to remember, not whether or not you could squeeze into an old pair of jeans. You’re doing an amazing thing. Show yourself some love.
Check out The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide by Kimberly Ann Johnson for more information on taking care of yourself after having a baby.