Stress Management Techniques for New Moms
Learning to Relax: A Few Tips to Help You Cope
We do not claim to have all the answers, but we hope you’ll find a few methods which will make your shared adventure more enjoyable for you and your new baby.
Many healthcare professionals define stress as physiological and emotional adjustment to change. Symptoms of stress include increased heart rate, quickened breathing, elevated blood pressure and tense muscles. Minor changes in your life can cause moderate levels of stress. Major life changes tend to lead to high levels of stress.
Few life changes are as big as caring for a baby; particularly your first baby.
Throughout your pregnancy you probably had moments when you daydreamed about the joy of cuddling your sweet smelling, freshly bathed babe while she or he giggled and you smiled warmly. Then, soon after admiring family members and friends return to their regular routines, you find yourself alone with your beautiful but abundantly needy offspring.
It is at this moment that even the most confident woman wonders whether she is up to the tasks of caring, feeding, cleaning, protecting, entertaining, educating and providing a loving, nurturing environment for this tiny, helpless but rather noisy gunk producing human being.
OK, before going any further, take a deep breath.
Incorporate a few daily stress management techniques into your life
The baby’s stroller is your friend. Weather permitting, an outdoor walk with your baby in the stroller can work wonders for your mood. Babies tend to enjoy the stimulation of new sights and sounds. You’ll certainly enjoy the exercise and fresh air. Sometimes, you’ll even get the pleasant surprise of realizing your baby has drifted off to sleep while you’ve been strolling.
Whether your baby is awake or asleep, take some time to talk positively to yourself. It is all too easy during this complex and sometimes confusing time to have negative thoughts. This negative inner dialogue can easily lead to a downward mental spiral which can trigger unhealthy behavior. If you spend too much time muttering about how you’ll never get your figure back or how the baby has been crying all day, you’ll soon be seeking your favorite comfort foods and unhealthy snacks.
Over the next two weeks or so, monitor these negative thoughts and start to counter them with positive ones. For instance, if you start thinking about how much weight you gained during your pregnancy, start focusing on your new weight loss and exercise program. Tell yourself that you are proud of your efforts and know that you will achieve your goal.
Practice this routine any time you have a few moments to yourself. Especially useful before going to sleep, with practice you will be able to achieve total muscle relaxation throughout your body.
- Get into a comfortable position.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose. Deepen your breath so that you expand your stomach and rib cage each time you breathe. Repeat deep breathing for 20 seconds.
- Close your eyes and become aware of the tension with your body
- As you focus on the sound of your own breathing, imagine your tension draining down your body from your head all the way down to your toes. Picture it leaving your body through your toes. Continue focusing on your breathing; in and out.
- While staying aware of your in and out breathing, begin working your muscle groups. Start with your feet. Tighten your foot muscles for 10 seconds and relax. Now, do the same thing with your ankles. Continue working your way up your body, tightening and relaxing each group of muscles. When you finish tightening and relaxing your neck muscles. Smile and hold the smile for 10 seconds. Repeat the smile exercise several times while continuing to focus on your breathing.
You might not be able to choose your sources of stress but you can choose the way you respond. Make the choice to be relaxed and in control. You’ll soon feel a big difference in your confidence and your stress level.
Additional Quick Tips
Sleeping is Vital
When you were younger, you used to joke about beauty sleep. After you’ve been a mother for a few weeks, beauty sleep and the beauty of sleep is no joke. Well-meaning friends and family members might tell you that you can nap when your baby naps. Although this advice sounds good, it rarely works out well in the real world. You’ll soon find yourself using that precious time to get chores done.
While we don’t want you to neglect your necessary chores, we have to stress the importance of sleep. Getting a decent amount of sleep is vital to your recovery from childbirth and your physical and emotional health. Exhaustion turns minor frustrations into major ones and reduces your ability to cope with the numerous tasks you have to face on a daily basis.
A few tips to help you get the rest you need:
- Planning is important. Choose a regular bedtime and stick to it. If you find yourself having to get up frequently during the night for feedings, plan a sleeping time during the day. For instance, if your baby takes two naps, perform your chores during the first nap and catch some sleep during the second nap session.
- Exercise! A regular exercise routine* can help you get to sleep quicker and get better sleep during the limited time you have available. For best results, avoid exercising within 2 hours of your planned bedtime. *Make sure to check with your doctor, before starting to exercise after childbirth.
- Whenever possible, sleep in your bed. Couches, love seats and day beds are fine for the occasional nap but you’ll generally sleep more soundly in your own bed.
- Make nighttime feedings quicker with preparation. Having a feeding bottle set up before you go to bed can significantly reduce the amount of time you have to be up.
- Rather than taking turns during the night, set up an alternate night schedule. That way, one of you gets a reasonable amount of sleep every other night. This certainly better than both you dealing with night after night of broken sleep and fuzzy, frustrating arguments in the middle of the night as you try to agree on who got up last time.
Time Management Matters
Time management is the best way to reclaim vital minutes for enjoyable activities. Get in the habit of keeping a planning calendar. Each Sunday, review your entries. Take note of your important appointments but also make sure to plan out your exercise days and moments to do things for yourself.
While planning is important, a little flexibility can go a long way in making your plan work to your advantage. If your calendar tells you that you are supposed to do laundry at noon on Tuesday and an old friend calls Tuesday morning to invite you out to lunch, reschedule the laundry! This is not selfish, it is practical. Setting your priorities so you’ll have some time for fun will help you feel more relaxed and mentally refreshed. Your baby will feel better when you feel better.
Managing your time will also help you gain control over the multiple tasks you have to manage during the day. Just knowing what you’re doing next can often help reduce the chaos of a day full of “little surprises.”
You Are Not an Island
OK, it is now the fourth night in a row that your baby has woke up screaming three or more times. You are bone tired, frustrated and every nerve in your body is screaming. So, do you think you are the first mother in the world to feel this way? New mothers, particularly those who stay home with their babies day after day, often do.
On the other hand, new mothers who return to work often feel misunderstood by co-workers who have forgotten what it is like to have a new baby in the house.
Coping with either of these situations is easier in the company of other women going through the same thing at the same time. This is why joining a new mother’s support group can be so helpful. Interacting with women coping with similar situations can lead to finding common solutions and, certainly, common comfort.
Schools, churches, hospitals and community centers are all great places to begin searching for a local new mother’s support group. As an alternative option, a visit to www.motherscenter.org or www.momsclub.org may help you find the support you seek.
Those looking for a less formal setting may discover support in their own neighborhood by visiting parks and playgrounds to meet other new mothers. Other options to meet with new mothers include joining a fitness club that offers babysitting, contacting women from your childbirth class or joining a babysitting co-op.
The key thing to remember when you are feeling alone and overwhelmed is that you are not the only new mother feeling this way. Sharing the experience can go a long way to reducing your frustration and increasing your personal happiness and the happiness and well-being of your baby.