Pregnancy is major. I mean life changing, body changing, EVERYTHING changing....BIG. So much goes into the pre-game, and then once you ARE pregnant it's all about managing your changing body and preparing for the little one's arrival, What about the emotional and physical changes that will happen afterwards? If you are anything like me, not much thought went into that part.
One thing that became shockingly clear about an hour after I gave birth to my first son, was that no longer would it be about me. I was in pain, more pain than I had ever experienced before, and not in the best shape, but had just (with teeth clenched) told an ebullient dad to go accompany the nurses to baby's first bath. After 9 months of being pampered and doted on, my own pain and needs were now secondary, just like that. My mistake here was to not raise my hand and say "Hey....guys? I need some TLC here!". Like many new moms, I immediately took on a martyr role, and tried my best to white knuckle my way through the wild hormonal swings and recovery process of new motherhood.
Below are some of my lessons learned and pieces of advice to help any moms out there that might be facing some of these issues. I believe they are common, but not often discussed. Motherhood is an amazing journey and ride, but it's not without it's challenges and I believe we should all support each other.
Getting Back Confidence
One thing to remember, is that you are the same amazing, strong woman you've always been - but things are just a little difference now that you have a bouncing baby in your life. You may be feeling protective, frustrated at an inability to decipher different cries or physically unable to handle one more 2 a.m feeding. Here's the thing, the more you do it, and the more you believe in your instincts, the happier you will feel. You literally were made to do this! Believe in yourself, try to relax a bit to take the stress off and get back to a balanced mind.
Decreased body confidence is one of the most common issues that women deal with after giving birth. Much is written of the pregnancy and post-pregnancy 'glow', but I'm going to call BS on that. Postpartum depression is real, as are wild up and downs emotionally. Your body has spent nine months stretching to house a beautiful growing baby. Despite the pages of magazines that tout pictures of celebrities getting their body back mere weeks after birth, most of us do not go straight back to our pre-baby bodies. Do not force yourself into a strict exercise routine or diet. Be gentle with yourself, and know that your body needs time to recover! Check with your doctor to determine what's best for you and your baby to keep you both healthy.
Eventually, after those first brutal weeks of extreme sleep deprivation, try swapping out the pjs for some of your favorite clothes that make you feel beautiful. Go out and invest in a set of beautiful undergarments that complement the new, amazing mother you are. Even a good pair of fitted jeans at this point can make all the difference in getting back to feeling yourself.
In truth, feeling confident isn't always about what is on the outside. Maybe it's your eyes, your smile, your thoughtfulness, or your uncanny ability to find humor in everything. You are beautiful inside and out. Always find the positives! Your baby depends on it.
Dealing with Sleep Deprivation
A small percentage of humans are able to deal with sleep deprivation fairly well and keep going with their normal lives. However, for most of us it is absolutely brutal. This was certainly the case for me, and I still feel like a completely different person when I don't get enough sleep.
It may feel as if you have no control over your life. This is normal. It doesn’t last. By six to eight weeks, you’ll start to get more organised. By three to four months, things will be more settled (fingers crossed!).
Good ways to survive the early weeks include:
- Use the hospital nursery right after giving birth. Seriously. Conserving your sleep during this time is key and your baby will NOT be traumatized if you spend a few hours apart at first.
- Try and nap during the day when the baby sleeps.
- Do as little as possible. Keep housework to a minimum (you and the baby are more important).
- Ask for help! Get your partner or someone to help you change and bathe the baby – it gives you a break and helps the baby get to know both parents.
- Save energy by sitting down to do things. Sit on the ﬂoor or lounge to change a nappy; sit down to fold laundry; lie down to breastfeed.
- Keep food simple, as you won’t have time or energy for much cooking. The simplest meals are often the healthiest, such as salads with some lean grilled meat or ﬁsh, canned ﬁsh or cold chicken with wholegrain bread. Snack on fresh fruit and yogurt.
- If friends drop in, ask them to give you a hand if there are things to do like shopping or putting out the washing, as most people like to feel useful.
- Try to have ‘time out’ every day, even if it’s only 20 minutes to have a bath, read a magazine, go for a walk, watch TV or phone a friend.
- Remember that if you don’t care for yourself, you’ll be in no shape to care for anyone else.
Maintaining Emotional Health
Emotional health is always important, but even more so during early parenthood when women may be more vulnerable to stress. When you feel content and satisfied, it's so much easier to cope with the stress and strain in relationships that comes with a new baby.
Many women may experience symptoms of depression and/or anxiety in the postnatal period. During this time, make sure to check in with yourself and recognize if you are finding it difficult to manage from day to day. If you are feeling sad, worried, or anxious that's normal and OK. Ask for help! If these feelings persist, it's time to ask for professional help. This period of life is so unique from any others, and if you are able to focus on your own well-being, then your whole family will benefit. There truly is no victory in being a martyr.
One of my frustrations after my pregnancies was that it took quite a while to really return to any semblance of my pre-pregnancy physical self. Something to remember...it took around 40 weeks to form the pregnant body and it could take nearly as long to fully return to your pre-pregnancy physical self.
It's important to start back slowly and look out for the strength of your pelvic floor and if you have a diastisis (separation of the abdominal muscles). When easing back into an abdominal workout, be mindful not to overdo it. Focus instead on plank pose and variations of plank instead of old fashion crunches. It is also advised not to do extremely deep twisting poses which can also inhibit the muscles from repair.
You may find that the way you exercise will change. You do not need to attend a scheduled class to start to return to a general fitness routine. Walking or swimming are a great start. You will get back to the gym eventually, and of course I always recommend home workout programs!
Being a mother is truly the most amazing experience. It's demanding, miraculous, terrifying and beautiful all at the same time. When you know how to take care of yourself you will be a better mom, a better you, and better able to deal with challenges that will inevitably come you way.