A Self-Care Plan For New Parents And Why It’s Important

Guest Post By Janice Russell

Congrats On Your New Baby!

I’m sure  you’re loving every minute of your new role as parent. Late night feedings, bubbly bath fun, and special snuggle time.

You’re creating memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime.  Heck, you’ve even given up your book club and your morning time at the gym to spend more time with your little love bug. It’s what every parent dreams of, doting on their newborn baby. Today’s culture even promotes this type of all-in parenting.

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend as much time as possible with your new baby, it is extremely important to strike just the right balance between loving care for your new child and for yourself. After all, every new child deserves a lot of personal one on one attention.

What we often forget is that new parents need just the same quality of care, only it won’t be the baby providing it. No, shocker, huh? In order to be the best parent you can be, you’re going to need to learn to self-administer care.

Why Self-Care Is Important

According to the Counseling and Psychological Services Department at Utah State University, self-care is the incorporation of behaviors that, help us to refresh ourselves, encourage our personal motivation, and promote personal growth. This means developing new healthy lifestyle habits that will affect your life, both today and in your future.

Still struggling with wanting to give up just a smidge of that precious time with your new baby? Or, are you still thinking “me time” is just too selfish having just brought new life into the world? It’s easy, as a new parent, to take that guilt trip to the hall of shame, but there are really plenty of reasons why you should exit the guilt bus, and fast.

Imagine for a moment, your newborn is cuddled, warmly in your arms at 30,000 feet on their first flight. The captain comes over the loudspeaker and announces you’ll need oxygen for the rest of your flight due to a leak in cabin pressure. What’s the first thing you want to do? Put the mask on your baby, right? But what does every flight attendant instruct you to do instead? That’s right, you’re learned to put the oxygen mask on yourself before attempting to put it on your child.

Seems Selfish, But It’s Not

It’s as easy as this…if you’re not breathing, you can’t help your child to breath either. And this very scenario crosses over time and time again in your role as a parent. If you’re not taking proper care of yourself, you can’t be taking proper care of your child. And moreover, when parents choose to neglect their self-care, it means neither they, nor their child will be emotionally or physically healthy.

What does self-care neglect look like for parents? Over time as you chose to put your own personal needs on the back burner, you’re increasing your stress level. And an increase in stress can lead to plenty of unwanted issues, like higher blood pressure, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and a weakened immune system. And that’s just physical health outcomes.

When you’re stressed, you’re also far more likely to suffer from depression or an anxiety disorder. Or worst yet, develop anger management issues that can be devastating for a young child.

But your lack of putting together some self-care habits won’t just be affecting you. Your child will also suffer the consequences. When you’re not practicing positive habits, like nutritional eating, regular fitness, and maintaining healthy relationships, you’re taking on the starring role as the poster child for bad health. And as a parent, one of your primary jobs is to demonstrate and be a role model for the best choices.

These negative habits also work to damage your parent/child relationship, as you’re functioning from a position of exhaustion which affects your mood, from sad to disengaged to angry and enraged.

So what does a realistic, comprehensive self-care program really look like?

According to the psychological experts on GoodTherapy.org, a self-care program includes three core components: 1) physical self-care, 2) mental self-care, and 3) spiritual self-care. In order to put a comprehensive plan together for you, let’s look at some ideas in each of these three areas.

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Physical Self-Care

Make Medical Care A Priority

Make sure both parents are visiting their doctors regularly to manage and maintain optimal health. And if you’re the parent that gave birth, postnatal medical care is even more critical. According to a new CDC Foundation report, the days and weeks after a mother gives birth can be a particular time of vulnerability, where various physical and emotional risks present; these include pain and infection, hypertension and stroke, heart problem, blood clots, anxiety and depression. Therefore, making sure you’re seeing your doctor soon after birth, and following up for several visits is a real health priority.

Practice Healthy Eating Habits

Maybe you’re a fast food lover or maybe you have a passion for sugar and sweets. Now is a good time to replace poor eating habits with a more nutritional diet that features healthy portions of all the major food groups. You’ll want to make these changes for several reasons.

  1. A healthy diet leads to a longer life, which means more time spent with your child
  2. Making good food choices improves your health, as it prevents chronic illnesses, improves depression, and improves your optimism and mood.
  3. You’ll be role modeling for your child what it looks like to be a healthy eater, which will help them make better food choices as they grow into adults.

Get Enough Rest

By now you’re probably experiencing the lack of sleep everyone was talking about when you were expecting, as parenthood does come with some significant changes to your sleep habits. There are several ways you can work on improving your sleep, while still being an effective parent:

  1. Make sure to declutter your sleeping space. It’s hard for your mind to rest when it’s surrounded by your visual “to do” list. This will help lower stress too.
  2. Keep your room dark.
  3. Avoid caffeine.
  4. Find a good relaxation app.
  5. Make sure your bedding is cozy.
  6. Use a noise machine that can pump out the soothing sounds of crashing waves or a babbling brook.

Find Time For Physical Fitness

Yes it’s true, that morning gym class you gave up is actually better than that little bit of extra time you’ll spend with your child. Physical fitness is linked to not just better physical health as the name suggests, it actively works to improve your mental health as well. And mental health will be critical for you and your partner as you’re embarking on this new, formidable parenting job.

And if you’re working and find it’s hard to make time between work and parenting, get creative about how you can fit it into your schedule. You can even consider setting up an inexpensive home gym.

Mental Self-Care

Spend Time With Friends

Good news for your book club friends, you’ll be coming to the next meeting. Social interaction with friends is an important part of a well-balanced self-care routine, and it’s important for both moms and dads. Research studies have discovered multiple health benefits of social interaction, to include fewer health problems, longer life, and increased happiness.

Learn The Power Of Saying “No”

Too often we cave to peer pressure and say “yes” when we really wanted to say “no.” An important part of self-care, especially for an already busy new parent, is recognizing your own personal needs. This means while you’re focusing on a healthier you, you’re going to have to learn this important art.

Strengthen Your Marriage

The correlation is simple, happy parents make happy kids.

Download this free eBook to help strengthen your marriage here.

Therefore, taking the time to fortify your relationship will be time well spent. Use some of these tips:

  1. Find time to go out on dates.
  2. Check in with your partner and ask how you can help them.
  3. Find time in each day for some quality alone time.
  4. Set aside a planned time each week to openly discuss how you’re feeling.

Look For Ways To Reduce Stress

Stress can be very damaging both to your mental and your physical health, so you’re going to adopt some stress coping strategies.

  1. Stay flexible – Parenting means lots of the unexpected, so let go of any expectations and remain flexible.
  2. Eliminate piling on – If you’ve been thinking about remodeling the kitchen or tackling some other big project, postpone it!
  3. Redefine your priorities – Make sure you’re carefully looking at what really matters.
  4. Find humor – The old saying laughter is the best medicine couldn’t be more true. Rent a comedy after baby goes to bed.
  5. Rotate night duties – Be sure to share baby’s night time needs.
  6. Let go of perfectionism – Your baby doesn’t care if your floors aren’t swept, so let it go!

Spiritual Self-Care

Attend A Worship Service

Attending a religious ceremony can give you time to quiet your mind and focus on your spiritual well-being. It also has plenty of health benefits, like lower mortality risk, lower blood pressure, improved mental health, decreased risk of heart attack, and fewer chances of hospitalization.

And don’t be afraid to take your newborn to church with you. While conventional wisdom might suggest you’ll be exposing them to germs, Robert H. Shmerling, M.D., a rheumatologist practicing at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, says that your baby received antibodies in the womb that have already worked to boost their immune system, and if you’re breastfeeding they’re getting more and more antibodies regularly.

Do be sure, though, to avoid anyone who displays signs of illness, and ask any well-intended baby lovers to wash their hands before holding touching or holding your child.

Write A Gratitude Journal

Psychology Today reports that when we take the time to write about things we’re thankful for, we’re actually improving our ability to empathize and reducing our levels of aggression. But it doesn’t stop there, when you exercise gratitude, you can expect to see these healthy outcomes.

  1. An easier time making more friends.
  2. Improved physical and psychological health.
  3. Improvements in your sleep.
  4. Better self-esteem.
  5. Increased mental strength.

Meditate

The great thing about meditation for new parents is it’s an easy way to make major change, and yet something you can do in the comfort of your own home. Explore some meditation apps and you’ll be seeing benefits, like better memory, less anxiety, heightened levels of compassion, improved focus, less stress, and increased gray matter in the brain. And all of these will make you a better parent.

Explore The Great Outdoors

A study published by the Harvard Medical School suggests that spending time outdoors is good for us. So when you take time with your infant outdoors you can expect to reap these rewards.

  1. You’ll get more exercise.
  2. Your vitamin D levels will rise, and vitamin D is linked to fighting off cancer.
  3. Your concentration will improve.
  4. You’ll be happier.
  5. You may even heal faster as studies link outdoor time to improved healing post surgery. This can be an important benefit for mom.

Remember That Self-Care Is Not Selfish

Self-care is one of the most important things you’ll be doing for your child. Just as you imagine prioritizing a fever with a trip to the doctor for your child, you must imagine your own needs, both tangible and intangible, and recognize that taking care of you first is the only way you can successfully be a great parent.

Use these ideas to get started on a comprehensive plan that includes all three facets of self-care. You won’t just be ensuring you’re in tip top physical and emotional shape, you’ll be setting the foundation for your child to grow and thrive with great, healthy habits that you’ve taught them. And there is no greater reward in life, than watching your child grow healthily and succeed.

Janice Russell believes the only way to survive parenthood is to find the humor it. She created parentingdisasters.com so that parents would have a go-to resource whenever they needed a laugh, but also to show parents they aren’t alone.

What are some things you do to take care of yourself (which is soooo important)! Please share these tips below for the sake of all mothers!

-Holly, the imperfect momma.

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