Everyone plans for a healthy pregnancy and birth. But a needy newborn can quickly sap the time and energy Mommy has for self-care. Health is, however, a worthy priority for new moms. “A happy, healthy mom makes for a happy, healthy kid,” says Tammy Gold, a New York City-based parenting expert and a founder of the new website MommyCoach.com.
Read on for 10 simple ways to get your health and sense of well-being back on track.
1. Make the Most of Nap Time
Getting your baby to nap is an accomplishment—make the most of it! Get a DVD or go online to do a 30-minute workout, head into the kitchen and prep healthy snacks and meals, take a long, steamy shower, or, if you feel the pull of the pillow, lie down yourself for some well-deserved rest.
2. Be Realistic
Your house is a mess. So what? You have more important things to do, like getting rest, starting up an exercise routine, and, of course, caring for your baby. “Letting the idea of perfection go is so liberating,” says Gold. So set reasonable, attainable goals, bring your expectations down to earth, and put your energy elsewhere.
3. Be Mindful of Your Lower Back
Relaxin, the hormone stretches your ligaments in preparation for birth, stays in your body for five months after your give birth. That’s tough on your lower back, which needs to get back to its natural alignment after being pulled forward by your pregnant belly. Protect it by alternating which hip you hold your baby on, looking in a mirror to make sure you’re not over-arching your lower back when standing, and practicing gentle stretches that will help your ligaments come together in a way that supports the heavy lifting you’ll be doing as your baby grows.
4. Ask for Help
“To get healthy, moms need support,” says Gold. To make time for self-care, arrange a babysitting swap with friends, or ask a trusted family member to watch your baby while you get exercise or sleep. Sometimes, though, friend or family help can come with strings attached. If that’s the case, hire a babysitter or join a gym that has a certified child care facility. “Use money to pay for the help you deserve,” says Gold.
5. Write Out a Plan
New mom-hood can be hard on the short-term memory, so do yourself a favor and put pen to paper to map out your health program. Set goals for daily exercise, social time, quiet time, even hygiene, and use your calendar as a tool to keep yourself accountable and focused. “Unstructured time is just not good,” says Gold. “Children can get anxious and chaotic, and then moms get overwhelmed.” So when in doubt, write it out!
6. Plan Your Feedings, Too
Don’t get so caught up in your baby’s feeding schedule that you neglect your own; the Mayo Clinic advises 400 to 500 extra daily calories for breastfeeding mamas, and you want them to be nutritious and easy. When you have a few minutes, chop up crunchy, vitamin- and fiber-rich vegetables like carrots and celery, or pretzels and pita chips, and put them into individual baggies. When you get hungry, “fast food” will never have been so healthy!
7. Forgive Yourself
Let’s be real—you aren’t going to be able to stick to your self-care health plan every day. And that’s ok. Before you start down a guilt spiral, forgive yourself, and start fresh tomorrow. “There is no perfect mom,” says Gold, “Nurture yourself the same way you’d nurture your child if they were having a tough day.”
8. Rest, Rest, Rest
Your body will recover from childbirth—and your mind will feel more like your own—if you prioritize sleep and rest as part of your healthy routine. Never feel guilty about following the “sleep when your baby sleeps” adage, and set aside any social qualms about asking visitors to leave so you can snooze. Days and nights will be in their proper places soon enough, but for now, find rest wherever you can.
9. Boost Your Immune System
The last thing a new mom wants is to come down with a cold or other bug. Start by getting vaccinated against seasonal flu and making sure your TdaP vaccine is up to date to protect against whooping cough. Then, eat lots of lean proteins, dark greens, and antioxidant-rich foods like berries and apples for an immune boost. Keeping well-hydrated will also flush your system of toxins and keep you on a healthy path.
10. Share the Journey
New motherhood can be an isolating time, and there’s power in sharing the ups and downs with like-minded fellow travelers. There are health benefits as well—research shows that laughing with friends boosts immunity, and working out with a buddy has been shown to yield better results. So start a conversation with another mom at the mall or playground…chances are she’d love to set up a mommy play date!