Yes, you read that correctly.
Throughout pregnancy, we dedicate a huge amount of time preparing for the arrival of baby, getting the necessary gear and obsessing over strategies for feeding and sleeping.
All of this is important. But it leaves out one very important factor: the mom. What about your life and your needs post-delivery?
As nurses who work with pregnant and new moms on a daily basis – and as moms ourselves – we are firm believers that in order to take the best care of your baby, you must first take care of yourself.
Self care for new moms: Using the NAPS System
In an effort to demystify the notion that moms have to put ourselves second, third or even further down the line of needs, we have created tips for taking care of yourself FIRST. That way, you can be your best self for your baby, your partner, and most importantly, for you.
This list is as easy to remember as our name, Boston NAPS. Our four self-care strategies are inspired by the acronym NAPS:
- N is for Nutrition
- A is for Alone Time
- P is for People
- S is for Sleep
N is for NUTRITION
Plan ahead for maintaining good nutrition for yourself once your baby is here. In this postpartum period, it’s easy to eat three square meals a day – especially if someone drops off a meal or frozen dinner – but the big enemy is snacking.
We tend to go hours without eating, and then reach for the easiest snack option, which tends to be something high in carbs and sugar and low in other essential nutrients like protein and healthy fats. These types of snacks can cause a spike in blood sugar levels followed by a drop, which in turn can lead to mood swings (and really, who needs to deal with mood swings in your already fragile hormonal state?)
If you’re breastfeeding, you need good nutrition for your milk. And since milk production increases your metabolism, you are likely to feel hungry often. Plan ahead for healthy grab-and-go snacks in between meals, such as:
- Granola bars
- Fresh fruits
- Vegetables cut up and ready to eat
You may also consider outsourcing food prep or delivery to a family member, friend or company that will do the grocery shopping for you and deliver it your home.
A is for ALONE TIME
Yes, you need to start planning now for ways to give yourself some alone time once your baby is here. Alone time does need mean taking time for basic human needs, like eating, showering, sleeping, changing your clothes or going to the bathroom.
Alone time means doing something for yourself that makes you feel like you again, the you before you had a baby. A nice mental checkout can be very impactful for your mental and physical health, improve your patience with your baby and benefit your relationship with your partner.
This time alone does not have to be profound. Suggestions include:
- Going for a walk
- Getting your hair or nails done
- Booking a massage
- Going upstairs alone in your room to listen to music or a podcast
- Reading a book
Whether you take 20 minutes once a day or an hour, you MUST make this alone time a priority from Day 1.
P is for PEOPLE
It's time to figure out who your ‘people’ are. What do we mean by that? If you’re pregnant, we’re sure you’ve received a lot of advice from relatives, friends, healthcare professionals or even strangers, often unsolicited.
Rather than feel overwhelmed by all of this often-conflicting advice, determine now who your go-to people will be. Your ‘people’ should be individuals who:
- You will want to turn to for advice
- You are willing to accept advice from (unsolicited or not)
- Whose advice you value and appreciate
We recommend you sit with your partner and make a list of these people. For example, our list includes each other (Emily and Jamie), our pediatrician, a sister (not a mom), and a friend with a baby whose parenting style we like.
Once you make your list, you can consciously decide to ignore advice from anyone not on it.
S is for SLEEP
Make a plan for sleep now. This means talking with your partner about how to tag team your nights, so you each get some rest. It may also involve asking for help from a family member or professional service.
Some strategies for surviving nighttime feedings may include:
- Carving out time for each of you to take a nap during the day
- Asking a family member to help out at night
- Hiring a professional night nurse so you and your partner both get restful, uninterrupted sleep together
- Creating a schedule for dividing nighttime feedings into shifts
If you decide to create shifts, your specific routine may vary for a breastfeeding or a bottle-feeding scenario.
- Breastfeeding moms would pump before bed. Your partner would take the first overnight feed and bring baby to you for the next overnight feed, for which you would breastfeed again.
- Bottle-feeding moms would just split the night into two shifts so each person takes a turn feeding the baby.
Put yourself first and be a better mom
We can't stress enough how important it is for you, as a new or experienced mom, to meet your needs first before meeting the needs of everyone around you. There is some serious truth to the saying, "Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others." If you are not taking care of yourself, you will be mentally and physically unable to take care of your baby, let alone make time for you and your partner, older children or other important people in your life.
Remember: This approach is not selfish! Making time for yourself should be something that fills you with pride and makes you feel empowered. You've got this, mama!
Jamie O’Day, BSN, RN, IBCLC, and Emily Silver, MS, NP-C, IBCLC, are the cofounders of Boston NAPS, which provides classes, overnight care and in-home consultations for breastfee