Postpartum self-care matters

Reviewed by Chris Raines

Stress, guilt, and anxiety. Everyone experiences these unpleasant emotions, and during motherhood, they’re all the more common, says Chris Raines, a perinatal psychiatric nurse practitioner. These are normal responses to big changes in your life. For moms of newborns in particular, these feelings can arise and coexist in varying degrees of intensity. So what can mothers do to manage these emotions?

Raines talks about motherhood as a job. “In every job, there are things you like and things you don’t like, and that is why it is important to have a ‘break’ away from your job. Motherhood is no different, and this break is called self-care,” she says. “People talk about self-care like it’s selfish, but it’s really just about taking care of yourself.”

Self-care is crucial

Jen Schwartz, a postpartum mental-health advocate and founder of Motherhood Understood, says taking care of yourself is crucial. She sums it up simply: “If Mom’s not OK, how is anyone OK?”

Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, even if—and especially if—you’re in the early days of motherhood. It’s about attending to your real needs so you can better take care of your baby and family. As the airline safety videos advise: Put on your own oxygen mask before your child’s.

That’s easier said than done, right? Taking a personal day to focus on yourself is simply not an option for most women—and it’s not necessarily the point.

Self-care is up to you—not your partner or mother-in-law—to define, Raines says. “What do you do to renew your resilience or relax?” she asks. “If taking five minutes alone with a cup of tea to recenter yourself helps, then this is your definition of self-care.” So, instead of viewing self-care as a day at the spa, think of it as prioritizing your real needs. A few potential ways of doing that:

  • Taking five minutes to recalibrate by focusing on your breathing, going outside, or lying down.
  • Protecting your time, energy, and thoughts. Figuring out what your limits are—and saying no to things that exceed them.
  • Going for a walk.
  • Letting go of expectations of a spotless house with empty laundry baskets.
  • Asking someone else to go grocery shopping so you can take a nap.

It may indeed seem radical to ask someone to run an errand for you so you can sleep, but sleep is important! Think about how much you got last night.

“Sleep loss can make all these emotions feel so much more intense,” Raines says. “Working on sleep habits can go a long way in reducing these feelings of anxiety, or feeling like you are doing something wrong. Remember: There are many right ways to do things—and very few wrong ways.”

You know self-care is working when your anxiety and stress levels feel manageable, and you don’t feel guilty about taking care of your needs. “We are human beings; we cannot be ‘on’ all the time,” Raines says. You need a break from your job, and self-care is taking that break.

Additional resources

The journey of becoming a mother

No matter how many guides you read, the transition to motherhood is not something you can learn about in a book.

Common postpartum mood changes

When you have a baby, big adjustments take place in your body.

Making sense of the baby blues

The first weeks after childbirth can be disorienting. Your emotions can feel like they’re on a roller coaster.

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs)

If your baby blues feel severe or last beyond a few postpartum weeks, consult with your health care provider.