SELF-CARE FOR NEW PARENTS
Struggling with a near-vertical learning curve on no sleep? Welcome to parenthood! But there are ways to thrive through the early days…
Has your life recently changed in the most magical but exhausting way? Life as a parent is an incredible gift, but usually begins at the end of a frazzling pregnancy, a bruising IVF journey and sometimes a gruelling adoption or fostering process. “Every new parent is learning on the job,” says psychotherapist Belynder Walia. “Relationships with others start to pivot, and that’s especially true of the relationship you have with yourself.” Taking a few moments each day for your own needs is a real investment in the wellbeing of your new family.
Take turns to take care
New parenthood is the ultimate immersive experience, with every waking moment devoted to supporting this fragile new life, but it’s important to make space for everyone. “There is always a need for each parent or carer to have personal and emotional space,” says Belynder. “Build trust and confidence with each other by showing care and consideration for you and your co-parent or carer, giving each other time to sleep, eat and focus on yourselves.
Let go of food guilt
Whether it’s having your favourite takeaway’s phone number memorised or enjoying a stack of biscuits scoffed on the go, any food can be soothing and restorative when you’re struggling with the demands of this huge new role. Now’s a good time to set aside your normal judgements around food, says nutritionist and co-founder of the Diverse Nutrition Association, Amaeze Madukah. “Food is there to support and nourish you. It’s easy to say, ‘Don’t feel guilty, don’t put pressure on yourself to be super healthy’, but of course it happens. Just remember anything that fuels you is doing you good and therefore doing your baby good.”
Engage in positive self-talk
“No one is perfect, and no new parent is ideal,” says Belynder. “It’s entirely alright to accept that you’re not; that you as a new parent are going to have moments where you feel you are failing. On days like this, be kind to yourself. Let yourself know ‘I’m doing my best, I’m learning, it’s new to me, I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m getting to know this little human being.’ The more you become self-aware and self-accepting, the more you will see stress lessen and happiness grow.”
Try to schedule mealtimes
When it comes to eating with a baby in the house, timing is hard, says Amaeze. “You could be finding yourself wide awake or fast asleep at unusual times, but as much as possible, eat at regular times to keep your sugar levels balanced and your body nourished. Snacking is fine but modify your choices to include something with fibre – maybe oaty flapjacks, for example – to get that steady release of energy throughout the day. As always, limiting processed foods and drinks that are high in saturated fat, salts and extra sugars is helpful.”
“When I had my daughter, I didn’t want help from anyone,” says reiki master and holistic healer Lisa Butcher, “but I soon realised I didn’t know it all, so my advice is to accept help. Mindful breathing is good if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Take a moment to catch your breath. Breathe in through your nose for the count of four and out through your month for the count of eight, making a sighing sound as you exhale. Repeat this a few times.”
Fuel up well
“There’s no magic ingredient for recovering from birth,” says Amaeze. “Protein is important and so is getting at least five portions of fruit and veg (remember, that includes fresh, frozen, tinned and dried). From a nutritionist’s view, what’s good for new parents is that classic model of a balanced diet. There are lots of different customs around what to eat post-pregnancy – for example, in Nigeria women are told to have certain soups. It’s important to respect traditions passed down, but also be mindful of what feels like it’s working for you and your body.”