I was thinking earlier about my early postpartum days when I first became a new mom. When I was in the trenches.
You know it’s going to be hard, and you know that it will be a big adjustment. But you can’t really understand the kind of adjustment that really happens until it does.
Those early days as a new mom were the most painful, most blissful, and most emotionally turmoiled days of my life.
My Story as a New Mom
As someone who has always been a big advocate for self-care and self-acceptance, I found that this was the biggest adjustment of all. I thought self-care would remain easy and I didn’t even think about self-acceptance as an issue.
In some ways, I completely nailed it. I easily adjusted my routine to make sure I showered every morning (I don’t know many new moms who say that they actually shower daily). And I almost never skipped a meal.
But in other ways, I was failing. My new body was so foreign to me. Even though you know intellectually that your body won’t be the same after pregnancy, you’re kind of in denial emotionally. You spend the whole pregnancy waiting to be “normal” again. And in my head, I knew that I would never go back to that normal and that there would be a new normal. But I could not be prepared for just how different that would be.
There was one time I remember vividly. It was 3 am. I was breastfeeding my son. Looking down at what little I could see of his sweet face in the dark. My husband laying blissfully ignorant next to me.
And I was crying. I was crying because I didn’t recognize myself. Crying because I had worked so hard at body acceptance, and now it was out the window because I couldn’t stand my body as it was. I was crying because I WANTED to accept my body and be grateful for what it had just done for me and my beautiful little boy. And I was crying because I didn’t FEEL like myself. Who was this person who used to be able to do any workout you threw at her, carry any heavy thing that needed to be moved, and now can’t even sit up on her own and struggles to get out of the shower?
Focusing on Maternal Health
As much of an adjustment as it was to continue to incorporate self-care, doing so is the main thing that helped me through this tough time as a new mom.
The postpartum period is a period of recovery. You just went through the most difficult and traumatic thing your body will likely ever go through. It needs recovery. This is one of the reasons I felt so incredibly weak. I was recovering from pregnancy, from labor, and from a c-section. Building your strength back is one of the keys to an optimal recovery (1).
To build your strength back and to heal your body from the trauma, your body needs 3 things. The first is getting plenty of rest (1). As I said, your body just went through a lot. And it’s not easy to get rest with a newborn in the house. So you need to do it whenever you can.
Postpartum Nutrition & Activity
The second is proper nutrition. The first step is to make sure you eat when you are hungry. Do not skip meals because you’re tired, busy, or trying to lose weight (1). With any trauma or healing process, energy is required, and you get that energy from food. So eat up, mom! If you can do any sort of planning, it can make it easier to get all of the necessary nutrients your body needs. Aim for a variety of food from all food groups: Grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, proteins, and fat (1).
The last thing is, of course, physical activity. In the early stages, you are limited. Usually, doctors recommend waiting 6 weeks before resuming activity but always check with your doctor before you do so. This being said, walking is always encouraged, as long as it is safe for you. They’ll tell you before you’re discharged from the hospital.
Walking may not sound like much, but it is ESSENTIAL to gaining strength back as a new mom. In some cases, you can also do core re-engagement practices. Not actual ab-workouts. But your core has been out of commission for a while, so sometimes it is recommended to start practicing engaging your core again, and even strengthening your pelvic floor. As I said before, always check with your doctor. Once you’re able to resume normal activity, take it slow- especially with core work and high impact exercises. If you jump into that too soon, you could cause more harm to your core and pelvic floor.
A Note on Weight Loss & Maternal Health
Earlier, I mentioned how unhappy I was with my body in the early stages. It’s normal. I tried to remind myself that it is ok to feel how I feel. Beating myself up for beating myself up was only making it worse.
While I do believe in body acceptance at any size, I also know what it feels like to want to feel comfortable, and sometimes weight loss is required for that.
What I want to make sure you know is this: Do not restrict your calories. Do not aim for extreme weight loss, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Whether or not you’re breastfeeding, extreme weight loss can be particularly dangerous in this time period1. We need energy and nutrients to recover and heal. Dieting WILL hinder your body’s ability to heal if not done in a healthy, natural way. And if you’re breastfeeding, it can affect the milk supply, therefore affecting your child’s nutrition.
Instead of focusing on the size of your body or the number on the scale, focus on fueling your body for healing and for strength, and focus on building your strength with exercise. The weight loss will follow. It may not be quick, but be patient. You’ll be much better off in the long run if it happens in a natural way as a response to healthy lifestyle habits and optimal recovery and healing.
Tips for New Moms for Postpartum Health
- Sleep when the baby sleeps (1). In my experience, you may not be able to do this EVERY time the baby sleeps. But you definitely should be napping as much as you can during the early stages. The baby will likely not sleep through the night, and you need to rest.
- Get help around the house (1). If you’re fortunate enough to have family that can be there with you, they can help you take care of the house and your meals while you’re trying to get rest. If you don’t have nearby family or friends, consider hired help. There are such things as postpartum doulas (something I’m considering for my next baby), which help with anything you need help with- including nursing, diastasis healing, housekeeping, meal preparation, laundry, etc. Or you can simply hire a housekeeper and order pre-made meals.
- Accept help whenever it’s offered. Don’t let your pride stop you from allowing a friend who is visiting to throw in a load of laundry, do the dishes, or run an errand for you. When my sister in law had my first nephew, every time I went to the store for our groceries, I asked her what she needed that I could grab for her. She always graciously accepted, and you should too! She then returned the favor for us and I was always more than happy to accept. Your friends and family love you and want to help. Let them so that you can heal!
- Freezer meals. In the weeks leading up to your due date, make extra meals that you can toss in the freezer. I made crockpot meal freezer bags. I simply took all of the ingredients in a given crockpot recipe, and put it in the freezer bag in the same form that I would have in the crockpot, and froze it. When I was ready for it, I thawed it and poured it into the crockpot for dinner that night. You can also make yourself frozen oat muffins, frozen breakfast sandwiches, and energy bites. If that’s not your thing, just make sure to stock up on easy snacks that have protein and carbs. Download my Tired Mom’s Ultimate Snacking Guide for some ideas!
- Schedule showers. For me, I made it a habit to shower and get ready for my day while my husband was still home every morning. 2 years later, and I’m still doing it. It just fits in our lifestyle. Find a time that works for you, and make sure you get an uninterrupted shower.
- Schedule activity. When I was ready, I added this to my morning routine. Before that, I planned time every day to take the baby out for a walk. Find what works for you, and aim to make it happen. But be kind to yourself, mom, if it doesn’t!
- The New Mother – Taking Care of Yourself After Birth | Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (2019). Retrieved 15 October 2019, from https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/new-mother-taking-care-yourself-after-birth