A Postpartum Specialist On Why Self-Care Isn't Selfish
When I got an e-mail with the subject line, Moms need NAPS, I was in. By way of Instagram, where all the best friendships are made, I got introduced to Golzar Selbe Naghshineh, the founder of The Network for the Advancement of Perinatal Support (NAPS). After working with hundreds of new mothers while Director of Prenatal and Postpartum Support at Downtown Women OBGYN, Golzar observed a breakdown in our system wherein care for the mother ends after labor. She founded NAPS with the intention to rebuild a culture of mothering the mother. The team is working to change the high incidence of untreated postpartum illness by integrating maternal health care functions including assessment and intervention programs into OB offices, midwifery groups and fertility clinics. Golzar shares her thinking that taking good care of a mother's mental health begins with the basic principles of self-care.
I’m always shocked when people scoff at self-care. It’s what we’ve been taught to do as women: put ourselves second, prove our love in our sacrifice, nurture, accept less. What better time to put all that indoctrination to use than when a tiny human is relying on us? We must literally be told on every flight to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping those around us. In new motherhood, especially those early months, there is chaos, stress, adrenaline, high stakes and what sometimes feels like crisis. The reaction is often sacrificing the self. Forgetting to eat, not sleeping, not going outside, showering if we are lucky, not considering what we need to survive. But to be the mother your child needs, we need to not just survive, but thrive emotionally, physically and mentally.
I tell every new mom the five essential things she needs to do for self-care:
1. Are you eating enough?
You’re busy. You’re running around. You haven’t put the baby down. You’re feeding constantly, but you’re not consistently eating. Most new moms are eating less than they were before. I will be the first to admit how hangry (hunger-angry) I get when I don’t eat. My best friend knows not even to mention it – just dangle a protein bar under my nose. Also, if you’re breastfeeding, you require 400-500 extra calories a day. So, when moms need more calories, most are actually getting less.
2. Are you drinking enough water?
Same idea as above – you require more water for breastfeeding, but you are probably not drinking enough water. Don’t forget dehydration affects your mood as well. The Mayo clinic recommends drinking before you’re thirsty.
3. How are you sleeping?
What mother is sleeping enough?! But are you getting REM sleep? How many hours in a row? If you can afford it, get a night nurse, even if it’s only for a few nights in a row to catch up. See if your partner, friend, or family member can help at night. I know everything is expensive and you can’t afford it right now, but if you’re not sleeping enough and it is affecting your postpartum period, mood, or bonding experience then hired help is worth the money - even if it means a little debt. Moms are thinking about how to save for college, but a healthy and stable first two years of life makes for an emotionally well-adjusted child.
4. Are you getting outside everyday?
I prefer you leave your home, maybe even your block, but if you can’t then I will settle for your brownstone stoop or suburb porch - as long as you’re getting outside, breathing fresh air and getting vitamin D on your skin. It’s super important to not be cooped-up in your apartment or house. Practice getting your baby into that stroller or wrap. Start getting comfortable spending at least 20 minutes outside before the idea gets too daunting.
5. Do something for yourself every day.
Sorry to be bossy here, but I know what a hurdle this one feels like. New motherhood brings on one of the greatest identity conflicts and the struggle of loss of self. You need to do one thing a day to connect back to yourself. I can hear your hesitation, but trust me on this one. It is critical. Start small, then build up to the things you love and miss most. And when you’re cleared for working out again, that is a great one. Remember, fitness helps elevate mood as well (even though the walk to the gym always decreases mine, the walk back home ain’t so bad!).
You’re setting an example for that baby to learn to take care of him or herself. You’re going to be a better and more emotionally attuned mama. Your emotional stability will help the baby have more emotional stability. And most importantly, it will actually increase your bonding with your baby. So, let’s throw martyrdom out the window and embrace that self-care is not just a luxury; it is essential to ensure your well-being and the baby’s ability to thrive.
To learn more about Golzar's programming, check out www.MomsNeedNaps.org.
Cover Image via Tumblr