The benefits of self-care for new and expecting parents
Photo credit: © Jimena Roquero / Stocksy United
IN THIS ARTICLE
Caring for your mind and spirit
What does self-care mean?
Self-care is about doing things that are good for your physical and mental well-being. That means eating healthy food , getting enough exercise and sleep , managing your stress in healthy ways, and making time for the things you love.
Why is self-care important for new and expecting parents?
Taking care of yourself is an important part of being a caregiver. When you take care of your own physical and emotional needs, you're better able to take care of others. You build resilience so that you're better able to handle stress without burning out, adapt to changes, and get through especially challenging times.
How to make time for self-care
Being a new parent means putting your child's needs before your own. But don't feel guilty or embarrassed about asking for help so you can get a break.
Without basic maintenance and downtime, things – and people – eventually stop working. Think of self-care like recharging a battery – you need to plug into an energy source before you run out of power completely.
Left unchecked, high levels of stress can affect your concentration, make you moody, put you at risk for depression, and weaken your immune system.
Caring for your body
Healthy eating: Try to eat lots of veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. Even when you're busy, make a plan for when and what you'll eat (even if you don't cook it yourself). If you wait too long, you might find yourself really hungry with no healthy choices.
Exercise: Our bodies are designed to move, and exercise is a proven stress-buster. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week (that's 30 minutes five times a week), like walking, hiking, or biking. Add strength training twice a week, along with daily stretching. Any amount of time counts – even a quick 10-minute walk can help you feel better.
Good sleep: Try for seven to eight hours of sleep a night, though this can be impossible when you're pregnant or have little ones. (Check out these creative ideas for getting more sleep as a new parent.) Many parents stay up late to get a few hours to themselves at night, but it can come at a price – you might be cranky and low on energy during the day. Try to institute a calming bedtime routine for yourself, and turn off all screens an hour before bed.
Caring for your mind and spirit
Set realistic goals. Being overextended is a recipe for stress. Check your to-do list and be honest with yourself. Can you simplify or delegate some things? Laundry doesn't have to be folded, and there are options for grocery delivery. And remember, it's okay to say no to some things so you can say yes to others.
Relieve stress in the moment. When you feel stress building up, take a moment to breathe. Deep breathing interrupts the body's stress response. A quick walk can help clear your head. (While alcohol or drugs might sound like a good idea, either can backfire and make you feel worse.)
Have a daily practice. Find a stress-reliever – something that works for you, like meditation, breathing, prayer, or yoga – and take a few minutes to practice every day. This will help you build a buffer against daily irritations and make it easier to reset yourself when you're rattled. If you can't go to a class or meeting, apps can be handy tools .
Keep up connections. When you get busy, "friend time" can feel like a luxury. But studies show that keeping up with friends can make you happier and healthier, and even help you live longer. One study found that phone calls (made and received) were better at predicting stress and happiness than data from fitness trackers. And don't forget date night or other ways to nurture your relationship with your partner.
Seek out support. You can't do everything, and you shouldn't have to. If your workload feels unbalanced, have a talk with your partner about dividing housework and childcare more fairly. If hiring help isn't an option, ask a relative to babysit or start a babysitting co-op with friends.
Make time for what you love. Enjoy music? Listen while you're working or walking. Love to paint? Start a project, even if it's small. Like knitting or sewing? Join a group that crafts together. It can help to put your hobby time on the calendar because it's an appointment with yourself.
How positive self-talk can help you
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CDC. 2020. How much physical activity do adults need? U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm [Accessed April 2020]
Harvard Health Letter. 2017. Can relationships boost longevity and wellbeing? Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mental-health/can-relationships-boost-longevity-and-well-being [Accessed April 2020]
Lin S, et al. 2019. Social network structure is predictive of health and wellness. PLoS ONE 14(6): e0217264. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217264 [Accessed April 2020]
NAMI. Undated. Taking care of yourself. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Family-Members-and-Caregivers/Taking-Care-of-Yourself [Accessed April 2020]