By: Vivian J. Hazzard, RN, PHN

We have all heard the phrase: When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” This phrase adapted many times over from the country music song has multiple implications on motherhood. Is it mommy’s responsibility to make sure everyone is happy? Does mommy have to be happy in order for the family to be happy? Does mommy put on a “happy” face even when she is not so happy? 

Depending on your frame of reference, experience and expectations this phrase will resonant on an individual basis. There is one thing that is for sure; Mommy is not truly able to take care of anyone or contribute to their happiness if she is not taking care of herself.

There is no greater time when self-care is needed than during pregnancy and motherhood. This time in a woman’s life can be a very complex and hormonal process. The hormones during pregnancy and post-delivery fluctuate greatly and can cause imbalances. In addition to the hormonal changes there are emotional and life changes that occur. It is very common for mothers to be or new mothers to have feelings of sadness, anxiety, depression or inadequacy. These symptoms are often referred to as the “baby blues.” Most of these feelings and emotions are temporary and resolve on their own as the pregnancy progresses, the baby is born, hormones balance out and the mother begins to gain confidence and security in motherhood. There is no greater reward than that of a parent. It is also a very “high stake” job full of responsibilities, sacrifices and struggles. It is key to a mother’s existence that she finds ways to “self-care.” 

newborn baby

Six Ways to Maintain Good Physical and Mental Health as a New Mom

1. Balance in all Things

Maintain and balance responsibilities and expectations. Many new mothers feel like they have to look the part, whatever that is and do everything, which is impossible. Be realistic about what you can accomplish regarding household chores, baby care etc. Don’t overcommit to outside responsibilities and do set boundaries. Limit visitors and demands made upon your time to fit within your time frames. Learn to say no to the things you really don’t have time or interest in doing. You will feel less stressed and more at ease and balanced.

2. Ask for Help

There is no shame in accepting help or even asking for help. It does not make you a “better” mother or parent to feel like you have to do it all. Most family and friends want to be helpful and don’t know how. Make it easy for them; simply give family members and friends a chore to accomplish while they visit. Most people who love you want to know how to help you. In fact, make it fun and keep a basket with chores, assignments, errands written down. Take out the garbage, load the dishwasher, fold baby clothes etc. When family and friends come to visit they can just “pick a chore.” Don’t forget to include your partner in all of this too. They can help and may also need help in order to spend time with you and the baby. This type of reaching out makes you a smart and organized mother and your visitors feel useful, especially during the early days postpartum.

3. Healthy Habits 

Incorporate exercising, eating a balanced diet, sleeping and drinking plenty of non-sugar fluids as a part of your lifestyle. A diet rich in green leafy vegetables, lean proteins and adequate carbohydrates will fuel the body’s needs and provide adequate nutrition and nutrients for energy. Moderate intensity aerobic exercise at least 2.5 hours a week can help to release natural “feel good” hormones called endorphins, improves your cardiorespiratory fitness and decreases symptoms of postpartum depression. Many new mothers stress about returning to their pre-baby weight and this can add additional stress. Keep things simple. Keep healthy snacks readily available, eat regular meals, and sleep when the baby sleeps. It is also important to avoid using alcohol to manage stress, as this can result in alcohol dependency developing, or even alcohol addiction.

4. Designate Down Time

When our children were young, the household was in constant motion. Work responsibilities, family outings, church, swimming lessons, music lessons, boy scouts, you name it. One frantic weekend morning our eldest son who was about ten years old at the time proposed with his younger four year old brother in tow: “Can’t we just have a pajama day!” That was the beginning of our monthly family “PJ day.” We stayed in our pajamas one day a month and played games, read, talked, watched movies and just enjoyed each other’s company.

5. Connect with others

Sometimes the duties of motherhood can feel overwhelming and often isolating. Sharing stories and tips with other mothers can help to normalize your individual experiences. You will feel less alone and gain helpful insight from others points of view. Look for a parent support group in your community, check your local library, parent magazine and/or faith based groups for family friendly activities. You may also find co-op support and “play date” time to be a life saver.

6. Keep doing you.

Don’t forget you are an individual outside of being a mother. Make time to do the things you personally enjoy and that keep you balanced and healthy. Acting to preserve or improve one’s own health and well-being includes self-care. It is vital especially during times of stress. You may think there is no time for really taking care of you anymore. If you don’t make it a part of your routine, you will not be or have what you need to be the best mommy you can. For your own overall well-being keep up with routine medical appointments, chronic health conditions, make an appointment with the therapist. Don’t forget to take time for a bubble bath, jog, get back to work, build something, garden, get a massage, read a book, write a poem, paint, take a yoga class, sit and deep breathe.

What to do if the “Baby Blues” do not resolve:

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Intense feelings of sadness, anxiety or despair. become very severe, interfere with the ability to care for one’s self, baby and/or family and occur anytime during pregnancy through to the first year post delivery is considered a medical condition. These symptoms are no longer considered the “Baby Blues.” Physical and emotional symptoms that persist and worsen is called Postpartum Depression, Post Pregnancy Depression or Perinatal Depression and Anxiety. This condition is not something a mother can handle without consulting a healthcare professional. Signs and symptoms will normally surface between week 1-3 months post-delivery. One out of every five mothers may experience this condition. 

Here are some of the common symptoms to be aware:

  • Guilty and like they are failing at motherhood
  • Inability to sleep or sleeps most of the time
  • Flat emotions
  • Appetite problems
  • Avoids baby care
  • Excessive crying
  • Indecisive
  • Inability to concentrate or remember
  • Poor personal hygiene 
  • Unable to accomplish everyday tasks
  • Extremely sad or angry without warning
  • Wide range of emotions and mood swings
  • Concerned you may hurt your baby or yourself