Myth: After you’ve had the baby, you need to focus on the baby’s health and needs.
Truth: You must take care of your own health too.
Mazal tov! You had your baby and you’re done with pregnancy. The baby is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen but then it starts crying the minute you try to rest. You’re exhausted and overwhelmed but also elated and loving your baby. All of this sounds confusing. It is. It’s normal. So don’t worry. What’s not good is if you forget about yourself.
From me, you get the truth.
On airplanes, when giving you safety instructions, especially for oxygen masks, they always tell you to do your own first and then help your child. That’s because if you don’t take care of yourself, you cannot help your child. Yes, having a new baby is difficult. And you do need to give your baby (and any other children you may have) lots of attention. But you must take care of yourself.
As my readers know by now, I’m more passionate about good health than about every other aspect of style. The healthier you are, the easier it is to look great.
Chances are that you’ll get instructions for yourself in the hospital before you leave. Those instructions differ depending on how you gave birth and your state of health afterward. Follow those instructions as best you can. A general rule is to not overstrain yourself. Make sure you ask your caregiver any and all questions you may have.
If your family, friends, or neighbors offer to help, find something for them to do and give them instructions. Let them help you. You won’t need that extra help forever, but it will help at this point when you need it most.
Side note: To all those of you who know of a new mom in your area, if you want to help, ask the mom what you can do to help and let her instruct you. Don’t rush in and try to do anything without asking the parents.
Make sure you’re eating right. You do need your own nourishment. If you’re nursing, you need some extra calories and nutrients for that. Focus on eating right and definitely do not try to eat less in the hope of losing the baby weight. Yes, I’ve heard of women who lose the baby weight almost immediately but they’re very rare. Even if you’ve been eating right and exercising throughout the pregnancy, you won’t lose the baby weight right away (unless you’re one of the very few blessed women listed above. And no, I was not one of those). Don’t punish yourself for that. Eat enough of the good nutritious food that your body needs and treat yourself occasionally to something you love.
Speaking of exercise, you need to be careful here. Whether you’ve given birth by pushing or via cesarean, you’ll have some soreness and discomfort and you must not strain your body too much. This is especially important if you had any cuts or tears that needed stitching. Unplanned exercise such as walking is fine as long as you don’t overdo it. But planned exercise may need to wait until your caregiver says it’s okay, and this may not happen until your post-natal checkup.
I think all new moms are taught to “sleep when your baby sleeps.” I think it’s just slightly off. Instead, think “when your baby sleeps, use that time for self-care.” If that means taking a nap, good: go do that. If that means relaxing with a good book, go do that. If that means taking a long, warm shower, go do that. By the way, a warm shower is a great way to soothe any pain and swelling on top (whether or not you’re nursing).
No matter what, you must make time for basic grooming such as brushing your teeth, washing your face, and applying any lotions and potions that your skin needs, including sunscreen. And never leave your home without putting on clean, neat, flattering clothes. If your wardrobe is already organized (as it should be), this won’t be difficult (I’ll get to the specifics of clothes in my next column). It’s also important to make time for showering and hair care.
Watch out for the postpartum blues. After you give birth, your hormones will be down and out of whack. Combine that with feeling overwhelmed with new responsibilities and you have a recipe for the blues. This is actually very common and very manageable. The blues are difficult but not debilitating; most moms continue to function very well. However, the blues are not to be ignored. The self-care tips I gave will make you feel better from the outside inward. This is one more reason you should let people help you. With each of my births, our shul offered to prepare meals for us, and even though I love to cook we accepted and it made things so much easier. And once you’re settled into your new routines, you’ll feel much better.
While postpartum blues is easily managed, postpartum depression affects about 1 in 10 new moms and is much harder to manage. It can mess with your head and seriously impair your functioning. PPD is also insidious and can creep up on you months after you gave birth. And it cannot be managed without professional help. Many moms with PPD are helped with medication along with therapy. Strong social support makes a huge difference – another reason to let people help you. Dads need to know what symptoms to look for and to not be afraid to ask the doctor about them; the mom might not realize what’s happening here. No matter what, don’t wait and see. PPD can often last months.
As I said before, the healthier you are, the easier it is to look great. In my next column I’ll go into how to look great even now.
To be continued…