By Dr. Rachel Goldman Ph.D., FTOS, Licensed Psychologist
Self-care. We have all heard about it and we know we “should” do it, but do we? Self-care is a broad term that encompasses just about anything that we do to be good to ourselves; it’s about being kind to ourselves. It doesn’t need to be going to a 5-star resort or having a spa day, although wouldn’t that be nice? I am talking about something we do more regularly, something you can do on a daily basis that is for YOU. You are probably thinking, how is that possible when I am a mom, have a baby to take care of, need to pump/breastfeed, change diapers, and keep this little human alive, but it’s not only possible, but it is actually necessary. Think about the instructions flight attendants give on an airplane- we need to put our oxygen mask on before we put anyone else’s on. Think about your cell phone- we don’t let our cell phone batteries run low, but we instead keep an eye on it and charge it when needed. Self-care is about knowing when your resources are running low and taking a step back to replenish and recharge.
You may be thinking this is a bit selfish to put yourself first, and especially with a baby at home, but I call it a “healthy selfishness”. When it comes to our health and wellbeing we have to be a little selfish. A “healthy selfishness” is knowing what you need to do (within reason) and allowing yourself to do it. If you think about everything we do for survival, such as sleeping and eating, those are examples of behaviors associated with a “healthy selfishness”. We need to participate in these behaviors in order to survive. We also need to participate in other behaviors to be healthy, both physically and emotionally, such as taking time out of our day for us, for “me time,” and to relax or de-stress. For some that may be going on a run or going to the gym, for others that may mean a quiet and relaxing bath. Whatever it is, it is needed to allow you to de-stress, refocus and be able to be productive and accomplish what you need to accomplish, which includes being a mom and being emotionally and physically available to take care of your little one. Without some of these behaviors and acts of “healthy selfishness” we will eventually burn out and not be productive in any aspect of our life. We may even start to feel regret, sadness, and anger, which is not uncommon feelings during the postpartum time, especially since your life has just drastically changed by having a new baby. These feelings are also signs that it is time to take a step back and to do something about it. We need to monitor and check-in with ourselves in order to see what we need in order to function to the best that we can at that given time. Keep in mind, what we need today may be different than what we need tomorrow. This may also look very different for different people and can change with different life circumstances.
So now what? Here are some things to think about to help YOU find the time YOU need to be the best YOU.
- Make Yourself a Priority- think of the instructions regarding putting on an oxygen mask on an airplane. Decide that you deserve self-care.
- What does ‘Me Time’ mean to YOU? This could be just a few minutes to yourself or can be an activity that you enjoy, so you will actually do it. We tend to make excuses for things we don’t enjoy doing, so think about activities that do not cause stress, but rather relaxes and recharges you. Besides the gym and running, I have made pumping be part of my self-care routine. I have my husband give our baby a pumped bottle while I pump, so I have some quiet time to relax and destress. This is also helpful as stress can affect our milk supply, so having this quiet time has been useful and works for me.
- Use Relaxation Techniques – relaxation techniques, including meditation, massage, yoga, imagery, and breathing are very effective at decreasing stress levels and helping you relax. It can be useful to practice these techniques while you are pumping as well to ensure you are calm and not stressed.
- Schedule – make sure you set aside time each day just for you (‘Me Time’). Consider this time like an appointment that you wouldn’t miss. Since I pump a minimum of 2 times per day (first thing in the morning and before I go to bed), this is already scheduled for me. I do schedule additional ‘Me Time’ though, including exercise and physical activity.
- Create a Daily Routine – make it something you look forward to and will become part of your lifestyle. Your daily routine should also include what I call the key health behaviors (water intake, nutrition, physical activity, and sleep). AND these are also all key behaviors to helping your milk supply!
- Be Assertive and Ask for Help – don’t say yes to everything. Learn to say no or to delegate responsibilities. For instance, my husband gives the morning bottle while I pump. I had to ask him to do this, but when I asked him and explained to him how it would help me (which would also help our baby), he was willing to do it. You don’t know until you ask ☺
- Find Support – get support from your family, friends, and colleagues. Talk to them about your stress, your ‘Me Time,’ and your plan. Also, find people going through similar things and support each other.
- Seek Professional Help – if stress and anxiety is impacting your daily functioning and is getting in the way of you fulfilling your responsibilities, there is help. Increased stress for prolonged periods of time can be bad for your physical and mental health, but can also impact your milk supply, and those around you, including your little one.
To YOU, taking care of YOU, YOUR health, and YOUR pumping and breastfeeding journey!
Connect with Dr. Rachel at www.DrRachelNYC.com