I struggled as a new mum. The first 12 months were excruciating. By about 15 months, I felt like I was human again. Now, at 18 months, I am actually getting the hang of being a mum and being my own person. But there are so many things I wish I had known at the very beginning. So I am putting them in writing, in the hopes that you will stumble on this post and maybe, just maybe, make your own motherhood journey a little easier.
This post may contain affiliate links, to read my policy click here.
Savvy Self Care for Motherhood
There is no way of truly knowing in advance how your life is going to change when you have a baby. Some things in life simply have to be experienced to be understood. However, having resources to read or to save for later can help to make that transformation a little easier. So if you are that pregnant mama trying to prepare for your first baby’s arrival, then please add this post to your favourites, save a screenshot, or even print it and put the paper copy somewhere you will easily remember it during that sleep-deprived, new-born haze. I have even made you a FREE printable Savvy Self Care Worksheet to help you make a self care plan!
If like me, you are already a mother and finding it HARD work, then keep reading this post and think of it as a virtual hug and a hot cup of tea, from me to you.
As you may have already discovered, most of the self care tips you find online are repetitive and seem to assume that you have hours of free time on your hands. Well, darlin’ we may well have started maternity leave, but we ain’t finished the work! I found these unrealistic self care ideas so thoughtless and unhelpful that it often made me feel worse just reading them. But don’t worry! You won’t find suggestions for nights away or spa days in this blog post. Instead, I have written this list of ‘Savvy Self Care’ tips for REAL mums of REAL babies (who don’t necessarily sleep when we want them to). So let’s get started and address my top three takeaway messages that are the foundation of savvy self care!
Top Three Takeaways
1) Identify Self Care in Small Moments
Self care doesn’t have to be an entire activity. It doesn’t even have to involve any extra effort. It simply means putting your needs at the top of your to do list every day. Small moments when you choose to drink a glass of water before rushing off to soothe a crying baby. When you ignore the dishes and allow yourself to sit down for 5 minutes. And if you are like me, and suffer from dry skin, it can be as simple as placing your hand cream next to the sink. A small reminder that you are important too.
2) Make Self Care Appointments
Sometimes we do need a break. And that is okay. Make a plan so that your break actually happens, rather than just expecting the right opportunity to come along at some point. If your partner is home at the weekend, ask for an hour to have a bath and read a trashy magazine. It doesn’t need to be a partner – your friend, sister, mother in law or even colleague will likely be happy to come and sit with your baby for half an hour while you get some time to yourself. Not all of us are ready to be away from our babies and that is okay. Your appointment can always take place in another room of your house.
3) Remember Your Worth
You are a valuable and important part of this world. You matter and deserve to feel loved simply because you exist. Let alone the fact that you have also created new life and are caring for that new person day in and day out. Speak kindly to yourself and halt any negative self talk in it’s tracks. Sometimes just identifying the thought and then adding, “I just had a negative thought that…” may help you distance yourself and remember that it isn’t true.
So without any further preamble, here is my list of Savvy Self Care Strategies for motherhood.
Savvy Self Care Strategies
Self care basket
Make yourself a self care basket. Simply grab a basket, bag or even a cardboard box and fill it with things that make you feel good. Try to use an item from your basket every day. These items do not need to be expensive. Simple things already lying around your house such as a nail file, nail varnish, a notebook and pen, your favourite CD or even just a piece of chocolate, can all be collected and kept here as something special for you to make use of when you have a few minutes. Keep your basket somewhere you will see it, that is easily accessible, and is out of reach of your children. My basket sits on the window sill in our living room.
Meditating or practicing mindfulness is a really valuable way to spend a few minutes of your day. It has been shown to boost our wellbeing and lower stress levels. You don’t need to worry about studying Buddhism or buying any books (unless you want to!). Just take a few minutes to breathe deeply, focus on your breath moving in and out of your body, let your body relax. If thoughts come into your mind, simply acknowledge them and let them pass. Like clouds in the sky.
Learning to see yourself and your thoughts as separate is helpful as it stops you from being dragged down a rabbit hole by fleeting negative moments. We can actually recognise that there is a higher level of awareness in our mind that can watch the thoughts come and go. This is a really useful tool for coping with stress and anxiety.
Keep your positive self talk topped up by using positive affirmations. These are statements which recognise your values and motivations. They remind you of who you are and what you are worth. Positive affirmations can empower you and keep you focused on the good things in your life. Write your own or sign up to our member’s only Freebies Library to download my free printable Positive Affirmations pack. You could also purchase the KG Hypnobirthing positive affirmations audio tracks to listen to while relaxing. They have affirmations for new mums as well as pregnancy.
As I mentioned earlier, self care appointments are really important to make sure you actually get to have a break. Sleep deprivation is one of the most painful parts of early motherhood, so please make sure you schedule in some nap appointments too! If you are like me, and struggle to sleep when you can hear your baby, set up a time when your partner or friend can take baby out for a walk. If you aren’t comfortable with this level of separation, then why not try being in the furthest room in your home and wearing ear plugs? You can even set an alarm to reassure yourself that it will only be for a short while.
Dry or infected skin can be really painful. I didn’t look after myself very well in the first year, and as a result my hands began to crack and bleed. They were red raw right up to the wrists. This year I am determined to do things differently and I have popped a hand cream next to each of the sinks in my house. There is also hand-cream and moisturising foot masks in my self care basket. Make sure you keep a good supply of the products you need in the house and put them somewhere that will remind you to use them! It only takes two minutes and makes the world of difference!
Accepting your body after having a baby is a whole other blog post. However, it is an important part of self care. You can respect your body and care for your appearance without having to love the way you look. It sends a message to your brain that you are worth taking time over. I learnt to French plait and often put my wet hair into a plait before blow drying and styling my fringe. Little moments like this help to remind me that I am worth being looked at too.
My body changed while carrying a baby (as it was supposed to!) so I invested in some new clothes from Matalan and New Look. Just comfortable jeans, underwear and t-shirts. You deserve to be comfortable in your clothes. Don’t force yourself into too small, pre baby clothes or saggy maternity wear. Buy just a few items at a time to avoid breaking the bank!
Eventually you may even have time for makeup too! I have found I can actually slap on my makeup in less than five minutes. My entire morning routine is down to 30 minutes including a shower, morning stretch, hair, clothes and makeup. It’s incredible what you learn to do as a mum! But don’t push yourself to get there too soon. It took me 15 months to get back to regular makeup. Choose the things that will be easy and make you feel good in the short term.
As I mentioned above, it is important to be comfortable. Underwear and pyjamas are my priority wardrobe items (especially during lockdown!). Having something nice to change into at the end of the day really helps me to relax. I have also found some great non wired plunge bras from Matalan that allow me to feed without feeling frumpy in a nursing bra. If you do want a nursing bra, and have money to spend, there are some very non-frumpy and totally gorgeous nursing bras at HotMilk Lingerie. Use their guide to measure yourself at home. This is something you may need to do regularly as a breastfeeding mum.
Becoming a parent is emotional. It makes you consider life from a completely new perspective. Often television shows, music and books can affect you in new ways. Be kind to yourself in the first few months. Choose positive and uplifting, over scary and tense. My son is now 18 months and I have started to branch out a little bit. I am still not keen on intense thrillers or any crime dramas. This is something I started during my pregnancy as part of my hypnobirthing practice.
It can be hard to stay connected when you have a new baby. Maternity leave feels alien for many women who are used to being busy and productive alongside other people all day. Normally I would be suggesting you get out to baby groups and meet some new mums, but 2020 has been a strange year and we don’t know when that will be our norm again. Instead, try to get connected online. There may be local buggy walking organisers on Facebook, a breastfeeding support Zoom Call or even a local WhatsApp chat. If you aren’t sure where to begin, call your health visitor and ask for some details of local organisations.
You might feel a bit silly signing up to baby classes online but believe me it can be a wonderful way to chat with other parents, as well as provide a bonding experience for you and baby. We have loved our online Tiny Talk classes this year! And I can’t stress to you enough how much you are going to need to find your own mum tribe.
Sometimes you might need to be brave and make the first move in order to make friends. A little bit of Facebook stalking will often do the trick. That is how I ensured a friendship after my first Baby Massage class. I asked the other mum to go to another baby group with us and then we started going out for coffee. Yes, it did feel a bit like asking someone out on a friendship date! But once you get passed the initial awkwardness it is worth it! Our boys have known each other since they were 5 weeks old and we hope they will be firm friends for years to come. Having this mum friend has meant that I have a fellow mother to celebrate with, moan to, cry on and generally connect with at every step of our journeys. And it really does make a difference to how I cope with motherhood.
This is a huge topic and we already touched on it a little. But it is something that most women struggle with generally, and there is something about the major changes which happen during pregnancy that sends body image demons into overdrive! So I just want to take this opportunity to remind you that your body is enough just as is it is.
If you trust your body and nourish it, you will find that it transitions back to a more normal state eventually. This may take 12-18 months or even longer! Sometimes we have issues that we need to cope with (like injury, scars, pain or weight gain) and we may need professional support to do this.
You do not need to diet if you don’t want to. If you are really struggling with your body acceptance, there are lots of resources to help which don’t involve dieting or changing your body in any way. Start here at the Embodied & Well Mom Podcast.
And on that topic…
Your body needs sustenance. It is being pushed to its limits by growing, birthing, feeding and caring for another human being. Be kind to yourself and eat what you need to. Eat food that is satisfying but have quick and easy solutions on hand for those harder days too. Please don’t worry about whether your diet is the healthiest possible version it could be. You are in a stressful season of life and it won’t last forever. Lack of sleep and time often mean that sugary foods are the go to choice for quick bursts of energy. Just make sure that you prioritise yourself. And if there is a meal you are craving, but don’t have time for, ask for help!
(For me, it was lasagne. Yum!)
Keep drinking water! Dehydration can make you more tired, more irritable and more sluggish – on top of all that lovely sleep deprivation! Breastfeeding may also make you feel thirsty. Try to keep a bottle of water with you at all times. If you are like me and struggle with serious hot flashes post-partum, then try putting ice cubes in your bottle and maybe invest in a fan for at night.
Limit screen time
Spending too much time on screens isn’t good for anyone. But it can be especially problematic for new mothers. The blue light affects our sleep which is already being disrupted (thank you baby!). We also often have a tendency to scroll endlessly through Instagram comparing ourselves to other mothers (guilty!). If you do need to have your phone out, why not download a few funny novels on the Kindle app? Or watch episodes of your favourite comedy on Netflix? Do something that will make you feel good. Then put your phone away.
Try something new
It can be hard to feel like a whole person when you have just had a baby. They were part of you for what felt like an eternity, and they still are. But now they are outside of your body. And your world has shrunk to a never ending routine of feeding, nappies and laundry. Sometimes we forget that we have our own passions and interests. It can also be hard to restart them when we do have the time, as our old hobbies aren’t always possible with a baby. But the good news is that there are plenty of new things out there to try which are child friendly! You may even meet some new friends along the way.
Spend some time brainstorming ideas for activities that interest you. Maybe have a quick Google or search Facebook for local groups. Once you’ve got a list, pick three to try in the next month. I was a runner before pregnancy and now I buggy run. I have also started walking a lot more as it’s a good way to keep baby happy, to get outside and to socialise! I have also started this blog and I became a breastfeeding volunteer. It is amazing how many things we can fit it once we get the hang of this motherhood malarkey! And the sense of self worth it provides is priceless.
Minimise your workload
While it is possible to eventually fit in lots of activities, it is also vital that you don’t over do it. Overbooking yourself or simply applying internal pressure, when you are already being challenged in the first year of motherhood, could be dangerous for your mental health. Make sure you schedule in down time and use it for a rest (not housework!). You don’t need to do everything at once and you don’t need to stick to a weekly schedule. Let how your body feels guide you on what to do with your time. And when your body says its time for a break, listen!
Write It Down
The list of jobs in a new mum’s life can feel overwhelming at the best of times. Your mind can feel like it never switches off. If you are struggling to keep a handle on all the jobs popping into your thoughts, then please try writing a ‘To Do List’. This may sound silly as your jobs will simply be on paper rather than in your head. But the relief it can provide your mental load is incredible! Get it all out and let it be. Then take some time to just breathe and focus on your breath. Being present in the moment is important for de-stressing and can actually make us more productive!
Small Bites of the Elephant
Okay so you have written down your ‘To Do List’ and some of the jobs seem impossible. Far too much to achieve in the small window of time your baby allows you. But the good news is that you have plenty of time! Your whole life in fact! And you don’t have to do it all in one go. It is like that old saying about eating an elephant. You need to take small bites.
Tackle a five or ten minute part of the task each day and eventually it will be complete. Keep telling yourself ‘I can do this’ and ‘I have plenty of time’. Positive thinking really does help!
Identify and Challenge Negative Thoughts
When you do experience negative thoughts, don’t let them run away with you. Call it out when you see it and tell it to go. Sometimes just adding a phrase, like ‘oh, I am thinking that…’, before the thought itself can be enough to distance you from the negativity.
We can also challenge the negative thought by writing it down and then listing the evidence for and against it. Often we find there isn’t much concrete evidence to support the claim. If you are struggling with intrusive thoughts, that are affecting your mood for long periods of time, please speak to your GP straight away or call the Samaritans on 116 123.
Another way to relax and find your sense of self is to write in a journal. I have two journals. One is a diary and the other is a bullet journal. Bullet points, words, mind-maps, quotes, drawings – anything goes! I like to fill it with ideas about what I want in life, how I’m coping, and the tools I have learnt to use for my anxiety. Some pages are just lists of activities I would like to try or movies that I want to watch! It is in an outlet and something nice for me that I can have a read of when I need some quiet time.
Taking some quiet time and relaxing is one of the most important ways of caring for your self. It boosts your wellbeing and will keep the chemicals in your body in balance. It is also really helpful for new mothers to practice relaxation, because their baby’s body will also respond to the changes in their mother’s body. Babies’ use their mother’s body to regulate their own blood pressure, breathing, temperature and more! So relaxing can have positive effects for both you and your baby. It can be hard to relax as a new mum but here is a very simple way to start:
- Relax your tongue and take it away from the roof of your mouth.
- Relax your jaw and shoulders.
- Take a deep breath.
Move your body
Movement is another way we can improve our overall wellbeing. It is important to find an activity you enjoy that is not too tiring. Have a dance in the living room to your favourite CD, go for a walk or just try a few basic stretches! Moving your body will help prevent stiffness and aches or pains. Mums often experience sore joints or lower back pain and it is no wonder! Think of all the positions you get yourself into while carrying baby, putting them in their car seat or giving them a bath! Lack of sleep can also contribute to bodily discomfort. So it is super important that we care for ourselves and make the effort to move a little bit each day.
A Mother’s Tool Kit
I hope you enjoyed this article and are able to take away some positive tips for self care. I have listed some resources and more blog posts below which may be of interest. As always, I love hearing what you made of my post and how you are using the tips I have shared. So please leave me a comment below or head over to our Facebook Community and get involved!