You know when you’re on a flight and the attendants instruct you that in an emergency you must place your own oxygen mask on before your child’s? Well, looking after your mental health as a parent is the same thing. Although it may seem unnatural when our little ones are our main priorities, it’s so important that you sometimes put yourself first so that you’re the best version of yourself for your baby.
As a mum, I’ve struggled with postpartum depression and birth trauma, which made it even more challenging but all the more important that I made time for myself. In case you’re struggling too, here are five things that I am currently doing to support my mental health.
1. Starting therapy
One of the most important things in overcoming a traumatic event is talking about it. Bottling up emotions can often just make things worse and even have a physical impact on your body.
Receiving therapy, particularly with a therapist who specialises in postnatal care, has given me a chance to talk though my anxieties and fears, and is teaching me coping skills to use in my everyday life as a new mum.
2. Having a birth debrief
If you’ve had a particularly difficult birth experience, attending a birth debrief (if your hospital offers it) could be very helpful. Mine took place in a different hospital to the one I gave birth in. In the debrief, a professional midwife advocate went through all my birth notes with me.
Whilst it was incredibly emotional and difficult to relive the events through these notes, it was extremely validating to hear that the labour was difficult, that I wasn’t being a drama queen, and that it wasn’t my fault. It was also an opportunity to ask any questions about why things happened the way they did and what options I have next time.
3. Making sacrifices
You can do anything, but not everything. I was so exhausted - mentally and physically - from my long traumatic labour, my emergency C-section, and a womb infection that made me very sick. Add a newborn baby that refuses to latch to that, and you’ve got yourself a very stressed mum.
My plan was to breastfeed, but with everything that was going on I just didn’t have the capacity to keep trying, and so I sacrificed this to give myself space to heal. Your sacrifices or changes might be a lot smaller or a lot bigger than this - from arranging for someone to give the baby their bottle so that you can have a nap to changing your birth plan.
4. Getting outside
It can feel very isolating being within the same four walls of your home when every minute is dedicated to your baby's schedule. Although it was challenging going out solo with a newborn, I tried to get outside at least once a day in the first weeks of his life. In fact, some of my baby’s best naps were in the pram, which gave me the mental break I needed to appreciate my surroundings. Getting outside for even 10 minutes a day improves your mood and concentration, and reduces stress.
5. Having a strong support system
And finally, and I think most crucially, having a strong support system will help you do everything we’ve talked about. Being a parent is a big responsibility and you don’t have to do it alone, all the time.
If you can’t access therapy then perhaps try being as vulnerable as you can with someone you trust about how you’re feeling, or ask someone else to feed the baby so you can go for a walk child-free.
We need to thrive as mothers, not just survive. With positive, caring people around us, we can flourish and be not only the best parent, but the best version of ourselves we can be.