Throughout your pregnancy, you eat the right foods, drink plenty of fluids, rest, and try to keep stress to a minimum. You might think once your baby arrives that you can relax your self-care regimen but caring for yourself should remain a top priority to ensure the health of you and your baby.
1. Drink plenty of water. “The key to optimal recovery after delivery is fluid hydration with water,” advises Dr. Gina Petelin, OB/GYN. “This is important for replenishing your body after significant fluid losses.”
2. Nourish yourself. Before the baby arrives, assemble healthy meals ahead of time to stash in your freezer. In the midst of caring for a newborn, you’ll be less likely to eat poorly when you can quickly pop a nutritious, ready-made meal into the oven or crockpot.
Also, stock up on protein-packed snacks to keep your energy up, especially if you plan to breastfeed. Choose simple, healthy snacks like cheese sticks, almonds, chicken, yogurt, and energy bars.
Consult with your physician to determine how many extra calories you should be consuming each day according to your activity level, weight, and if you choose to nurse.
3. Sleep when the baby sleeps. “Those first days home from the hospital, rest, rest, rest and spend as much time skin-to-skin with your baby as you can,” says Teresa Marshall, a birth and postpartum doula. “This will make for a smoother transition for baby from the womb to room and for mama, as well.”
Tricia Walania, a postpartum emotional support program coordinator, says that rest is one of the best ways you can care for yourself. “Being rested helps you cope more effectively with both the physical and emotional changes,” she says.
Unable to catnap? Relax with your eyes closed.
4. Integrate gentle exercise. Many moms are surprised that they still look pregnant after delivery. Don’t panic; it’s normal, says Petelin. Although the uterus decreases in size right away, you will still appear to be about five months pregnant when leaving the hospital. By following a healthy diet and exercising according to your doctor’s instructions, you will get back to your pre-pregnancy body.
Many moms enjoy group exercise activities where you will also experience companionship with other moms. Walking is also beneficial. Not only will you get exercise, a stroll around the block on a sunny day will do wonders for your emotional well-being and give you a boost of vitamin D.
Take extra care if you’ve had a cesarean delivery and only gradually increase your activity level according to your doctor’s instructions. Recommendations include no driving the first two weeks postpartum and no heavy lifting (anything over 15 pounds, about 7 kilograms) for the first six weeks.
5. Expect hormonal changes. Many new moms feel overwhelmed, tired, anxious, tearful, or mildly depressed. “Exhaustion, hormonal changes, and isolation after the birth of a baby may lead to what is referred to as ‘baby blues,’” says Walania. “To some degree, this happens to everyone. It’s natural and not permanent.”
Talk to your doctor if symptoms persist for more than two weeks. Anxiety and depression can also be linked to thyroid issues, low levels of iron and vitamin D.
6. Tap into your village. “I would recommend reaching out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or just a visit,” says Marshall.
Often, friends and family members are eager to assist by holding the baby or watching siblings to give you a chance to nap, shower, go for a walk, or run an errand.
“You have to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of your baby,” says Walania.
While social media can help you feel connected to the outside world, nothing can replace a deeply satisfying conversation with a friend or a warm hug. Get together with a member of your family or friend for coffee, lunch, or a walk.
If your network feels inadequate, join a mothers’ or parents’ group or look for parent-child gatherings in your community.
In Calgary, great parent support groups include (but are not limited to) Alberta Health Services - Perinatal Services, Families Matter, and Calgary Outdoor Playgroup Community. The sooner you seek support, the faster you can start feeling like yourself again.
“We don’t want anyone to miss out on the first months of their baby’s life because they don’t feel like themselves and aren’t able to enjoy it like they had hoped,” says Walania.
7. Nurture your spirit. You may be a mom now, but you aren’t only a mom. Take time to do the things that have always brought you personal fulfillment and joy, whether that’s crafting, reading, relaxing in a warm bath, browsing at your favorite boutique, or lunching with a good friend. When you are happier and healthier, your baby will be, too.
Christa is a nationally-published writer. She and her husband are the parents of two boys.
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