By Linda Knittel, Senior Editor
The first six weeks after the birth of a child are traditionally considered the postpartum period, when a mother is settling into her new role and bouncing back from pregnancy. But after I had my son, it took my body and mind a lot longer than that to adjust.
Staying calm in the face of new motherhood can be challenging, now that your own needs come second to your baby’s. But, just as you’re reminded on an airplane to put on your own oxygen mask before tending to your child, you have to take care of yourself to have the reserves needed to meet the demands of your new bundle of joy. Below are a few strategies that made a huge difference in helping me stay happy and healthy post childbirth.
In addition to needing more calories, a mother’s body needs more nutrients in general after birth than it does during pregnancy.
New moms get a lot of advice, but perhaps none as ubiquitous as “Sleep when your baby sleeps.” Even if you’re able to nap when Junior does, a baby’s short sleep cycles and frequent feedings will likely leave you feeling exhausted. As if feeling tired weren’t bad enough, sleep deprivation can contribute to a host of other postpartum symptoms, such as depression, weight gain and low milk production; so it’s important to try to make up for the hours of shuteye you are losing.
Naps help, as does establishing an early bedtime. It can be tempting to stay up and spend time with your spouse, read or do almost anything that does not involve feeding or changing a baby, but sleep has to be a top priority.
Before you climb into bed, make sure you’re not hungry and that your room is dark and quiet. Don’t be afraid that you won’t hear your baby: mothers tend to be attuned to their babies’ cries and will wake up when it’s time for them to be fed. If you’re worried, or if the nursery is far from your bedroom, keep a baby monitor nearby.
Take care of yourself during the day by getting some exercise and avoiding stimulants. This will translate to better sleep at night, which will make for a happier mom.
Another step to heading off postpartum complaints is to make sure you’re eating a healthy diet—emphasizing fruits, vegetables and lean protein, and avoiding processed foods, caffeine and alcohol. Because new moms are usually sleep deprived, their bodies tend to crave quick energy sources such as sugar and refined carbohydrates. While these foods might help you through a long night of feedings, they can set you up for a blood-sugar roller coaster the next day. Choose protein and healthy fats instead to keep your blood sugar and mood even.
When it comes to postpartum eating, it’s also good to remember that although nursing does increase energy requirements, it’s only by about 200 to 500 calories per day. Being mindful to only eat when you’re hungry will help you get back into your pre-pregnancy clothes sooner—a factor that often helps new moms feel more like themselves.
In addition to needing more calories, a mother’s body needs more nutrients in general after birth than it does during pregnancy. Newborn babies are built entirely from nutrients donated by their mothers. If these nutrients are not replenished, chances of postpartum symptoms greatly increase.
Start with a good-quality multivitamin, or continue taking your prenatal formula. Getting enough calcium is also important. During pregnancy, calcium is needed for the proper development of a baby’s bones, teeth, heart, nerves and muscles. If Mom didn’t obtain enough through diet, her own reserves may have been tapped to support her baby’s growth. The daily recommended amount of calcium both during and after pregnancy is 1,000 mg per day.
Magnesium works with calcium to maintain bone health; it also plays a part in nerve, muscle and blood-pressure health. Many experts recommend women post-childbirth get 350 mg to 500 mg daily.
The months immediately following the birth of a child can be hectic. It’s easy to neglect yourself while caring for a new baby, along with the rest of your family and your home. But taking great care of your body can make a huge difference in your health and mood, both early on and for years down the road. I know it did for me.