Image via @ashkowapizzi
I’ll admit it: I’m not a very good patient. I am, sadly, a product of the hustle and grind culture. Someone who feels the need to earn their rest and recovery through hard work and grit-filled days that end in blood, sweat and tears. When I was faced with an urgent C-section (one that didn’t have to be urgent, but that’s another story for another time), I found myself being forced to sit and heal and be a patient when I had no idea to relax. Of course, I tried to push myself, going for a walk around the mall (why?) less than two weeks after having major abdominal surgery, ending up sore and even more aggravated that I was back to square one. My birth story was one that ended in a lot of blood, sweat and tears—so why did I feel like I didn’t earn this rest period with my new baby? Why was I fighting the urge to sleep when she slept and just let my body recover the way it needed to? (Answer: I’m a terrible human being and the marketing of the thrill of the hustle worked a little too well on me.)
While physical wellness is something that was very important to me, that postpartum period (or the fourth trimester) is mostly a mental game. With postpartum depression always being a risk, doing what you can to keep your mental health is equally (if not more) important. After some internal battles and lots of conversations with fellow mom friends (it takes a village!), I finally figured it out. Whether you had a C-section or vaginal birth (because all births are natural), giving birth is HARD. Here are some tips to help you ease back into a wellness (both mental and physical) routine during that rollercoaster postpartum healing period.
THE MENTAL GAME
Pick one task or activity a day
A good friend gave me this tidbit of advice and it’s truly one of the best that I’ve received to date. The days can feel long when you’re on a constant rotation of feeding, changing diapers and trying to get your baby to sleep and it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling unproductive. Pick a non-baby task or activity for the day to get yourself out of the house or to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Maybe it’s walking to the coffee shop down the street, showering, making yourself a real lunch, meeting a friend for a chat or refiling your personal documents (this is a real thing that I did before I was ready to venture out on my own). It’ll give you something to look forward to and focus on while also making you feel productive. And, hey, if you didn’t get to it today, but you did manage to keep your kid alive for yet another day (go you!), then just put it on the schedule for tomorrow.
Give yourself permission
Permission to sleep, walk, rest, cry, laugh, breastfeed, don’t breastfeed, walk away from the crying baby for a few minutes, whatever else that may come up—give yourself permission to let it happen. A lot of people will tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps at the beginning, but maybe that’s the only time you get to yourself and you want to read a book. Or shower. Or eat. (Real talk: if I don’t eat and shower when my kid is snoozing, neither ever happen.) On the flip side, if showering isn’t something you’re super-concerned with that day, that’s cool too. Park yourself on the couch and cue up a show or movie and have yourself a little nap in between feedings. If breastfeeding is proving to be more work than it’s worth, give yourself permission to let it go. Want to keep pushing through? DO IT. The point is that whatever you feel like doing or not doing, give yourself permission to let it happen and to let those feelings change hour to hour, day to day if they need to. This is your postpartum wellness journey and you get to decide how it goes.
Drown out the noise
Similar to giving yourself permission to live your best postpartum life, you also don’t have to take anyone’s advice that doesn’t serve you. A lot of moms (new and otherwise) will bombard you with “you should” statements on how to raise your kid (though you likely got a taste of this when you were pregnant). You don’t have to take advice from anyone (including me, except for this particular tip because I swear it’s the best one). This is the single most liberating thing that you can do for your mental health. Sure, you’ll likely want to know if certain things are “normal” and what to do in certain situations, but you’ll also begin to understand your baby’s cues and how to care for them in your own way, despite anyone else’s well-meaning suggestions. Take what works for you and drown out the rest. With that being said, when it’s time for you to dole out the advice (because I swear that moment will come), ask the new mom if she’s comfortable with a suggestion or start with “This is what worked for me.” Framing it in a different way than “You should do it like this,” makes a whole world of difference when you already feel like you’re failing and are in uncharted territory.
THE PHYSICAL GAME
I’ll be honest; I kind of hate walking. Not because I’m lazy, but because it’s kind of boring. I have cultivated a very efficient commuter walk over the years and anything less than a power stride is agonizingly slow for me. However, when you’re just starting to feel mobile again, walking is your best friend. It gives you an opportunity to get out of the house and get some fresh air, while also bringing up your strength and mobility while getting a bit of exercise in the process. Plus, pushing a stroller on even the slightest incline is no joke, especially in a heat wave.
Try a mom + baby workout class
If you had a pretty regular fitness regimen prior to giving birth, this may feel like taking a step back (it certainly did for me), but it’s a really great way to ease yourself back into working out, while also allowing you to bring your baby with you (which is great when you want to work out during the day, but are perhaps flying solo until the evening when your partner comes home). These classes are generally designed with the postpartum period in mind, allowing for plenty of breaks to care for your baby and your body. This also gives you an opportunity to check in with your bod and see where your strength is at before diving back in fully (if that’s your thing—this is not a nudge to “bounce back” because *middle finger* to anything that suggests your body should look a certain way after growing a human for almost a year). Speaking from a C-section recovery standpoint, it can feel like things have been slightly rearranged for a bit.
Listen to your body
This one seems like a given, but it needs to be said. Listen to what your body is telling you. Did you wake up in pain after a few days of feeling great? Then chill today—or at the very least give yourself an extra episode or two of Netflix before getting out in the world. The opposite works the same: If you’re starting to feel physically strong enough to go for walks or do some light exercise (and your doctor has given you the all-clear), go for it. Even a little bit of movement will likely be good for your mood (especially if you’re experiencing the baby blues). If you’re feeling physically stronger, have given yourself some rest to heal and recover and your doctor doesn’t see any issue with it, go for it. You know your body best.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Ashley Kowalewski)