When you’re a new mom (or even if you’ve been doing the mama thing for a while), it’s so incredibly easy to prioritize your children, home, work and family before your own needs. And while it’s not always natural, prioritizing self-care is incredibly important. That means putting yourself first sometimes, and taking care of you. Here are a few things to consider.
What is “Self-Care,” Exactly?
Self-care is defined as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s health and wellbeing.” What does this mean? Being mindful and taking care of your physical, mental and emotional health—and giving yourself permission to prioritize them when needed.
You might say, “but how in the world can I prioritize my own self-care when my kids need so much of my time and energy?”
Here’s a metaphor for you. When you fly in an airplane, the safety manual advises you to put your own mask on before assisting children or other passengers. The reason? You can’t possibly take care of others before taking care of yourself, first. The same is true of parenting. When you’re depleted of your own self-care, or feeling burnt out on parenting, it can be hard to muster up the patience and energy to be the best mama you can be. So fill your own cup, mama. If you have nothing left in the tank, you’ll have nothing left to give to your family.
Here are some simple things you can do to practice self-care. Even the smallest things can have a huge impact on your wellbeing.
Mental and Emotional Self-Care
Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep is one of the things that can truly start to affect your overall health—both physically and mentally. If you have a little one that’s a midnight party animal, don’t shoulder all the nighttime wakes on your own. Ask your partner or a support person to step in and help with a wakeup or two overnight to let you get some uninterrupted rest. And we get it, mama. It can be hard to ask for help, but a good night’s sleep can change your outlook and is one of the best forms of self-care out there.
Just because you’re “mama” doesn’t mean you have to appease everyone all the time. In fact, it’s so important to know your limits and learn how to be comfortable saying “no” sometimes to protect your mental health and energy. This can include everything from declining your child’s request to play if you’re finishing work or a chore, to saying “no thanks” to a play date request if you’re just not up for it.
Ask for help when you need it. If you’re shouldering the majority of the household or parenting responsibilities, it’s time to offload. Talk to your partner, family or other support people about how they can help take something off of your plate.
Take Some Time to Yourself
Ever hear moms joke that taking a shower feels like a vacation because they finally get a few minutes to be alone? It’s an unfortunate (and not-so-funny) truth that moms truly don’t get enough alone time to reset and recharge. It can be draining to be constantly surrounded by people, even when it’s your own sweet little ones.
When you’re feeling the need to step away, ask your partner, a friend or family member to spend time with your babies while you do something that makes you feel…well…more like yourself. Curl up with a book, take a relaxing bath, do a hobby you enjoyed before having kids—or start a new one! Anything that gives you time to focus on yourself and your own needs is fair game.
Phone a Friend
Between work, busy schedules, and being a mama, sometimes the friendships and connections that used to bring us a lot of joy can fall off of your radar (yes, that includes time with your partner too!). While sometimes self-care can mean having some “me-time,” other times it can feel invigorating to spend time with other adults who are important in your life. So put the date night you’ve been neglecting on the calendar. Ask your best friends to schedule a standing coffee date every month. Nurturing the important relationships in your life can help you reset just as much as some solo time.
Talk to Someone
Being a mama can be so hard some days. It can be easy to chalk up symptoms of depression and anxiety to having a hard season of life as a mom. But the truth is, one in nine new moms suffer from postpartum depression, and one in ten from postpartum anxiety. If you suspect there’s something bigger going on, or you feel sad, empty, hopeless or nervous for more than two weeks, it might be time to contact your provider for some help. Remember that addressing any health problems (whether physical or mental health) is so important, and deserves to be prioritized.
Eat What Makes You Feel Good
Nutrition is an extremely important piece of self-care. A balanced diet has been linked to better emotional, physical and mental health. What does that mean for you? Make sure you’re putting the things you know make you feel better in your body. Don’t just eat the scraps of your kids’ leftovers. If you prepare a lot of your household’s meals, be sure to cook the food you love (not just the things your family likes). And guess what? Sometimes ice cream makes you feel better—so treat yourself now and again! After all, it’s all about balance.
If your household has trouble getting healthy meals on the table, schedule out some time to sit and chat about meals for the week, then create a meal plan. You’ll feel good knowing there’s less to stress about each day when it comes to meal time. And it helps with the grocery list! And, mama—don’t forget to hydrate while you’re being super mom.
Move Your Body
Getting consistent exercise is one of the best things you can do for both your physical and mental health. Benefits of exercise include: boosted energy, better sleep, healthier weight, and as a bonus, you might start to feel stronger and more confident. Another big bonus? Endorphins! These feel-good chemicals are released during exercise, and can help you feel happier and more relaxed.
The goal? Aim for some form of exercise—even if it’s a sporadic walk around your neighborhood—every day for 20-30 minutes. Try a few different forms of exercise or different activities until you find one that you enjoy, and are likely to prioritize and look forward to. Ask your partner or a support person to take charge of your little ones when possible so you can focus on the movement of your body and turn your brain off “parenting mode” while you exercise.
Schedule That Appointment
You probably make sure your little ones get to their well-child appointments, but do you make it to your annual exams or dental appointments? Or do you let them fall down the list of priorities? Whether it’s an eye exam, dental cleaning, dermatologist appointment or pap smear, don’t wait! Schedule that appointment and commit to getting there. You deserve the peace of mind that your body and health are a-ok.
And by the way—it doesn’t always have to be a medical reason to schedule an appointment. Whether it’s a haircut, chiropractor appointment, massage, or a pedicure, it’s important to take time for feeling good—whatever that means to you.
Bottom line? Recognize when you need to take care of yourself and your own needs, mama. While it can feel foreign to ask for help when you need a moment for self-care, it’s so incredibly important and can help you be the best mom you can be.