Postnatal Mindset Advice from the Pros

This is Nike (M)

Does your mental health feel like an afterthought with all the new-baby stuff to figure out? Time to tap into self-care that actually helps.

Last updated: 9 November 2022
6 min read
  • Thanks to hormonal shifts, the stress of new parenthood and the physical feat of giving birth, you might need to give yourself more postnatal TLC than you think.
  • Asking for help—from friends, family or professionals—is part of being a good parent.
  • When you're ready to get back into light movement (hello, endorphins), check out the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother programme in the NTC App.

Read on to learn more …

How to Focus on Your Mental Health After Having a Baby

*This content is designed to inform and inspire, but it is not meant to diagnose, treat or give specific medical advice. Always check with your health care provider about how to stay healthy and safe before, during and after pregnancy.

After powering through 40-ish weeks of growing a human—not to mention however many minutes or hours (or days!) you spent delivering—it's not unusual to feel exhausted, overwhelmed and on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. And it can get very, very real: some newly postnatal people must face the unthinkable shock and grief of loss, while others experience postnatal anxiety, depression or other clinical disorders. If that's you, please get in touch with your provider for help as soon as you can.

But even if things are going relatively smoothly, it's very normal for it all to feel really freaking hard. In fact, up to 80 percent of birthing parents experience what's known as the "baby blues" in the first week or two after giving birth.

"We so underestimate the challenges of the postnatal period", says Amanda Williams, MD, a board-certified obstetrician-gynaecologist in Oakland, California, and member of the Nike (M)ove Like a Mother advisory board. "People spend so much time worrying about their birth, they ignore how hard the next phase can be".

Between physical recovery, hormonal changes and the new realities of caring for an infant, you can't predict exactly how those first few weeks will go. But you can and should find ways to take care of yourself. Ahead, five expert-backed suggestions for navigating those overwhelming early weeks and protecting your mental health along the way.

1. Take it easy even if you're craving more.

You may feel a burst of energy when you get home (due to adrenaline and oxytocin), but try to take it slow anyway, even if you're someone who typically relies on exercise for your mental health. Your uterus is still contracting back to its original size, you're probably bleeding and your bum? It probably hurts. Allowing your body the time it needs to recover, if you have the resources, can support your mental wellness too by helping you feel and function more like you're used to a little sooner.

What does this look like? Cherie Seah, a birth doula based in the Bay Area, notes that the Chinese principle of confinement—staying in bed or on the sofa as much as possible for a month post-delivery—is a good place to draw inspiration, although Williams does encourage some movement each day to reduce your risk of blood clots (think walking slowly around the house for a couple of minutes, light stretching and going outside, which can also help your mood). Balance! When you've had sufficient horizontal time, you can start to add some time to your walks and incorporate breath work and more stretching. Just build in time to, you guessed it, rest afterwards.

Once you have your doctor's clearance to exercise, gradually add some activity that feels good both physically and mentally. Doing something physical can instil a sense of accomplishment and pride when you feel otherwise frazzled, and the endorphins don't hurt either, notes Dr Williams. Keep it fairly brief, and don't forget the well-earned pat on your own back.

How to Focus on Your Mental Health After Having a Baby

2. Ask for help—and be specific.

If you're lucky enough to have supportive people in your life, they're probably excited to help you. Let them. "This is not a time to stand on your hero tile and say, 'I'm going to do everything myself'", says Dr Williams. (Yes, you are a great parent for not trying to do it all.)

Planning ahead, if you can, comes in handy. Arrange your own meal train before delivery day or ask a friend to organise one for you. If you have family members who want to help (like, actually help, not just heart-eyes stare at the baby), stagger visits so you have more extended support. Post a list of tasks people can do when they're around, like doing some shopping, cleaning the kitchen, walking your dog or spending time with your older kid so you can connect with the baby. That way you can avoid the dreaded repetitive "how can we help?" convo. We're positive your future self will thank you for your forethought.

3. Know how to self-soothe.

Those first few weeks are a perfect storm for anxiety. Your hormones are raging, sleep feels like a distant dream, and slowing down (and accepting help) can be really hard, especially if you're typically a do-it-all person. That's totally normal, but also? Let yourself off the hook. You're going through a significant life change, and your job is to heal, get to know your baby and learn how to care for both of you in this new chapter, says Andreka Peat, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist specialising in maternal mental health in Decatur, Georgia.

Find little moments throughout the day to focus on yourself, says Peat. Take a longer-than-30-second shower, while someone else holds your baby. Put your partner or a family member on bottle duty for an hour so you can nap. Spend 30 (or 15! or 5!) minutes doing something you love, like reading or doing a crossword puzzle—you can even do it while feeding the baby—to stay connected with your old self.

4. Enlist an expert.

It can be tough to tell if you're facing typical baby blues or something more serious. According to Peat, it's normal to feel weepy or experience mood swings for the first two weeks. But if your low mood persists—maybe you're crying all the time, struggling with non-stop anxiety or feeling totally detached from your baby—check in with your health care team.

Even if you just need a sounding board, a therapist can be a game-changer during this huge transition. They often have long waiting lists, so Dr Williams suggests linking up with a therapist while you're pregnant. It's especially important to plan ahead—and maybe even pre-schedule a postnatal check-in—if you've had mental health challenges in the past.

And when you feel down about your struggle or guilty for prioritising yourself? Remember that taking care of yourself helps you take care of others. "There's no better gift you can give to your child and family than your own wellness", says Peat.

Words: Ashley Abramson
Photography: Vivian Kim


Want more guidance as you navigate postnatal life? Start the expert-vetted Nike (M)ove Like a Mother programme in the Nike Training Club App for workouts, wellness advice and more. Then, treat yourself to a fresh look—you deserve it.

Originally published: 18 November 2022

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