Caring for a newborn is a rewarding job, but also an exhausting one. While new mothers are understandably focused on caring for their babies, they shouldn’t overlook their physical and mental health. They need to practice self-care.
“Motherhood is an amazing and precious gift,” says Stacy Long, a behavioral health case manager for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “But it is also a stressful time. And if you ignore the stress, you may be putting yourself at risk.”
Here’s what new mothers need to know about self-care and how to practice it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Stacy Long: Mental health concerns are a very real threat to the health and well-being of new mothers. According to a 2022 report from the Tennessee Department of Health, mental health contributed to 27% of all pregnancy-related deaths in Tennessee.
Self-care is extremely important for new mothers and mothers-to-be. And sometimes that self-care requires help from others. For example, it’s always best for a new mother to have a strong support system, with people able and willing to lend a helping hand with household chores, grocery shopping, running errands, fixing meals, and helping with older children. This help can take some of the pressure off the new mom.
So if you’re the new mom, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for and to accept help. And if you have a friend or family member who’s expecting a baby or recently welcomed a new addition to the family, offer to pitch in when you can.
Signs to watch out for
Stacy Long: It’s normal to feel sad for a few days. That’s why you always hear about the “baby blues.”
But when the bad feelings linger, it could be a sign of something more serious, like depression. In new mothers, this is called post-partum depression, but depression can strike later on, too. If you can be mindful of the symptoms and the risk factors, that can help you identify the signs and get help.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Having persistent feelings of sadness or emptiness
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Irritability or restlessness or feelings of being on edge
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Changes in your sleep habits, such as trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much
- Changes in your appetite, including loss of appetite or overeating.
- Suicidal thoughts
You should also watch out for other, related signs of struggling, which may include:
- Constant worry over your baby or constant worry about how you’re handling being a mother
- Inability to make decisions
- Feelings that there’s “no way out”
- A loss of self-esteem
- Little interest in caring for your baby or children
If you notice that you’re experiencing any of these signs, speak up. There is help available to you.
How to make self-care work for you
Stacy Long: Unfortunately, for many women, time, energy, and money are barriers to self-care. They may not have family members or neighbors to help.
Here are few ways that new mothers can prioritize their own health and well-being:
- Try to prepare in advance. Of course, as any veteran parent will tell you, you can only prepare so much. But if you do what you can to prepare, it may help you later on.
- Give yourself some grace. Parenting is hard work, especially if you’ve never done it before. Don’t expect too much of yourself. Give your body some time to heal and give yourself some time to adjust to your new role.
- Let the unimportant things go. Prioritize what you absolutely have to do, and then put the other things on the back burner. You can always come back to them later. Or you might not even need to.
- Step outside. Spending some time outdoors every day is proven mental health booster. It helps improve your memory and your mood. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it, either. Take a long walk or spread out a blanket and sit down and watch the clouds go by.
- Consider your social media use. Sometimes, spending time on social media is helpful. It can provide a lifeline to the outside world and make you feel more connected and less isolated. It can also make you feel worse about yourself if you tend to compare yourself to others and come up lacking. You might want to cut back on your scrolling if you’re feeling low.
- Talk to your doctor. Don’t skip your postpartum appointment, since this is a great time to check in with your doctor and talk about any concerns you have. Also, if you start to notice any warning signs of depression, let your doctor know. There may be some treatment options that can help you feel better.
“Overall, getting into a routine can help you feel more comfortable in your new role,” Stacy says. “Give yourself a chance to relax when you can, because it will help you be your best for your new baby—and for yourself.”
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.