How to Practice Self-Care as a New Mom

Why You Need to Take Care of Yourself and How to Get It Done

toddler lying on mother's back while she does yoga

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When you’re a new mom, practicing self-care is challenging, but it’s also important. Your self-care needs are high, and you’re busy with a newborn and major life changes. Ironically, just when you need self-care most is when it’s most difficult to achieve!

Here’s why self-care is important for new mothers, what self-care really means, and how to get what you need.

What Does Self-Care Really Mean?

There’s a misconception that self-care is all about luxurious bubble baths, 90-minute massages, and premium mani-pedis. While self-care can include spa treatments, that’s not what everyday self-care is about.

Self-care is about making sure your physical, emotional, and social needs are being met. It’s about taking care of your whole self and setting aside time to maintain your wellbeing.

When it comes to self-care, your goal is to be sure you (at a minimum!)...

  • Get the sleep you need
  • Eat nutritious, enjoyable food
  • Hydrate!
  • Exercise, something to help you feel good in your body and get a rush of endorphins
  • Shower, get your hair cut, clean your clothes, change your bedsheets
  • Have time to reflect and enjoy a quiet moment
  • Socialize with friends or family, not just online but also in person
  • Set aside time to work on a hobby, passion, or career to maintain a sense of purpose and meaning
  • See your primary care provider, your therapist, the dentist—whoever you need to see to stay healthy in mind and body

This sounds so simple… until you have a newborn baby, and finding time to take a shower feels like your biggest challenge of the day!

Why Self-Care Is Important—Even if It Feels Impossible

Many people struggle with making time for themselves, and it’s especially difficult for new moms. Caregivers (of all sorts) put the needs of everyone else above theirs. But someone needs to take care of the caregiver. (That someone is you!)

Self-care is essential to maintaining your own health and also key to your child’s physical and mental wellbeing.

Self-care helps you maintain your sense of self-worth.

New moms sometimes report that they have “forgotten who they are” and have lost themselves in their new motherhood identity. But you are much more than “just a mom.” Self-care can help you remember that you are a person, too.

Practicing self-care sets a good example for your children.

If you want your children to sleep well, eat well, take care of themselves, and thrive, they need to see their mom doing these things.

Caregiver burnout can make you physically sick.

Cleveland Clinic defines caregiver burnout as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion.” Caregiver burnout can cause you to get sick more often. Being a mom is hard, but being a mom with a cold or the flu is extremely difficult.

Breastfeeding? Your nutrition needs are extremely important.

Drinking enough fluids and eating right is especially important for nursing mothers. Your body will prioritize your baby’s needs over yours, and deplete your nutrition resources to make milk for the baby. If your body is depleted, you’ll be more likely to get sick.

Caregiver burnout can make you emotionally unwell.

Burnout can lead to an increased risk of depression and anxiety.  

Parental depression and anxiety can negatively impact childhood development.

When a parent is depressed, their children are affected. Studies have found that parental depression can interfere with healthy attachment, increase the risk of childhood behavior problems, and increase the risk of the child having academic problems when they start school. The children of depressed parents may also be at an increased risk of developing depression or anxiety themselves.

Self-care isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity, for your health and your baby’s.

6 Self-Care Challenges and How to Come Out on Top

So, you understand making time for self-care is important. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not easy to do. It’s frustrating when people throw advice out at you like, “Just make time for yourself,” or “You need to sleep when your baby sleeps!”

We are not suggesting the solution to self-care is so simple. It’s difficult; we know. Here are some possible solutions to common new-mom self-care challenges. There are no magic potions or Harry Potter-like spells listed below, but some of these tips might provide an idea or two that you can use. 

Better Sleep

What you need as a new mom: Sleep. Oh em gee do you need sleep.

Why it’s so hard to get: Babies don’t sleep through the night. They cry. They eat. They poo. And they pee. All. Night. Long.

Possible ways to get what you need: Sleep is one of the most important and most difficult self-care needs to get as a new mom. Here are a few possible ways to get more zz’s:

  • Go to bed very, very early: You’re going to get woken up multiple times in the night. But if you can increase the total hours you spend in bed, you may get enough sleep to get you through your day. While 7 hours in bed may have been enough pre-baby, you might want to schedule 10 to 12 hours “in bed.” Remember that you won't actually get to sleep all those hours.
  • Practice immaculate sleep hygiene: For example, only use your bedroom for sleeping, avoiding using your phone before bedtime (or use a blue light filter), go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day, and don’t drink caffeinated beverages within six hours of bedtime. You will never be perfect on these things, but whatever you can do, it’ll help.
  • Ask a friend or significant other to watch the baby for a few hours so you can sleep. This doesn’t need to be at night. This can be between 7 pm and 11 pm at night, or it can be from 11 am to 3 pm. It may not be daily; it may only happen once a week. But it’ll help! Your partner, friend, or babysitter's job is to hold the baby, entertain the baby, change diapers, burp the baby, etc., while you sleep. If you’re breastfeeding, your helper will bring you the baby so you can nurse, and they will take the baby after to burp and change the baby's diaper.   

Healthy Food

What you need as a new mom: Tasty, nutritious food and hydration.

Why it’s so hard to get: Who has time to cook? Or shop? Or sit down and eat?

Possible ways to get what you need: You need to eat! You're recovering from pregnancy and birth, and your body needs protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals to heal. Here are some possible ways to make it happen:

  • Get your groceries delivered. If you can afford it, and it’s available locally, grocery delivery will save your life. Time saved walking around a supermarket will give you more time to actually prepare a meal. You'll also save energy. (Shopping with a baby can be exhausting.)
  • Make a list of snacks and quick healthy foods. Ever find yourself hungry but unsure of what to eat? Take a moment to make a list. Think about finger foods, quick things you can grab from the refrigerator and snack on. Cut up veggies, baby carrots, hummus, peanut butter, cheese cubes... Once you have a list, you’ll be prepared to shop for those things and remember to grab them when you’re starving. Keep your snack list visible for when you're too tired to think of what you can eat.
  • Fill up a big water bottle with ice and a lemon slice every morning. As soon as you get up in the morning, fill up your water bottle with ice, fresh water, and (if you like it) some lemon slices. Keep it beside your favorite spot to feed your baby. If the water is ready to go, you're more likely to drink it.
  • Invite a friend over to cook with you. You get social time plus food time! If you’re cooking together, that means one of you can be holding a baby while the other cooks or cleans. You can cook one meal to share or meal prep and cook for the week.
  • The crockpot and freezer are your friends. When you do have time to cook, if you can cook multiple meals at once, all the better. Search online for meal prep advice. You’ll find so many ideas. 
  • Challenge traditional roles. Have you always been the cook at home? If you’re not a single mom, and if you have a partner or a roommate, maybe it’s time for them to be in charge of meals.

Quiet Time

What you need as a new mom: Quiet time.

Why it’s so hard to get: Babies aren’t quiet. If you have other kids, they are even less quiet!

Possible ways to get what you need: We live in a busy, noisy world. Here are some ways to get some reflection time.

  • Put your phone down. Our phones can be a wonderful distraction, but they can also be a source of anxiety and "noise." Plug your phone into the charger in another room and leave it there for an hour. If you are feeding your baby, just focus on feeding your baby. Or allow yourself to daydream. Allow your brain some rest time.
  • Play meditation music. Or ocean waves, thunderstorm audio tracks, anything that is calming.
  • For at least one of your baby's naps, don’t do anything. Don’t clean. Don’t cook. Don’t sleep. Just take the time to be. Societal messages can cause us to feel like it’s not okay to just sit and do nothing, especially when there is so much to do. But our bodies and minds need reflection time. It’s okay to just breath.

Exercise

What you need as a new mom: To get your body moving!

Why it’s so hard to get: Who has time to go to the gym when you can’t even go pee by yourself?

Possible ways to get what you need: Exercise is just a movement that gets your heart rate up. With that in mind, here are some ideas:

  • Put on some upbeat music when you clean. Cleaning the house isn’t normally enough to raise your heart rate. However, if you put on some great music, and set a time to move-move-move for 15 minutes as quickly as you can, it can become a workout.
  • Go for a walk. One of your baby’s naps can be from the stroller. If you can’t walk outside, go to a mall or even a grocery store. Walk quickly, and you’ll get some exercise in.
  • Join a mommy-baby exercise class. If you have the money and time, look for a mommy-baby exercise class. Some are aimed more at the moms, some are aimed more at the baby. Either way, you get movement and social time. Can't go to a class? Search online for mother-baby exercise routine videos. There are lots of them, for free!
  • When your baby is old enough, join a gym with a daycare. Especially the gyms where daycare is included in your membership fee, they can be cheaper than hiring a babysitter. 

Time to Socialize With Adults

What you need as a new mom: To talk to human beings that “use their words” (i.e., adult socialization time!)  

Why it’s so hard to get: You never leave the house. 

Possible ways to get what you need: You still need friends when you become a new mom. Your baby (or children) can’t be your sole source of human contact. Here are some ideas...

  • Look for free or low-cost mother-child classes and activities. Many communities have mother-baby social groups. While some can be pricey, you can likely find free or inexpensive groups at the library, a community center, or a place of worship.
  • Reach out to your pre-baby friends. They may not be texting and calling because they think you’re busy. You are busy, but you still need them. Reach out. Aim to set up one playdate or coffee date with a friend every two weeks.
  • Embrace video chat. If you really can’t get out and no one can come over, set up some video chat dates.

Personal Hygiene

What you need as a new mom: A shower, clean underwear...

Why it’s so hard to get: You’re so busy changing your baby’s “underwear,” you barely have time for your own clothing changes.

Possible ways to get what you need: Showers are not optional. You need a shower!

  • Make a routine for morning or evening self-care time. Sometimes, it’s not that you can’t get a shower, but it’s that you just don’t set aside the time. Make basic self-care part of your day or night. If you need to make a list to remind yourself to wash your face and brush your teeth, make a list and post it near your bathroom mirror.
  • Bring the baby into the bathroom with you. Make sure they are in a secure and safe place and within eyesight. Sometimes this is the only way you’re going to get to shower.
  • Enlist the help of your partner or roommate. Hopefully, you don’t live completely alone. As long as someone is there, they can watch the baby for 45 minutes while you take care of yourself. Make it part of your family's morning and/or nightly routine. Dad/big brother/grandma watches the baby while you get private bathroom time.

Regular Healthcare Visits

What you need as a new mom: A yearly well-check, a dental cleaning every six months... 

Why it’s so hard to get: Keeping track of the baby’s well-checks is already a challenge.  

Possible ways to get what you need: You need to see the doctor just as much as your baby does.

  • Make a calendar. Put it on the refrigerator door or have it on your phone. Set reminders for when you should have your next dental cleaning or yearly well check. If it’s on the calendar in advance, you’ll do it.
  • Schedule dentist and doctor visits when you have family in town. If your family lives far away, you may not be able to leave your baby with grandma. The good news is those dentist appointments are only every six months, and well-checks are once a year. You can schedule them for when you have family in town to help you. 

A Word From Verywell

As a new mom, you need to take care of your baby and yourself. Sometimes, it’s not that we can’t make time for self-care, it’s that we don’t think it’s important. But self-care is important—for your health and your baby’s.

Try your best, ask for help from friends and family, and know that whatever you do to take care of your own mental and physical health will have a positive impact on your baby’s wellbeing.

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Article Sources

  1. Caregiver Burnout | Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Retrieved 30 September 2019, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9225-caregiver-burnout


  2. Parental Depression: How it Affects a Child. (2019). Retrieved 30 September 2019, from https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/how-parental-depression-affects-child/


  3. Ringoot, A., Tiemeier, H., Jaddoe, V., So, P., Hofman, A., Verhulst, F., & Jansen, P. (2015). Parental depression and child well-being: young children's self-reports helped addressing biases in parent reportsJournal Of Clinical Epidemiology68(8), 928-938. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2015.03.009