So, here we are, back in lockdown again. If you’re in Melbourne, new stage four restrictions have brought a whole new level of heaviness.
This week I was interviewed by Julie Tenner and Bridget Wood on their podcast Nourishing the Mother.
We discussed postpartum care under COVID-19 restrictions, and they asked me to share my tips for new mothers who are in the postpartum period at this time.
In a nutshell, here they are!
Please don’t take this as a ‘to-do’ list or put any more pressure on yourself to do more than you’re already doing. Here is simply a list of things that, from my experience working with new mums, might be helpful to get you through this challenging time.
1. Allow yourself time to grieve
Let yourself process all the big feelings that will undoubtedly be coming up for you; this is not the postpartum period you were planning. There will no doubt be many things you are grieving; baby bonding with grandparents, visits from friends and family (particularly those who give practical help and hugs), a baby shower, and mothers’ group meet-ups.
Feel the big feelings and move them through your body; you could have a big shake, watch a sad movie and cry, stamp your feet, punch some pillows, or debrief with friends.
2. Take one day at a time and focus on the things you can control
Looking into the future too much (particularly in current times) can be anxiety-provoking, so try to live in the present moment as much as possible. If you start to feel overwhelmed, think of one thing you can do to make the day as enjoyable as possible.
There is a lot that is out of our control now. As much as you can, try not to dwell on those things and instead focus on what you still have control over. For example, how present you are with your baby, how you respond to your baby, getting regular exercise, and eating healthily. Sometimes healthy eating can seem like hard work and another ‘should’ to add to the list. However, nourishing ourselves with good food and plenty of water, means we have more energy to get us through long days, and it is better for our mental health too, which is why I can’t stress the importance of the next point enough!
3. Get as prepared with meals as possible
Cook and freeze as many meals as possible during your pregnancy. My partner did most of ours – things such as curries, soups, and stews are all meals that will nourish a postpartum body.
Meal planning can take the stress out of trying to work out what to do for dinner each night.
Organise a meal train or have someone else arrange it for you. Friends can either drop meals off on your doorstep or, if they’re not local, can organise meals to be delivered from your local café. Alternatively, they could purchase or make up some meal kits like the ones available at the Source Bulkfoods to send.
Ask as many people as possible to cook for you if they haven’t already offered, and take the pressure of cooking off you and your partner for the first six weeks or so – this can make such a difference to your postpartum experience.
4. Reach out for emotional support if you need it.
Your mental health is important, and it’s better to get on top of things before you hit crisis point. If you’re struggling:
Free phone support is available from PANDA and Beyond Blue; their websites and the COPE website all have great resources about perinatal mental health.
Keep a list of friends and family members you feel you could call when at your most vulnerable. Knowing who to call in advance (and maybe having a conversation with them about them being on this list) can be helpful.
I provide online counselling sessions – FIND THE DETAILS HERE.
5. Stay connected with people who nourish your soul
Join online groups with like-minded women.
Facetime friends or have Zoom catch-ups.
6. Move your body and have some time outside every day
Do a few stretches, yoga, or go for a walk.
Moving your body; exercising outside, in particular, has fantastic benefits for both your physical and mental health. Try to get out for a walk each day, it will do wonders for your mind and body.
7. Rest whenever you can
If you’re exhausted and have the choice between napping and doing housework, wherever possible, take the time to close your eyes, even for 10-15 minutes. For some people, having a messy house contributes to overwhelm and poor mental health, so there needs to be a balance here when this is the case.
8. Drop the expectations of what you think you ‘should’ be doing
I have two words for this: whatever works! Try to ignore any advice you receive that doesn’t feel good for you and instead do whatever is going to get you through each day – with the least amount of stress and most joy as possible. The most important thing here is that you parent in the way that is right for you, your baby and your family. No-one else gets to be the expert on this.
9. Think about how you want to remember this time
Understandably, our minds will wander to the negative aspects of having a new baby at this time. However, it’s helpful to flip that mindset and focus on connecting with your baby by being present and making special memories with them. There are many ways to give your baby the sensory nourishment they need, even while spending the majority of time at home:
- Take them outside and show them the leaves of a tree.
- Bathe with your baby.
- Massage your baby.
- Give your baby a variety of materials to touch.
- Sing, talk, and read to your baby.
- Facetime with Grandparents and other family members; although not the same as in-person contact, it is still social interaction, and your baby will get to know their faces and voices.
Have you seen the gorgeous photo of the baby whose grandparents have read a story to him via Facetime each night for the first six months of life? The smile on his face shows his delight about this interaction and leaves no doubt that there is a close bond between them!
10. Ask yourself, ‘what do I need?’.
Maybe you need to:
- Call a friend.
- Listen to a podcast.
- Put your favourite music on and dance around the kitchen with your baby.
- Get outside.
- Go for a walk.
- Close your eyes and listen to a meditation while your baby feeds or sleeps on you.
- Watch a funny movie.
- Give yourself a hand or neck massage with yummy smelling hand cream or massage oil.
- Drink some water.
- Put the T.V. on for your older child(ren), so you can lie down with your baby.
Have some time alone – however that looks. It might just be a quick walk around the block before your partner starts work in the morning. For some, time each day when you don’t have a baby attached to you is crucial for a healthy mental state. For others, it won’t be as essential, and that’s fine too.
Finding ways to insert small pockets of self-care during the day can help to prevent a build-up of resentment and overwhelm. It’s as important to care for a new mother, as it is a new baby. Even during this challenging time of restrictions on social contact and practical help in the home, I hope this article has given some ideas of ways you can get through the long days with as much enjoyment as possible. It’s so tough, and it’s ok to rage and scream about that too.