Parents of Newborns - Make Self Care a Priority
Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC
NOVEMBER 22, 2019
Remember when you were pregnant and reading up on what to expect once baby was here? Well-meaning folks were saying "Get sleep now." Remember gazing upon all those images in the OB's waiting room, and in the various pregnancy and parenting magazines… baby snuggled up with parents who look rested, blissed out, and (perhaps, most importantly) showered! So, now you are on the other side of things with a different perspective, really feeling the experience of how life has changed suddenly and dramatically since baby arrived.
Does it seem forever-ago that you could make plans and/or be spontaneous? That you could get to the gym or meet up with friends or read a book or enjoy time with your partner? That you could take time for yourself without feeling guilty? And now, you find yourself in the midst of new-parent chaos – sleep-deprived, trying to do everything you used to do, plus take care of a baby who is entirely dependent on you, and who lacks the preferred ability to communicate her/his needs.
Don't despair! There is hope – and opportunity to get creative – to mindfully craft a more balanced life. We can learn, or re-learn, how to find peace within the chaos, nurturing and supporting ourselves and our partners, as multi-faceted people, as new parents working hard to find our way along this new path. One of the most effective ways to put this into action is to start small, setting ourselves up for success – which helps us to feel more effective and motivated to keep trying.
Taking time to nurture yourself does not require (though could include) leaving your baby. You might or might not be ready to do that. And that's okay. I'm thinking (and remembering from my own experience) it's pretty likely that, sometime during the day, your baby sleeps for stretches that are longer than 5 minutes. True, some might sleep less than we'd like, and let's work with what we've got here in our "new normal."
Think about taking 5 minutes to do something that you WANT to do – not that feels like it SHOULD be done (i.e., laundry, dishes, thank-you notes, or trolling email or Facebook) – something that is likely to make you smile (outwardly or inwardly), that is likely to result in you feeling more connected to yourself. What can be done in 5 minutes? Perhaps a journal entry; reading a short article in a magazine; closing your eyes and breathing, focusing on the sensation of the breath passing over the insides of your nostrils; some gentle stretching; making a list of things you'd like to try in your new 5 minutes of "freedom." Remember that you're trying out something new, so things might not always go the way you'd hoped. Try to remember to breathe, press the "re-set button," and move forward, knowing that you will have another chance to practice taking 5 minutes. It might be that 5 minutes is just the ticket, or you might find that you're game for a longer stretch. Either way, taking time for you, however long or short, is an important way to recharge and keep perspective.