Those of you who are frequent flyers to my blog will notice that my more recent posts have focused on managing my mental health both during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as during pregnancy. But now, I’m turning my attention to the post-natal period. Whilst I write many of my posts with the aim of helping others, by sharing thoughts and coping mechanisms. They’re not altogether 100% altruistic. The posts support my need to check in with my mental health. Which has been more important than ever in a time period defined by two challenges which had the power to knock me sideways.
When considering starting a family, my mental health history was forefront on my mind. I knew they increased my risk for pre or post-natal mental health problems. Thus, deciding to get pregnant had to be an informed choice. And so, I gave due consideration to timing and the support network I would require. But I couldn’t have foreseen a pandemic, let alone during my pregnancy. Consequently, I was forced to adjust my approach and increase my vigilance to keep myself well.
And now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that the thoughts and ideas I shared in those posts got me through. They supported my mental health and I was able to manage my own care. But as I headed into postpartum territory I knew I had to create a plan of robust coping mechanisms. Including reaching out for help. No-one was going to read my mind or know how I was feeling.
Read more about advocating for your prenatal mental health here.
Read more about 4 ways to check in with your mental health here.
Post-Natal Mental Health Lessons
With my prenatal journey behind me, I began navigating the journey of a new parent. And once again, I’ve been unable to let my attention wane for one second. I’ve needed to keep an eye on my post-natal mental health alongside the challenges of caring for a child that requires 100% of that attention too. It was and continues to be too easy to put myself second; something I’ve been guilty of my whole life.
But if there was ever a time to do it, with my newborn in my arms, this would be it. But to do so would be remiss of me. To put myself second would be to compromise my child’s care. We will both be better off if I look after myself in the same way I look after them. They need me to be healthy and resilient in the same way they need to be fed or bathed. And so, I’ve collected a few of my learnings so far to look after one’s post-natal mental health.
#1 Ask/Accept Help
If there’s one thing you do as a new parent; whether mother or father, whether directly related to the child or not. Please, please, please ask and accept help where you find it. As previously mentioned, I’m a massive hypocrite when it comes to telling people to ask for help. I’ve always felt the need to get through things alone and seen it as some perverse sign of success.
But this won’t work post-natal. I can’t bounce from one situation to the next; exhausting myself in the process. Because there will never be that time to recoup or recharge. I’ll drain my resources with no time to replenish and then what do I have to give to my child? So, whether it’s a family member, a friend, a neighbour, volunteer or a health care professional. If you need any form of help. Ask for it. Accept it. And know you won’t regret it. Because you’ll be putting your child first and that is truly the mark of a parent.
Having said this, I recognize that this isn’t so straightforward in the midst of a pandemic. I have, at times, become angry or frustrated when reading parenting books or websites which suggest best practice for parents. Which haven’t been available to me due to Covid-19. So yes, accept help and 100% ask for it. But we may have to take a nuanced approach. I’ve had to rely on my partner – the only person in my support bubble – more than I imagined. And I have felt guilty of it as if it’s a favour to request he looks after his child too. So, think broadly. Ask whoever you need to and make it work for you.
#2 Get Outside
I fully acknowledged the true importance of getting outside for some fresh air during Covid-19. Like most things in life, I only really wanted it when I couldn’t have it anymore. Stuck at home all day, working and relaxing in the same space, I needed an out. Even when the park didn’t feel exciting anymore, a simple walk could help me reset. It was an escape from the four walls of my home. An opportunity to clear my mind and break up my day with something different. I began to rely on those short walks to breathe some life back into myself.
My need for this in the postpartum period has been no different. Whether I take the baby with me or rely on someone’s kind offer to give me a break; I need that escape outside. I know the benefits of Vitamin D for ones mood– particularly in the winter months – and the impact being outside can have on our stress levels; it lowers our cortisol level. But when I’m outdoors I feel it. No matter the weather or the energy I used to drag myself off my sofa and away from the comfort of my home. The wind and air blow away those cobwebs and help me continue my day afresh.
It’s infinitely worth it even for 5 minutes, standing on your doorstep or if need be hanging your head (safely!) out of a window. I had to do this multiple times after my c-section and the inability to climb the stairs to leave my house. But as I’ve recovered a daily walk is a must – not only because it helps get my child to sleep! It gives me some exercise which I’ve found impossible to do since a newborn has filled my schedule. And going for a walk with a friend and or family member is one of the only opportunities to socialize I get!
Read more about 4 ways to reset yourself in 5 minutes here.
Breathing has been a staple of my self-care routine for years. And it’s been key to my post-natal routine. Deep belly breathing has a soothing impact and can also be a helpful distraction technique. It’s why it’s a core part of hypnobirthing and stress management. When our bodies are stressed it triggers our fight, flight or freeze mechanism; an alarm system which detects threats to our environment. This mechanism triggers a range of reactions to optimize our bodily response to threat.
When the threat passes our body enters a ‘rest and digest‘ phase. This returns increased bodily functions such as blood flow or adrenaline to normal. And re-introduces the bodily functions which had been minimized. When stress is long term, we may need to help kickstart this rest and digest ability. One way to do this is through deep breathing; allowing lungs to contract. This signals to our body that we’re not in any danger and can relax. This is why deep breathing is such a powerful tool. It overrides our stress response and helps us find calm. Additionally, I find counting often involved in deep breathing can be a helpful distraction. So, next time you need a minute to yourself or your baby is screaming or you’re tired. Take a quick moment to breathe deeply and see what it can do for you.
Read more about finding a mindful moment here.
Read more about understanding your stress response here.
#4 Be Honest (with your feelings)
The importance of being honest about your feelings during pregnancy can’t be overstated. I wrote a whole post on why it was a key tool in looking after my mental health. It was true then, and it’s true now. In essence, I needed to be honest with those around me about what it might look like if I neglected my mental health. If they had concerns, how they could start the conversations with me. And what kinds of support I’m likely to be receptive too.
This is a key part of enabling you to do number 1 – asking and accepting help. Particularly if, like me, you do struggle to do this. Knowing that someone else was looking out for my mental health. And that I didn’t have to manage it alone was hugely helpful. When or if you have a spare moment, it might be worth thinking about who you might need or want to be honest with. You may wish to share something similar to myself. Or perhaps having a child wasn’t quite how you expected or you’re still experiencing troubling emotions surrounding your labour.
There are multiple emotions or thoughts we can experience in the post-natal period. And, let’s be honest, some of them don’t quite fit with the perfect picture of motherhood we are sold. But finding someone to tell, who can listen and validate our feelings can be a massive step in helping process these thoughts and feelings and find our own feet. For myself, chatting with my partner and sister. As well as friends who are at a similar postpartum stage has been imperative to help me feel ‘normal’ and manage fears of being a bad mother or guilt that I’m not doing enough.
#5 Do One Thing for Yourself
I know this may sound like an impossibility. Having a newborn, no matter how much help you ask for or accept, doesn’t lend itself well to ‘me time’. So, I’m not going to set an expectation or add pressure by suggesting that this needs to be a daily activity or for a certain amount of time. Instead it’s about squeezing something in, however short or small, that is just for you. When you can. If you can. Again, I say this with the knowledge that some days I just managed to brush my teeth or wash my face!
Because if motherhood has taught me one lesson it’s the need to be selfish. And, I know, this may sound strange. But by doing one small thing for myself, I look after myself. I maximise my potential, my energy and my ability to be the best mother I can for my baby. It’s not enough to simply wash, feed and change our baby. They need our love, care and attention. And I can provide this best when I’m feeling some semblance of myself.
So, I’ve been trying quick ‘me moments’ that I can squeeze into my day. They’re best done when we do have a real moment to ourselves. But if needed, some can be fit in whilst you’re doing other things. For example, one of my favourite techniques is breathing (as per the point above) and my personal favourite is 7/11 breathing. Simply breathing in for a count of 7 and out for 11. This can be done whilst changing your baby or cuddling them. Rocking them or taking them for a walk. As per point number 2 getting outside can be great for both of you.
Other options include indulging in a hot or cold drink; perhaps a favourite? I’ve started treating myself to buttermint tea for warmth and comfort. Or using those luxury bath products you never use. Usually I’d save them for a long soak. But that’s not an option. So I inject a bit of luxury into my quick shower or soak.
Sometimes I’ll find a favourite piece of music and listen to it with baby or by myself. Even if it is just the one song to pick up my mood. Or listening to a quick comedy clip to put a smile on my face or make me laugh. Perhaps doing this whilst feeding or making dinner. And even on the busiest days I have my favourite soothing hand cream by my bed. Even exhausted and rushed off my feet I give myself one minute to rub it in and enjoy the smell before I head off to sleep.
What are your experiences with quick and easy mental health tips? Whether specifically post natal or not, what do you do when you’re low on time? Let us know below!