When I gave birth to my first baby five years ago, I was struck by how often people told me to sleep when the baby sleeps. Midwives and nurses told me before I left the hospital. Friends and family told me when they came over to coo at the baby. Basically, the only people who didn’t tell me were friends who had recently had babies themselves and realized that oft-repeated advice doesn’t really help.
Yes, sometimes I conked out when the baby did. But often I found it impossible to just fall asleep at a random time in the afternoon, no matter how exhausted I was. Sometimes I wanted a shower. Sometimes I was high on that weird postpartum buzz and just wanted to stare at my baby. Often he would not let me put him down.
The advice was even less helpful after I had my second baby. Sleep when he sleeps? Ah yes, let me just make that case to my clingy 3-year-old who was desperate for mama time.
So how can you take care of yourself when you’re deep in the fourth trimester? Here are five simple tips to try.
And drink! If you’re breastfeeding, your body burns an extra 300 and 500 calories a day. But whether you’re nursing your baby or not doesn’t matter, really. You just made a human being with your body and then brought that human being into the world. So treat your body well by loading up on nutrient-dense foods and maybe even (gasp!) sitting down for a full meal once a day.
It doesn’t need to be anything complicated or time-consuming. Scramble an egg, eat some blueberries, or pour yourself a bowl of whole wheat cereal (this list has some other good options). You won’t get enough sleep when you have a newborn, but you can make sure you’re getting enough to eat and staying hydrated.
2. Move your body however feels good to you.
Your health care provider will tell you when you have the green light to do any kind of vigorous workout again, probably at least six weeks after you give birth. That’s because the first few weeks and months postpartum really are for taking it easy. Having a baby increases your risk of everything from diastasis recti to pelvic organ prolapse, and it’s important to give your body time to heal.
That said, any kind of movement has proven mental health benefits. It’s one way to start reclaiming a feeling of ownership over your body now that you no longer have a roommate. Consider a slow daily walk — bonus points if you can do it outdoors, taking in some deep breaths of fresh air. Or set aside 10 minutes a day for focused yoga or stretching. If it doesn’t feel good, stop.
3. Consider a mantra.
Even the best babies are babies: demanding, helpless and crappy communicators, especially until you get the hang of their particular rhythms and cues. You will have dark moments. You will feel exhausted and overwhelmed and alone.
Having a simple mantra can help, whether it’s a classic like “This too shall pass” or something simple and reassuring like “I will get through this” or “I can handle this.” A go-to phrase is an easy tool to turn to and can be a lifeline in the harder moments.
4. Splurge on comfort and entertainment.
Given that the United States still doesn’t require paid parental leave (for shame), there’s a good chance you’re on an especially tight budget. But if you have any wiggle room, give yourself permission to spend a bit more than you typically might on making your home as cozy as it can be.
Do you have a rocking chair or glider that is super comfortable for the many hours you will spend there? Is now the time to pay for cable so that you can watch reality TV when you’re up with a fussing baby?
5. Take control of the visitor schedule.
This one can be a bit trickier, but empowering yourself to advocate for what you need when it comes to visitors can feel like a defiant, almost rebellious act of postpartum self-care. If there are people you don’t want coming over just yet or so often, tell them. If you don’t want long visits, don’t feel embarrassed for even one second about telling people ahead of time (or in the moment) when it’s time to leave. Conversely, if you are feeling lonely and really want friends or family to come over and say hi and help out, tell them.
Too often, new moms add to their physical and emotional burden by worrying about being good polite hosts. Your only job right now is to take care of your baby and to take care of you.