Why It Is Important to Practice Self-Care as a New Mom

mom hiking
Jordan Siemens / Getty Images.

Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

As a new mom, you’ve probably heard the advice that you should do one thing for yourself every day. You’ve heard people suggest that you make self-care a priority no matter what. While that advice might sound fine and good in theory, you might be wondering how on earth you would make that happen. As a mom to a baby, you probably can’t remember the last time you showered, let alone practiced self-care.

This is totally understandable, and it’s very common for new moms to consider their own needs pretty irrelevant when they are dealing with the intense and endless needs of a brand-new baby.

But the truth is that taking care of yourself is important, because neglecting your own care can have significant impacts on your health, mental health—and even the well-being of your baby.

Let’s take a look at the importance of self-care for new moms, and how you can make sure to prioritize it. (Yes, it’s possible despite how busy and exhausted you are!)

Why Practicing Self-Care Is So Challenging for New Moms

Practicing self-care as a new mom begins with the belief that self-care is vital and something that you deserve. This is probably the most challenging aspect of it, because mothers are taught that being a good mom means sacrificing their own well being in order to cater to the needs of their child. They are taught that putting their own needs last on the list is actually preferred.

Once you become a mom, your baby is supposed to be your entire world. Some of this can’t be avoided. Our babies are essentially helpless at first. They need to be fed frequently, diapered, held, soothed when they cry. They need to be monitored pretty much all the time. Even when they are finally sound asleep, we have our baby monitors on, just in case they need us.

This is normal, and no one is saying that you should neglect your baby’s needs in lieu of your own. The problem is that so many moms are expected to do all of the baby care, with minimal help.

In addition to handling most of the baby care, many moms are often expected to keep their house neat and in order. They are expected to happily welcome visitors to meet the baby—and to look put-together when visitors arrive. They are also expected to take on much of the “mental load” of running a household: making their baby’s doctor’s appointments, scheduling daily activities, and planning for the future.

Many moms are doing this on top of returning to work and managing their baby’s transition into childcare. Talk about stressful and exhausting!

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

It’s no wonder self-care isn’t exactly something moms feel like they can prioritize, right? But here’s the thing. Taking care of your own physical and emotional well-being isn’t just some nice, fuzzy idea to add to your never-ending to-do list. It’s actually vital for your own health.

If all you do is give, give, give, you are likely going to experience burnout, which can affect your own physical and mental health. And maybe most importantly, it can have significant impacts on your children. If your goal is to be a good parent, neglecting your own needs is not the way to accomplish that.

Research Confirms That Mom Burnout Is Real

The idea that neglecting your own needs has negative consequences for both you and your children is not just a theory. It’s proven by research.

According to a study published in Clinical Psychological Science, when the daily stresses of parenting pile up and parents aren’t given adequate breaks and times to breathe, they can experience something called parental burnout. The researchers define parental burnout as “overwhelming exhaustion related to one’s parental role,” and say that it is more common than you think.

In general, burnout can cause symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, extreme exhaustion, and emotional numbness—all of which can be experienced by burnt out parents.

"In the current cultural context, there is a lot of pressure on parents," lead researcher Moïra Mikolajczak said in a press release. "But being a perfect parent is impossible and attempting to be one can lead to exhaustion.”

Probably most shocking are the consequences of parental burnout on children. The researchers found that experiencing parental burnout can affect one’s parenting and lead to harmful effects, including:

  • Emotional distancing from your children
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Parental neglect
  • Escape ideation
  • Parental violence

Of course, not every parent who experiences burnout is going to end up being neglectful or violent, but these findings lend credence to the importance of taking care of your emotional and physical health—making it as much of a priority as your baby’s health and well being.

The study researchers concur. “Our research suggests that whatever allows parents to recharge their batteries, to avoid exhaustion, is good for children,” said Mikolajczak. "Parents need to know that self-care is good for the child and that when they feel severely exhausted, they should seek help,” she added.

5 Self-Care Tips for New Moms

Convinced yet that self-care is not selfish and that adding some self-care into your life should be a non-negotiable? Great! But you still might feel uncertain about how exactly to accomplish that. Here are some tips:

Learn to Say No

We usually think of saying no as a negative thing, and we don’t want to stir up criticism. But saying no can be empowering and is healthy in many situations. You can start by saying no to unwanted visitors, to a booked social calendar—and definitely to having a sparkling clean house when you are mom to a little one.

Be Good Enough

It’s natural to want to be a good parent. But just by showing up each day and loving on your baby, you are already one. So many of us are stuck on the idea that being a good parent means being a perfect one. That’s simply not true. Aim for being a “good enough” parent. You fed, clothed, and cuddled your baby today and the house didn’t burn down? You’re doing great.

Ask for (And Accept!) Help

If you want to make self-care happen, you can’t do it alone. Asking for help is really hard for many moms, but it’s got to be done. Take your friend up on that hour of babysitting. If your partner is in the picture, make sure they know that baby care is a two-person job. Accepting the help that’s offered can be even harder for moms, but you’ve got to do it.

Talk About Your Feelings

Holding all your stress inside is not good for anyone involved. Having a trusted person to share your feelings with—even the hard stuff—is so important. Understanding what aspects of parenting are making you so exhausted and burnt-out will help you hatch a plan to remedy this.

Let Go of the Guilt

Again, you must let go of the idea that doing these things for yourself is selfish. There will be people who continue to send you the message that taking time for yourself is greedy or self-centered. But you’ve got to ignore those people and seek out more supportive people in your life who truly understand the struggles of new parenthood.

10 Simple Self-Care Ideas

Okay, let’s get into the nitty-gritty here. Let’s go with the premise that you are extremely busy—that you likely really only have a few spare minutes a day to concentrate on yourself. What are some things you can do on a daily basis to check in with yourself and give yourself a much-needed break?

Some of these are things you can do with your baby in a stroller, a baby carrier, or even in your arms. This might be the most feasible way to fit in self-care when your baby is very young. As your baby gets older and can be separated from you for longer periods, take some time just for yourself. Baby-free moments—even if they are just an hour or two once a week—can recharge your batteries in important ways.

Here are 10 self-care ideas:

  1. Go for a 20 minute walk, with or without your baby.
  2. Talk or text with a friend or counselor.
  3. Journal for 10 minutes in the morning or before bed.
  4. Keep a daily gratitude log.
  5. Meditate for 5-10 minutes before you fall asleep or while your baby is napping.
  6. Sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing for 10 minutes.
  7. Prioritize sleep: Nap with your baby, have your partner take the baby on the weekends so you can sleep in, etc.
  8. Get a massage, a mani-pedi, or anything just for you.
  9. Take up a hobby, like knitting or crafting, that you can do in short spurts here and there.
  10. Take a weekend afternoon to wander around town just by yourself, getting coffee, shopping, strolling—this kind of freedom will be invigorating.

A Word From Verywell

Self-care doesn’t necessarily mean devoting hours on end to yourself each day or taking a mom-cation. That sort of thing is out of reach for most normal moms, especially when they are parenting babies and young children. But that doesn’t mean you should neglect your self-care altogether.

Even just devoting five to 10 minutes a day can be life-changing. They key is to do it consistently, and to pick something that you find personally valuable. Everyone's self-care routine is going to look different. Do what works for you.

But what if the “doing one thing for yourself every day” strategy isn’t working? What if you still feel burnt out and depleted? What if you find yourself dealing with depression or anxiety?

If you are a postpartum mom who is experiencing debilitating depression or anxiety for more than two weeks, self-care tips alone aren’t enough. A call to your healthcare provider or a therapist are in order.

But even if you aren’t experiencing a mental health struggle, we all could use a little extra support. Consider scheduling a session with a therapist or counselor if you are finding motherhood overwhelming or finding that taking time to yourself feels impossible.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mikolajczak M, Gross JJ, Roskam I. Parental burnout: What is it, and why does it matter?. Clin Psychol Sci. 2019;7(6):1319-1329. doi:10.1177/2167702619858430

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.