Promoting Self-Care for New Mothers
By Elizabeth DiMaggio, Pre-Doctoral Clinical Psychology Extern, Psychological Services
Having a new baby is an exciting time in a caregiver’s life. There is a brand new person to love and care for. While it can be an exciting time, becoming a new mother can be difficult and potentially draining. Focusing on a new infant might lead to the mother putting her own needs aside. While focusing attention on a new infant is extremely important, it might cause a mother to ignore her own self-care and signs from her body to take time for herself.
Postpartum depression is more common than many realize and can lead a mother to become less responsive to her infant’s needs. About 13% of women experience depression during the first year following the birth of a child (6, 7). While depression causes distress for the mother, it also has some negative impacts on the new child. Infants need caregivers who are sensitive and responsive in order to meet their needs and form a secure attachment (1). Babies learn through interactions with caregivers; therefore, a mother’s responsiveness is very important (1).
Symptoms of postpartum depression include feelings of extreme fatigue, insomnia, tearfulness, inattention, lack of interest, irritability and low energy. Around 70% of mothers will experience mild forms of these symptoms within a few days of giving birth; however, they typically do not cause impairment and subside on their own (8). These less severe and shorter-duration symptoms are known as the “baby blues.” Postpartum depression and the baby blues can occur during any pregnancy. They do not only occur following a woman’s first pregnancy (8). Luckily, healthcare tends to be used more while women are pregnant. For women who are struggling financially, there are more opportunities for healthcare benefits during pregnancy. This allows for healthcare providers to screen for many different problems throughout a pregnancy and provide interventions or care early on (7).
What can a new mom do?
All symptoms can cause discomfort at some level, and there are things that can be done to create a positive and supportive environment for mothers. Even if symptoms of postpartum depression or the baby blues are not experienced, these things could help prevent symptoms from occurring. The following tips can help a new mother provide herself with some of the extra care she needs to keep her body and mind healthy.
Exercise has been found to lead to better mental health outcomes in general. This remains true for new mothers. Mothers who get more exercise show an overall better well-being and fewer symptoms of depression (6).
Caregivers can take a yoga or fitness class at a local gym. Many gyms offer childcare while caregivers are working out so new mothers can have some alone time. Getting out of the house or getting a gym membership is not always possible with a new baby. Taking a walk around the neighborhood with a stroller, or following an online fitness video while the baby is napping can benefit a new mom as well. Be sure to ask a doctor when it is okay to begin exercising after giving birth. Different types of delivery can lead to different recovery timelines (6). An added injury may cause more stress! Below are a few links to online videos for at home yoga and exercise.
- Postpartum Yoga Week 1 - Pelvis Alignment and Core Foundation
- Yoga for Complete Beginners - Yoga Class 20 Minutes
- Day 1 - Ease Into It - 30 Days of Yoga
Mindfulness is being conscious of and attending to a present situation (2). It can help to create a moment of relaxation that can be carried throughout the day. It can also help parents better focus attention on the needs of their child by regulating their own emotions (2, 3). Download an app on your phone or follow an online video that guides you through a relaxing meditation. They can be as long as an hour or as short as 5 minutes. Anything can help! Below are a few suggestions to guide in mindfulness meditation during pregnancy and after pregnancy.
Cell phone apps
Gaining new information can not only help a new mother gain some new tips, it can sometimes calm her nerves (6). Ask your doctor for tips or brochures explaining healthy diets for mothers and babies or other topics of which you might feel unsure. Reading a book or article after the baby goes to sleep could help as well. When looking up information on your own, be sure to use trusted and credible resources such as published and “peer reviewed” journal articles. There are plenty of informational cell phone apps for new mothers as well. Suggested apps are The Bump Pregnancy and What to Expect.
Make Use of Pre/Post-Natal Healthcare Benefits
Having access to healthcare providers can open the door to asking questions and gaining extra knowledge. It can also allow for healthcare providers to keep track of how a new mother is doing and can help to screen for any issues before they become a bigger problem. For mothers with fewer financial supports, access to healthcare might be most feasible during pregnancy. Women in the United States are eligible for Medicaid during and 60 days after pregnancy (7).
Breastfeeding has been shown to lead to greater cognitive, emotional and motor development for babies (4,5). Breastfeeding can also increase calmness, helps the mother better cope with stress and increases nurturing behavior (4, 5). Depressed mothers are also more likely to stop breastfeeding early or to have trouble breastfeeding; however, it actually provides more benefits to the mother and the baby than stopping (6).
Olena Vasilik, a psychologist at JCFS Chicago and new mother to twins, notes, “Using a breastpump for breastmilk can be an excellent time to put most of the previously-mentioned self-care activities into place. It is during these twenty minute periods when I have the opportunity to be mindfully present and enjoy watching the babies sleep or play, read up on developmental milestones and tips for mothers, and engage in activities, such as crocheting, that are productive and self-soothing.”
Keep in Touch With Family and Friends
Having a support system has been proven to help prevent and treat symptoms of postpartum depression (7). It is easy to become distracted after a new baby is born. Making time to send a text or call someone close can help keep a support system strong and functional. For women with smaller support systems, individual or group therapy can be a good way to build a support system (7).
We can help!
JCFS Chicago offers support for new mothers, grandparents, and caregivers through “The Get Together” group. This weekly group gives new caregivers the opportunity to meet others with young children, discuss developmental issues and exchange ideas with experienced staff. Children aged newborn to 5 years are welcome. For more information, please contact Joanne Kestnbaum, LCSW at 773.765.3100
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of Postpartum Depression, or would like to find out more about preventing the baby blues, call JCFS Chicago at 855.275.5237. JCFS Chicago provides individual and family therapy services, and offers ongoing educational and support groups.
1. Black, C. (2014). Mother's mental health vital for baby. Kai Tiaki Nursing New Zealand, 20(2), 24-25.
2. Corthorn, C., & Milicic, N. (2016). Mindfulness and Parenting: A Correlational Study of Non-Meditating Mothers of Preschool Children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 1672-1683.
3. Dimidjian, S., Goodman, S. H., Felder, J. N., Gallop, R., Brown, A. P., & Beck, A. (2015). Staying Well During Pregnancy and the Postpartum: A Pilot Randomized Trial of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for the Prevention of Depressive Relapse/Recurrence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
4. Kendall-Tackett, K. (2015). The New Paradigm for Depression in New Mothers: Current Findings on Maternal Depression, Breastfeeding and Resilliency Across the Lifespan. Breastfeeding Review: Professional Publication of the Nursing Mothers' Association of Australia, 7-10.
5. Mezzacappa, Sibolboro, E., Katkin, E. S., & Stone, A. A. (2002). Breastfeeding is Associated with Reduced Perceived Stress and Negative Mood in Mothers. Health Psychology, 187-193.
6. Norman, E., Sherburn, M., Osborne, R. H., & Galea, M. P. (2010). An Exercise and Education Program Improves Well-being of New Mothers: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Physical Therapy, 348-355.
7. Sockol, L. E., Epperson, C. N., & Barber, J. P. (2013). Preventing Postpartum Depression: A Meta-analytic Review. Clinical Psychology Review, 1205-1217.
8. Solomon, C. G., Stewert, D. E., & Vigod, S. (2016). Postpartum Depression. The New England Journal of Medicine, 2177-2186.