“You cannot pour from an empty cup. You must fill your cup first.”
Self-Care. “The practice of taking action to preserve one’s own health.” Among no population is this more important than mothers. Among no population is this more difficult to set aside time and energy to work on than motherhood.
Similarly to the concept explained to us each time we step foot on an airplane, we must put on our own oxygen mask prior to helping others. We must secure and preserve our own health so that we can survive ourselves, and allowing us to help others. This includes keeping ourselves physically in good condition, so that we can work at maintaining adequate supply when nursing and physically pick up and carry our babies, or get down on the floor and play with them. This also means allowing our bodies to heal postpartum so that we can maintain healthy function moving forward (because no one likes to pee when they giggle), potentially in preparing ourselves to do it all again in furthering the growth of our families. This includes being mentally and emotionally fit, so that we can better raise secure children who have a confident mother as a role model.
One key component of self-care is that it is something we deliberately do to take care of our mental, physical, and emotional health. It is not something we should feel forced to do. It is not a selfish act, either. It should be something that refuels us, rather than taking away from us.
But how do we do all the things while raising the next generation at the same time? Break down several key areas to focus on and start little bits at a time. Here are a few ideas to get started on some key areas for moms to focus on:
1. Movement. This can be tough, especially early on when you have a little one. One hack that I found to be helpful was doing body weight + baby exercises, where I would hold my son while doing squats and lunges (being conscious of good form yet). He loved getting held while getting to do something new and I got some resistance training in-everyone wins. One great piece of equipment to invest in (or register for) is a quality jogging stroller. Everyone feels better with a little fresh air, and often times baby will get a little nap in. Earlier on I worked through a focused program on restoring core strength and proper pelvic floor function. Further along in my postpartum journey I began training for a half marathon (we’re talking 9 months down the road), which gave me something to strive for and some “me” time when I got up a little earlier to run on my own. Furthermore, check out if your area offers any “baby and me” yoga or other fitness classes where little ones are not only welcomed but encouraged to come.
2. Diet. Your body is not only recovering from a significant “athletic event” with the recent labor and delivery of your child, but you are also currently needing to have enough energy to care for and raise this child, plus potentially any older children you may have, as well as maybe nursing your new baby and being their primary source of nutrition. Whew. You need to fuel your own body with strong building blocks to keep yourself and your dependent(s) going. Focus on easy to grab, healthy, nutrient-dense food. No bake energy bites are great to grab as a snack. Eat hearty, nutritious meals. Crockpots are great for preparing soups and stews that can be saved for leftovers depending on the size of the tribe you’re feeding. Limit refined sugars and processed foods. Not only are these lacking in nutritional value but as a mother it’s time to think about the habits your children are learning from the environment around them.
3. Rest. For all of the reasons above, including recovery while simultaneously supporting your growing family, it is so important that you rest and allow your body to heal. Our body and minds need time to rest not only so that we can heal but so that we can be our best, most present selves for our families. This may be difficult, especially in the early days (speaking from experience), but with some support and prioritizing it can be worked on. Nap when help is present to care for your baby. Nap when your little one(s) nap if you’re able. This section is purposely entitled “rest” rather than “sleep”, as it is meant to take the pressure off of feeling like you need to be sleeping through the night right away (or for the first few years…). I felt so much better about my sleep when at a follow up visit several weeks after the birth of my son my midwife asked how much sleep I was getting. I was unsure and hesitant at first, but she made me feel more “normal” asking if I was getting at least 5 hours of “interrupted sleep” throughout the day and night rather than my comparison to the usual/”recommended” 8 hours. The more the merrier as far as sleep goes, but knowing I was at or slightly above “normal” for a new mom made me feel more energized and empowered in itself. Furthermore, human milk is designed to match its species, in that its composition accounts for human babies and moms being meant to be “attached” (more dependent on) or closer together when young, compared to other animals that may have different fat content levels and are designed to be more independent earlier on, requiring less frequent feedings (cows, for example). Research safe co-sleeping. Not all co-sleeping is equal-it can range from dangerous locations such as on a couch or with other risk factors (obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, etc) to the very safe room-sharing. When done properly it is not only safe but studies have shown other benefits including increased sleep for Mom and baby, a better breastfeeding relationship, and reduced risk of SIDS. For more on breastfed babies and sleep, check out this La Leche League article.
4. Take time to do what you love. Along a similar theme to being your best self for your family, taking a break to do what you love helps allow you to be more present when you’re with your family. Whether alone, with friends, your spouse, or even with kids in tow, carve out time to partake in your own hobbies. This could mean attending a fitness class or going on a hike or run, ladies’ night out, date night, or simply enjoying your beverage of choice while reading a good book.
5. Stop comparing. Technology and social media are great tools to help us keep in contact with friends and family, especially those who live elsewhere. However, please recognize when you get caught comparing yourself to others, whether it’s your cousin who has the perfect looking family, your college sorority sister who has bounced back from each pregnancy looking better than ever, or your high school acquaintance who’s traveled the world since graduation. Most people generally don’t share their struggles with the world, so remember that you’re only getting their highlight reel. We all have struggles in life, and comparing ourselves to others to the point it gets into our heads is not healthy. If you find yourself feeling worse after scrolling the old newsfeed, unfollow those who may evoke those feelings, or better yet, cut back the amount of time you spend on social media in general.
This list is not comprehensive, as there are many other ways to “fill your cup” (and avoid emptying it) as a mom, whether you’re newly expecting or transitioning to life as an empty nester. Feel free to reach out if you are looking for further ways to take care of yourself or more resources. When we are better versions of ourselves, we are better moms and better role models for our littles.
Hang in there, mama. This season will not last. Remember that the days and nights can be long, but the years oh so short.
In good health,