One thing that pretty much every parent can agree on is that the first few weeks and months with a new baby are a whirlwind. A whirlwind of learning to look after a tiny, vulnerable baby, navigating feeding, nappy changing, soothing, multiple night-time wakeups, and recovering from the major physical event of birth. There's also a lot of talk about self-care, but the concept can feel laughable when you're looking after a new baby. But before you laugh derisively and click away, hear us out. We'd argue that looking after the parents is as important as looking after the baby. So if you're in the thick of those early weeks or soon will be, here are a few realistic self-care steps that you can actually manage that will help you feel better.
We're not talking about a hectic session at the gym. Indeed, until you are cleared for exercise by your doctor, you should forget about that kind of exercise. No, we're talking about something much gentler. It can be a walk outside, a home yoga flow, or a little baby dance party in the garden. Take it easy, but move your body. Even if you're exhausted and the idea makes you cringe, when you're done, you'll feel better.
One common complaint of new parents is a feeling of isolation and claustrophobia. This is understandable considering you're suddenly awake at all times of the day and night, and getting out of the house can be a mission. But if you want to feel better fast, sometimes a short walk does the trick. It gets you out of the house, and if you can get out into nature, that's even better. But if all you can manage is a walk around your neighbourhood, do it. A gentle walk with your baby is great, or a power walk if you can get out on your own also works.
There will be those days with a newborn when you just wish you could tap out of the situation. If there's no way for you to actually get a break, we suggest that you breathe. This might sound like a crazy piece of advice, but research shows that taking a few deep breaths helps to slow your heart rate and calm you down. And if it helps you to calm down, it'll lower the stress of the whole situation making it easier to bear. And bonus! When your baby is tiny, their closeness to you helps them to regulate their body temperature and their breathing.
Start by taking a few deep breaths when your baby is on your body, then slowly sync your breathing with theirs. Once you're breathing together, slow your breathing down and see if your baby does the same. No worries if they don't, it can be a while before that happens, but it's a helpful trick to start now that will help teach them how to calm themselves through deep breathing when they're a bit older (handy in the tantrum years!)
There are so many situations that are made easier to bear by connecting with others, and this is certainly one of those. Whether you are connecting with other parents also in the newborn trenches, or with your own friends and family and their offers of help, remember to connect. It can be tempting to pull up all the drawbridges and try to manage alone, but this is one time when you will be incredibly grateful for any village you can muster. If your family live close by, accept their offers to help. If friends offer to drop off dinner, say a grateful thank you and accept. Isolating yourself won't help to alleviate the pressure or the loneliness, but connecting with others will. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that when you're able to do so, you'll pay it forward. Once you've been through the newborn trenches, you'll want to help other parents when they are in them too.
So join the new parent groups, take a walk and remember to breathe. Having a newborn baby is simultaneously full of overwhelming love and a similar need to be left alone. It can be hard and beautiful and tiring and incredible all in one hour, every hour of the day and night. We hope these simple, actionable steps help to refill your cup so that you're able to look after your little bundle of joy (and horrifying nappies!) with an easier heart.