“You just had a beautiful new baby, it’s all a wonder and you’re so excited,” says Beth Ruhmann, certified therapeutic recreation specialist and Community Health program coordinator at Baptist Health South Florida. “But, whether you had a C-section or natural childbirth or you’re breastfeeding, your hormones are up and down and all around, and your whole body is stressed.”
Ms. Ruhmann says there are many stressors confronting new parents and, in most cases, it’s the mother who carries most of the burden. “Stressful situations abound in everyday life, whether it’s work, health, finances, relationships or, of course, a pandemic,” she says. “And as a new mom, you’re recovering from having a baby, plus taking care of a newborn, your family and your home.”
Stress and the Body
Babies don’t have a routine yet so they need their parents to comfort them day and night. All those sleepless nights, however, can have a major effect on your body, Ms. Ruhmann warns. “As a new mom, when you hear your baby cry, your body immediately reacts, triggering a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response that produces a surge of adrenaline and cortisol,” she says. “All of a sudden, you’re like a momma bear running to protect her baby.”
But, Ms. Ruhmann says, try to stop and take a breath before you run to your baby. “All those hormones pumping through your body on a regular basis can affect vital organs over time,” she says. It’s important to learn to take care of yourself first, she adds. “It’s like being on an airplane when the oxygen masks come down – you put yours on first, then your child’s. Because you can’t help your child unless you help yourself first.”
As an added bonus, Ms. Ruhmann says, taking care of yourself helps you establish a better bond with your baby. “The energy that you put out can be sensed by your baby, and in return your baby’s energy transfers back to you – it’s a win-win situation.”
Chronic stress, on the other hand, is like a volcano, says Ms. Ruhmann. “When it erupts, it can affect both you and your baby in ways that are not good for either of you.”
For example, Ms. Ruhmann says, some babies have problems latching on during breastfeeding, which can be stressful for the mother. “The baby senses her mom’s stress and becomes stressed too, so now they’re both feeling each other’s anxiety and the baby doesn’t want to nurse.” If the baby is unable to breastfeed, she says, “mom may have problems producing milk, which in turn creates more stress for both mother and baby.”
Being a new mom is a learning process, Ms. Ruhmann says, and it’s your responsibility to develop the tools to handle stress better. “There’s a lot of information out there about caring for your newborn, but it’s important to get the right information and to practice what you learn,” she says. “Finding the information is easy but as a new mom, finding the time can be difficult,” she acknowledges.
Ms. Ruhmann offers these easy-to-follow tips for new moms (dads, too) trying to bring some balance to their hectic lives:
- Get Moving: Do arm lifts, easy squats, hold baby and bend your knees. Twist with the baby, move your body, and use your body as part of the experience. If you needed physical therapy after the birth, ask your doctor what is safe for you.
- Eat Healthy: Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins. Stay away from the foods you crave when you’re stressed, especially those with lots of sugar, fat and salt.
- Sleep Well: When the baby sleeps, you sleep – even if it’s just for 30 minutes here or an hour there. You need all the strength and energy you can muster to take care of yourself and your baby.
- Love Yourself: Always remember to practice self-care, and to take care of yourself first.
- Seek Support: Because new moms can feel isolated at times, any kind of group or individual social interaction can be a welcome break. Think about joining a support group with other moms who understand your experience better than anyone and can offer helpful advice and reassurance when needed. You may even make some new friends. For more information on support groups, visit Baptist Health’s Classes and Events page.
- Listen Up: Music is a primal form of relaxation going back to the cavepeople. Use music and environmental sounds to relax you and your baby – anything that you find calming will work.
- Just Breathe: Practice deep abdominal breathing before you get out of bed and before you pick up the baby. Some well-known breathing methods are: Box or Square Breathing, S.T.O.P. and Grounding 5,4,3,2,1.
- Meditate Daily: Find the time to meditate for at least one minute a day, and work yourself up to 30 minutes or even an hour if you can. Yes, life is full of distractions but if you can stay focused on the here and now, you’ll be a better mom for your baby.
- Be Mindful: Pay attention, refocus and be mindful of what’s going on around you. When you’re with your baby, be with your baby. When you need to relax, focus on where you want to be and imagine yourself there.
- Create Routines: Babies thrive on routines – it gives them a reassuring sense of safety, comfort and security.
- Make Contact: A warm-lotion massage encourages touching and skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby. (As a bonus, you can use the same lotion on yourself.)
- Embrace Aromatherapy: Many baby products contain fragrances such as lavender or chamomile that can be calming for both baby and mother. Take a little lotion and rub some on your hands and feet to feel instantly relaxed.
Above all, Ms. Ruhmann advises, be careful with yourself and be kind. “Pay attention, be mindful and practice passion, compassion and patience,” she says. “Learn, adapt and enjoy. You and your baby will be just fine.”