Self-care may seem like a random topic to be tackling but if there is any time during your life in which self-care is crucial, it is during your pregnancy. In the nine months, you are pregnant your body is going through more changes than it ever will in such a short time frame. Your immune system is lower, which makes you more susceptible to getting sick. That means you have to take extra great care of your health. Your hormones are fluctuating which can make your moods and emotions all over the place. Your mental health is especially vulnerable during this time. You will be experiencing fatigue like you never have before. Which means high-quality sleep is essential.
To top it off, you have a baby coming. Your life is about to change in a major way, which means there is a lot to learn and think about and your brain is likely running in high gear. This is a time of major transition in your life. No one will make caring for you a priority like you can. This is the perfect time in your life to make self-care a priority for two main reasons. First, you have more free time now than you will in the future, which should make it easier. Secondly, making this a habit now will make it easier to continue and build on your practice of self-care later, when you are a parent.
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What is Self-Care
By definition, self-care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve your own health. This means not only your physical health, but also your mental health. We hear all the time cliché sayings like, “you have to put your own oxygen mask on first”. This is a concept we know about, but often we have a hard time actually putting it into practice. Self-care is a practice and if you make it a priority it will become a habit and you will be healthier physically, emotionally, and mentally as a result. Which is going to make you not just a better mom, but a better individual.
Why is Self-Care Important During Pregnancy?
Self-care may seem like a random topic to be tackling but if there is any time during your life in which self-care is crucial, it is during your pregnancy. In the nine-month period you are pregnant your body is going through more changes than it ever will in such a short time frame. Your immune system is lower, which makes you more susceptible to getting sick. That means you have to take extra great care of your health. Your hormones are fluctuating which can make your moods and emotions all over the place. Your mental health is especially vulnerable during this time. You will be experiencing fatigue like you never have before. This means high-quality sleep is essential. To top it off, you have a baby coming. Your life is about to change in a major way, which means there is a lot to learn and think about and your brain is likely running in high gear. This is a time of major transition in your life.
You have to take care of yourself because no one is going to do that for you. You may be fortunate to have people in your life who do thoughtful things for you but no one is going to make your physical and emotional health a top priority like you can and should.
If this is your first pregnancy you have more free time now than you will have for at least the next few years. You may think I am over exaggerating, but I am not. If this is not your first baby you know this is true. This is the perfect time in your life to make self-care a priority for two main reasons. First, you have more free time now than you will in the future, which should make it easier. Secondly, making this a habit now will make it easier to continue and build on your practice of self-care later, when you are a parent.
As parents, we put our children first. You are probably doing this already by cutting things out of your diet that are not healthy for your baby. This habit of putting your child’s well-being in front of your own starts in pregnancy. In many ways this is our job as parents, but we also need to take responsibility for taking care of ourselves. Your identity as a parent does not mean that you should lose yourself as an individual. You have needs too. The healthier you are physically and emotionally, the better parent you will be.
What Self Care Looks Like
When people talk about self-care you often get a picture in your mind of some woman taking a bubble bath, or reading a book. Self-care looks different for everyone. You know best what you require to take good care of yourself. That could mean putting on a facemask and taking a bubble bath, it could look like going for a run, or watching a funny movie. Think about what refuels you.
I want to challenge you to define what self-care looks like to you. It could be meditating, it could be watching stand-up comedy, it could be going for a drive and blasting rap music. You may think of self-care as enjoying a really healthy meal, or it could be sitting in front of the TV with a big bowl of ice cream. It is unrealistic to think that every single decision we make is going to be perfect. You should strive for balance, not perfection.
Healthwise there are obvious things like taking a prenatal vitamin, drinking lots of water, eating healthy whole foods, and working out. Those are the basics. All of these things are habits. Taking a vitamin every day takes less than a minute to do. Getting in a workout is a much bigger time commitment. Like taking your vitamin, being active is a habit. Now is the time to make exercise a habit.
If you need to make some changes to your diet to eat healthier foods, this may seem like a big chore when you start making those changes. Over time it gets easier. You learn what foods to avoid without having to read labels at the grocery store. You’ll find out what is quick and easy to cook. You figure out what healthy snacks you enjoy eating. The more you eat healthier foods, the more they become a habit and not an inconvenience.
Physical self-care will change as your pregnancy does, and change even more after you have a baby. This is a practice that will evolve as you do. If working out isn’t your thing, try going for a walk, or pull up YouTube and find a dance tutorial. If you hate running, don’t force yourself to run. Try something new and you may just find something you enjoy doing.
Meditation has shown amazing benefits for mental health. You don’t have to sit in a silent room for an hour to get the benefits of meditation. If you are new to this practice there are apps like Headspace or Calm.com that really make this so easy. Like anything, this is a practice that gets easier over time. A bonus of practicing meditation now is that it is another tool you will have in your toolbox during labor and birth. If you don’t meditate you don’t want to be trying it for the first time when you are working through a contraction.
Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment. It means that you are not looking at your phone, you are paying attention to the details of the moment. This is a component of meditation. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 14 studies found that the practice of mindfulness may be beneficial during pregnancy to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. In reality, the results were not overwhelming to show clear evidence that you need to be doing this during your pregnancy, and there is not any downside to practicing mindfulness.
Hobbies are another form of mental self-care. What do you enjoy doing? Maybe you like to draw or paint. Perhaps your favorite thing to do is to go shopping. I want you to think outside the box and really think about what you love to do and make sure you carve out time and space to do that.
Anything you enjoy doing will fuel your mental health. Is there a place in your neighborhood that has a great view you would enjoy spending some time at? Perhaps there is a cute café nearby that serves an amazing lunch. Self-care is much more than waking up and meditating and writing in a gratitude journal. If that fuels you then fantastic, do that. If not, find something else that you love doing.
Hedging Against Postpartum Depression
One of the biggest reasons to develop a habit of self-care now is that by being pregnant you are at risk for postpartum depression. The weeks and months after you have your baby is the perfect storm to not feel like yourself mentally. Your hormones are all over the place, you are short on sleep, you may be stressed out about caring for a new baby. The healthier you are mentally, and the more you take care of your mental health, the better you will be when it comes to dealing with the baby blues and postpartum depression. You may still not avoid it completely, but you will have more powerful tools to deal with it if you have a practice of self-care.
As you become a parent you are gaining a new role and a new identity. You as an individual are not being replaced, but your identity will evolve. It is still important that you do things for yourself. A typical recommendation would be to treat yourself to a massage. That is a great option and there are many evidence-based benefits to prenatal massage. It could be going to the farmer’s market and buying yourself flowers. Your idea of doing something for yourself could mean getting a pedicure, or it could be treating yourself to your favorite ice cream. You should treat yourself, and that doesn’t have to be expensive. It could be an at-home face mask, treating yourself to a movie, or binge-watching a show on Netflix.
The first few weeks after your baby is born is another critical time to take care of yourself. This is also one of the most difficult times to do that because you will have a new baby who needs lots of attention and isn’t sleeping on any kind of normal schedule. Knowing what to expect postpartum and planning ahead will give you a leg up on what you need to know and how you can prepare to take good care of you and your baby. Having healthy snacks on hand you can eat with one hand while you are holding your baby with another is one way to take care of your health. You will likely be spending a lot of time breastfeeding and that is time that you can also sneak in some self-care. While you are breastfeeding, you want to connect with your baby and give them attention. You will also have some times where you can listen to an audiobook or read while you are breastfeeding or while your baby is taking a short nap. Self-care may be asking a friend to come over and watch your little one so you can take a shower or even a nap.
Self-Care as a Parent
Making time for yourself doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to hire a sitter for your baby. New babies nap a lot. While you should be sneaking in some naps with your little one while you can, this can also give you an opportunity to have a few minutes to yourself. You can out your little one in a stroller and go for a walk. Put some earbuds in and catch up on a podcast, listen to music, or start a new audiobook.
You can take a baby pretty much anywhere with you. Want to meet a friend for lunch? Take your baby along with you. Being a parent changes a lot of things but it doesn’t mean that you can’t do things you like to do. If you have the opportunity to get out of the house by yourself, and you want to do that, please do. You should not feel any guilt about making yourself a priority. Remember, taking time to refuel is going to put you in a better headspace to be more present and enjoy the time you have with your little one.
Self-care doesn’t have to take place in a big block of time. If you return to work after your baby is born maybe self-care looks like listening to music on your commute and giving yourself a break from podcasts or audiobooks. If you are pumping milk at work you can sneak in some time on your phone during that 10-15 minutes or write in a journal. You can set aside 5 minutes after pumping to practice mindfulness or meditation. Self-care could be taking a few minutes to decompress before picking up your little one from daycare. Remember, the goal is to rethink self-care to find what you need to refuel your mind and body, and that will look different for everyone.
Building a Practice of Self-care
We have covered a lot of ideas of what self-care could look like and hopefully you are brainstorming some things you want to make a priority for yourself. Starting or building a practice of self-care is another story. This is something that takes time and practice. Here are some tips and ideas to incorporate self-care into your life.
Making Self Care a Priority
We all have time for the things that are important to us. Think about that for a minute. It is easy to make the excuse that we don’t have time to do things but the truth is that we prioritize the things that are important. You may be too busy to call that friend who lives across the country, but you are not too busy to check your Instagram. You don’t have time to work out, but you watched television for an hour and a half. We make time for the things that are important to us.
One of the keys to self-care is planning ahead and putting it on your calendar. If you do not plan for it, carving out time to do something for yourself can be challenging. This is especially true after your baby arrives.
For me, self-care is having a cup of coffee with my husband in the morning, which means I get up earlier than my kids so we can have a few minutes to ourselves. Self-care is meeting up with my best friends for dinner, which means I have to plan ahead and put it on the calendar. I need to make sure my husband is available to be with our kids. All of my work needs to be done so I can enjoy some time off with my friends. I have to plan ahead to get ready and do my hair and my makeup. All of this takes planning. Put self-care on your calendar, make plans, prepare in advance.
Making Self Care a Habit
You do hundreds of things every day out of habit that you are not even aware of. You don’t realize you do things because they are habits and routines, you do them on autopilot. If you want to dig into any good books on habits Atomic Habits by James Clear and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg are both excellent reads. Once something becomes a habit it is less work and becomes part of your routine. You want positive habits that will support your physical and emotional health. For something to become a habit takes practice.
Habits are not formed instantly and it will likely take some trial and error for you to find what works and what is sustainable in your life. I would love to treat myself to a weekly massage but time and money wise that is not a reality for me. Habits can be something you do every single day or something you practice on a weekly basis.
Ask for help
It is okay and can be healthy to have your partner enjoy an afternoon with your baby so you can get out of the house and enjoy some time to yourself. You can and should get a friend to watch your baby so you and your partner can get out for dinner. Parenting will be a lot harder if you try to do it alone. Ask friends and family to help out so you can have some time for yourself.
How Will You Make Self-care a Priority?
Being a parent is amazing and it comes with so many benefits and challenges. You have permission to also pursue interests or things that have nothing to do with parenting or your baby. Make it priority to carve out time to do some of the things you love. It is a cliché saying, but sometimes you need to put your oxygen mask on first. Definitely on an airplane, but also sometimes in your daily life. Being a parent often means putting your child first but you cannot pour from an empty cup. Be sure to find some ways to fill yourself up and refuel.
Thank you to the amazing companies that have supported this episode.
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