Last week I discussed nourishment for postpartum bodies, and the week before the crucial need for sleep in the first six weeks postpartum. Finding a way to honor our bodies themselves in the postpartum is as important, since the body we’re nourishing has created and is nourishing others, both physically through breastmilk and emotionally through the love and care a mother provides her family. In the U.S., our culture focuses a lot on bouncing “back” from having had a baby. I’d like to raise the question – “back” to what? “Back” from what? The phrase we use, bouncing “back,” suggests that there is some way that we can return to the way our life was before. It suggests that the current state of our body, which has just created a new life, is somehow undesirable. I’d like to change the narrative, at least for myself, to honoring the postpartum body. Sleep and nourishment, my first two pillars of postpartum self-care, are excellent ways to start. The third is body care. Taking care of our body includes physical movement, meditation, and supportive body care practices borrowed from other cultures.
Last week, I discussed the importance of self-care. Postpartum depression affects one in five new mothers, and although rare, postpartum depression can lead to suicide. In fact, in the UK one study found that 28% of maternal deaths one year postpartum were due to suicide, making it the leading cause of maternal death one year postpartum. The statistic that’s generally given is that suicide is the second leading cause of death for mothers one year postpartum in the U.S., but because in the U.S. we don’t track maternal deaths very carefully, we just don’t know. Mothers with a history of mental illness are particularly at risk.
Why are the first 42 days the most important?
This means that self-care isn’t just not selfish, it can be life-saving. One interesting number jumped out at me as I was researching this topic – 42. As in, the first 42 days postpartum are the most important for self-care (and quite honestly, community care) for the mother. [Read more…]
I have an inner eye roll every time I read or hear the phrase “self-care.” The idea smacks of narcissism to me and brings up images of weekly mani-pedis at the salon and buying expensive purses because “I’m worth it.” Plus, it just sounds expensive. I hear that I need to take better care of myself and I think, “How much is this going to cost me?” It’s also something easily put on the back burner when you’ve got two people growing inside of you who need care, and two people growing outside of you who need care, not to mention a husband who could use a little TLC occasionally. Never mind the dog. There’s just a lot of people to take care of in my house.
To take care of others, though, we ourselves need to be healthy and well. In the moment, it may seem easier to just eat the leftover mac & cheese from your kid’s plate at lunch rather than cook for yourself. It might be easier to read another book or sing another song at bedtime, despite the fact that you really could use a 15-minute reading break yourself. If you are a born & bred people pleaser, like I am, it’s hard to disappoint people – especially the ones you love more than life itself – by saying, “You know what, right now I need a few minutes to myself.”
Achieving goals isn’t easy, but decades of management research demonstrates that setting a clear goal provides us with a huge amount of motivation. In the workplace, when managers set clear goals and provide their employees with specific feedback, they see better performance. It’s no different when setting your own goals, although it’s harder to get that feedback, because you have to give it to yourself!
If you suffer from low-self esteem, you may experience less certainty around your decisions. Parenting requires dozens of decisions each day, sometimes before 8AM. From before our children are born, we’re asked and we ask ourselves, “Natural birth or medicated? Circumcision or no? Breastfeeding or bottom? Cloth diapers or disposable? Work or stay home? Crib or cosleep? Each purchase has implicates for our child and our family, from safety to cost to the “brand” we project as a mother.
Our uncertainty makes us more likely to compare ourselves to others, and that comparison can make us feel defensive before we even meet someone. This makes the difficult process of making new friends as an adult even more challenging when we become mothers. We view other’s choices as an implicit judgment of our own. If another mom is breastfeeding in the park, wearing a baby in a carrier, or, the big Mommy War, staying at home or working, we get offended just by seeing the opposite decision of what we’ve done.