Stress Management for New Moms: Learning to Relax

Nursing Mothers / Stress Relief Guide

On the typical stress scale of 1 to 100, having a new baby in the house ranks 40, above other stresses such as a mortgage foreclosure. Adapting to new situations always produces some anxiety.

Besides exercise and nutritious eating, adopting a strategy of stress management and stress relief that includes the use of relaxation techniques can lessen the effects of stress in your life and help you cope.

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Here's how to incorporate some effective stress relieving relaxation techniques into your daily life:

Before you go to sleep at night or at anytime, meditate. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to meditate without this guide. Here's how:

  • Find a quiet place and get into a comfortable position.
  • Breathe in your nose and out through your mouth. Expand your stomach and rib cage each time you breathe. Repeat for 20 seconds.
  • Become aware of the tension in your body and focus on the sound of your own breathing.

Picture the tension draining down and out of your body, from your head down your body slowly and out your toes. Continue to focus on your breathing.

  • Focus on the tension in each muscle group beginning with your feet and work your way up to your head. Tighten each muscle for 10 seconds and relax until you feel total muscle relaxation throughout your body. Continue to focus on your breathing. Afterwards, remain calm and relaxed.
  • On stressful days, find time to take a walk. If no one is around to watch the baby, take him or her with you. The motion may rock the baby to sleep and you'd get some exercise and fresh air.

Talking" positively to yourself can also help to alleviate stress. Thoughts we have are referred to as inner dialogue. What you "say" to yourself can affect you in much the same way as statements made by others. And your inner dialogue can influence your behavior. Self­statements like "I will never reclaim my pre-pregnancy figure" or "the baby was crying all day, I needed those chips" can trigger you to behave in ways that are not supportive to your weight loss efforts or emotional health. Try the following three steps:

  • Over the next two weeks, listen to what you say to yourself and note the negative inner dialogue. For example, "I gained so much weight during my pregnancy."
  • When you have a negative dialogue, think of a positive alternative response. Using the example above, "I am proud of my weight loss efforts and know I will achieve my goal weight."
  • Practice your new self-statements in real-life. Once you "hear" a negative statement, counter it with a positive one and repeat. Remember, you don't always choose the stresses in your life, but you can choose the way you respond to those stressors. Choose to be relaxed and in control.

Additional Quick Tips

A. The Importance of Sleep

A common myth is that new mothers can nap when the baby sleeps. That looks good on paper, but in reality, you probably use that time to get chores done. Getting adequate sleep is important to your recovery from childbirth and for your physical and emotional health. When you are tired, minor frustrations are magnified and your ability to cope is diminished. Here are a few tips for getting the rest you need:

  • Plan to sleep. Establish a regular bedtime. If you're still getting up during the night to feed your baby, plan to sleep sometime during the day. If your baby takes two naps, do your chores during the first one and nap during the second.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can help you get to sleep faster and sleep more restfully. But avoid exercise within 2 hours of your bedtime.

B. Managing Your Time

As a new mother, you'll find that managing your time will free you for activities you enjoy. Get a planning calendar. Form the habit of looking at your calendar for the coming week every Sunday evening. Note important appointments, but remember to write in the days you'II exercise and do things for yourself.

Planning is important, but be flexible. If you plan to do the laundry and a friend invites you to lunch, reschedule your date with the laundry. Learn to set priorities so you'll have time for fun, because taking time for yourself an important! You're worth it, and your baby will benefit by having a relaxed and rejuvenated mother.

C. Remember, You Are Not Alone

Did you ever want to scream when your baby has awakened you three times for the fourth night in a row? Do you wonder whether you are the only person in the world who felt that way? New mothers, who stay at home with their babies day after day, sometimes do. And new mothers who return to work may feel isolated from co­ workers who've forgotten what it's like to have a new baby.

If this sounds like you, try joining a new mother’s support group. Many women find comfort in sharing difficult experiences and frustrations. And talking with women in similar situations may help you find solutions to common problems. You may be able to locate one through a school, church, hospital or community center or visit www.motherscenter.org or www.momsclub.org. If you prefer something less formal, look around your neighborhood. Parks and playgrounds are great places to meet other new mothers. Call a few women from your childbirth class and suggest meeting with your children for a play date. Consider starting or joining a baby sitting co-op so that you and the other mothers can take turns watching each other's children. Also consider joining a fitness club or sports organization that offers baby sitting. Chances are you'll meet other new mothers there.

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This program and any of its materials do not constitute medical advice or substitute for medical treatment.