All parents-to-be hear the horror stories of the “4th trimester” (or the “newborn phase”-those first 3 months of your new baby’s life): no sleep, the physical (and psychological) recovery from childbirth, the never-ending struggle to do anything while also keeping this tiny and helpless human alive, fed, and relatively content. We also hear the unending stream of advice—particularly when we’re told to take care of ourselves and “sleep when the baby sleeps.”
I don’t know about you, but if I had slept whenever the baby slept in those early days I would never have eaten, showered, or even gone to the bathroom. Self care is so so important and it is never more true in the 4th trimester. It’s also never more difficult to do. No matter how much you try to prepare and have everything you need to make things easier (and even if you have the best village in the world)—it is impossible to prepare yourself for the postpartum phase. You will be in pain and dealing with bleeding, soreness, and probably healing stitches. Going to the bathroom will be a newly complicated (and daunting) chore and that’s before you factor in the reality that you have a tiny newborn who probably just wants to be held and/or fed 100% of the time. As ridiculous as it is: brushing your teeth, eating, and OH MY GOODNESS showering seem like huge productions and beautiful dreams.
So, even though I know from experience prioritizing self care in the newborn phase can feel impossible, I strongly urge you to find the time to do these basic and very important things:
- Drink plenty of water!
- Eat at least one good meal while sitting and (relatively) unhurried a day.
- Take a hot shower or bath at least a few times a week.
- Find enjoyment and laughter and anything that brings you an extra piece of joy-watch a funny show, do a little online shopping, run a quick solo errand (or even better-get a mani!), or joke around with a friend (or laugh at your partner when they’re on the receiving end of a particularly well timed projectile spit up.)
- Check in with yourself and find some kind of grounding or mindfulness every day (through meditation, prayer, yoga, breathing, or something like reading or writing even.)
- Find some way to move your body, even for a short time, every day. This can mean going on a walk, doing some light stretching, a low impact work out, or even just going up and down the stairs or dancing around with your baby.
- Connect with your partner in some way not baby related, every day. Maybe you watch a show together after the baby’s in bed for the night or even a quick kiss or hug or text to show that they’re on your mind and still a priority.
- Make. Time. To. Sleep. Chances to sleep as a new parent can be fleeting so even if it means that some laundry doesn’t get done, emails don’t get answered right away, or you order take out instead of cook: take the time to get some sleep when you can.
- Most importantly: be kind to yourself. Self care is something that should come out of love and advocacy for yourself-not guilt. If all you managed to do today was keep yourself and your baby alive-you’re a great mama! Give yourself some grace and try again tomorrow.
And though it is true there is no way to be fully ready for how difficult the postpartum phase is, there is also no way to be fully prepared for how incredibly full your heart will feel or how full of joy and complete you will be. There is nothing like that kind of love and it makes everything so very worth it. This period is fleeting and one day you’ll be able to leisurely eat breakfast, sip your coffee, and maybe even read something while your little one plays nearby and you’ll think back on the days when they needed you so completely….and you’ll miss them a little. And you’ll be grateful that you got to have that time where you were their everything, because they’ll always be yours.