The first 12 weeks are the toughest, they say. The learning curve was steep. My husband said that in the first week of our son’s life, he had learned more than in the past 10 years. I had to agree. But as we get to the end of those 12 weeks (and I listen to very loud and strange baby sleeping/groaning noises), I am feeling reflective. I want to reflect on the priorities I set out before the baby was born to look after myself, then the baby, then everyone else. Here is what I have observed about postpartum self care.
There is no doubt that is hard to prioritise yourself when there is a newborn screaming to be fed. For example, this morning I wanted nothing more than to meet my friends and their babies for a swim and a chat. My son? He wanted nothing more than to feed for 1.5 hours and then sleep. That, was not the time for prioritising myself. But as I sat there with him, I planned what my self care would be once he fell asleep: tea and chocolate. It is small but it was enough.
The First 12 weeks of postpartum self care
So here are the top things I’ve learned about postpartum self care during those first 12 weeks.
Small is good
Aim for small. Focus on the small things that have a big impact for you e.g. 10 minutes of yoga while your partner has the baby, 5 minutes to drink a cup of tea with two hands, 5 minutes to have a dip in the pool. If you get more time, great, do more. But if you aim for small things that are likely to happen you don’t set yourself up for unrealistic expectations and resentment.
Housework will get done
Rather than sit with my tea, I was tempted to empty the dishwasher. I didn’t allow myself to do it. The dishwasher will eventually get emptied; this was my only window for tea. Priorities.
Take the toilet breaks when you get them
Feeding nearly constantly means that getting even two minutes to go to the bathroom at the time you need to might be a luxury. If you get a window, use it!
To some people, it is 'sleep when the baby sleeps' seems like wishful thinking (and it probably is if you have more than one child). I don’t sleep every time he sleeps. I listen to my body and decide whether I need sleep or something else to nourish me. But I always prioritise rest. Rest can be whatever you find restorative. Before I had a baby, I used to do this by saying, 'two sessions; not three!' This meant that if I did something in the morning and afternoon (two sessions), I rested in the evening (3rd session=rest). With a baby, for me, it’s more like 'one session; not three!' Find what works for you.
My son likes to feed (a lot!) which can mean hours on end looking at his little face with his eyes closed. He is happy and I enjoy watching him. To a point. Then, I get bored, thirsty, and hungry. I start prepping by putting things within a reaching distance: books, journals, computer, TV remotes, water, and food. It is a godsend.
I wrote a whole post
about this but I think it is so important that it needs repeating. Yesterday, I asked a stranger to help me get my purse out of my bag to pay for parking. I had a baby on boob, a baby carrier around my waist and a backpack on my back… yeah! Flustered (after nearly 2 hours of a screaming baby), my first reaction was to stop, put everything down, get my purse out, and hope there was $2 in there. In a split second, I thought of my word for the year ‘ask’ and realised there was an alternative. The stranger ended up paying the $2.
So, there you have it. I am amazed to say that postpartum self-care is possible with a newborn. I am not sure I believed it would be. But I think the core strand that runs through all of this is flexibility. I have tried not to compare what I used to do, to now. There is no comparison. I know that eventually I’ll get to go for a massage without worrying about the next feed. But in the meantime, tea, chocolate, and the odd bit of time to write is enough.
So, what can you do to prioritise yourself during pregnancy, and in those first 12 weeks, and beyond?
About the writer: Dr. Amanda McCullough from Not Just Mum
Amanda is a life coach, award-winning scientist, health professional and speaker at Not Just Mum. She coaches intelligent, brave and honest women through the transition from passionate career woman to motherhood and back again. A move to Australia in 2014, her two uteruses and expertise in behavior change and women’s leadership led her to create Not Just Mum where she offers workshops, one-to-one consults and coaching series to support women to maintain their sanity and identity in this challenging and joy-filled time of life.
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Article images credit: Dr. Amanda McCullough