The joy of welcoming a new baby into the world is unparalleled, but it's no secret that new motherhood comes with its fair share of challenges. From sleepless nights to adjusting to a new routine, the overwhelming feelings that often accompany this beautiful journey can take a toll. Stress management becomes necessary for new moms as they navigate the unique hurdles of postpartum life.
Understanding Stress in the Body as a New Mom
Stress is more than just a mental or emotional state. It is a physiological response deeply ingrained in our biology. When we encounter stressors, our bodies release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, preparing us for a "fight or flight" response. This is vital for the survival of our species and how we have stayed alive for so long. For new moms in this day and age, our stress responses are usually not because of life or death situations. It is stress of the kitchen not being clean, the baby waking up to eat in the middle of the night, of work piling up, of a fight with your partner, or lack of support. These stressors are real, oh so real, but when we have too many stressors, we can have physically, mentally, and emotionally side effects.
Physically, stress can lead to fatigue, muscle tension, and even immune system suppression, leaving us new moms more likely to get sick, as if we weren't getting sick enough with all the new germs coming from daycare. Mentally, it can contribute to anxiety, irritability, and mood swings, making it challenging to maintain emotional well-being, make healthy choices for ourselves and connect with our babies. Emotionally, stress can lead to feelings of overwhelm, guilt, and inadequacy. These are all common stressors for many new mommas. So what do we do about it? We first need to understand it a little better.
Understanding What Gives Stress to New Moms
To effectively manage stress as a new mom, it's crucial to identify the common stressors that often happen in the postpartum period:
1. Sleep Deprivation: Newborns often have irregular sleep patterns, leading to sleepless nights for moms. The exhaustion that comes with sleep deprivation can significantly impact stress levels.
2. Postpartum Hormonal Changes: Fluctuating hormones, particularly in the weeks following childbirth, can lead to mood swings and heightened emotions.
3. Adjusting to New Responsibilities: The transition to motherhood brings a whole new set of responsibilities, from feeding and diapering to round-the-clock caregiving. The weight of these responsibilities can be overwhelming.
4. Lack of "Me Time": New moms frequently find themselves devoting every moment to their newborns, leaving little time for self-care and relaxation.
5. Social Isolation: With a new baby demanding attention, new moms may feel isolated and distant from their partners, friends, and support networks.
6. Grief of the Life you Once Had: We love our children, and that does not mean that we can't miss our life before they entered into this world. We simply do not have the time and the freedom anymore to have a life like we did before being a mom.
Understanding DBT's PLEASE Skills
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) offers a valuable set of skills known as "PLEASE," which can be particularly beneficial for new moms seeking effective stress management strategies:
Physical Health: Prioritizing physical well-being is the first step in managing postpartum stress. Proper self-care practices, such as maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and engaging in gentle exercise, can help new moms feel more resilient in the face of stress.
Lifestyle Balance: Striving for balance in daily life is extremely difficult, and also essential. New moms should aim to allocate time for themselves, even in small increments (as small as 30 seconds), to engage in activities they enjoy and reduce feelings of overwhelm.
Eating Balanced: Nutrition plays a significant role in stress management. A well-balanced diet provides the energy and nutrients necessary to cope with the demands of motherhood while maintaining emotional stability.
Avoid Mood-Altering Substances: It's essential to be mindful of substances that can affect mood, such as caffeine and alcohol. While it's tempting to rely on these substances, moderation is key to prevent them from exacerbating stress.
Sleep: Sleep is a precious commodity for new moms. Establishing good sleep hygiene and seeking support to ensure adequate rest can significantly impact stress levels and overall well-being.
Exercise: Physical activity is a natural stress reliever. Even short, gentle exercises can release endorphins, reduce stress hormones, and promote a sense of well-being.
Managing Stress as a New Mom
Now, let's dive into some practical ways new moms can incorporate these PLEASE skills into their daily lives:
Incorporate nutritious foods into your meals, focusing on whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Do not deprive yourself of the things you love, just make sure you actually love them, rather than just eating what is in front of you.
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day. Keep a water bottle in the car, in your room, in the babies room.
Go to the grocery store after you have eaten so you do not buy things to satisfy hunger cravings.
Find moments for gentle exercises like postpartum yoga or short walks with your baby in a stroller.
Dedicate small portions of your day to activities you enjoy, whether it's reading, crafting, or a brief moment of relaxation. This can be anything from going to the bathroom alone, to putting on a good audio book to drown out the noice of the children, to taking yourself out on a date after the kids go down.
Communicate your need for "me time" with your partner, family, or friends to create space for self-care. If you do not already have a support system, work on getting involved in mom groups. No time? Start off with joining an online support group, or making an appointment with a therapist that specialized in working with new moms.
Plan nutritious meals and snacks to maintain steady energy levels. Keep healthy snacks in your babies room for nursing sessions, keep your veggies and fruit in the front of the refrigerator or on the counter. In sight, in mind!
Avoid excessive caffeine or sugary snacks or low fiber carbs that can lead to energy crashes and mood swings. Need an energy boost, have a glass of water, get your electrolytes in and get in some movement and fresh air. (Talk to your OBGYN or pediatrician if you notice really low levels of energy.)
Avoid Mood-Altering Substances:
Monitor your caffeine and alcohol intake, ensuring it remains within moderate limits. Talk to your doctor about what that might mean for you. Again, it is not about depriving ourselves of anything, it is about making choices that are going to help our overall well-being. Yes, that sometimes means you are going to have caffeine and alcohol in moderation.
Be mindful of how these substances affect your mood and stress levels. These substances affect people differently. For some mommas, they don't notice mood swings or energy swings, but for some, they get really big crashes, trouble sleeping and trouble enjoying the moment. Just pay attention to your body and do what it is asking you to do.
Create a soothing bedtime routine to signal to your body that it's time to wind down. If your baby is in the room with you still, consider ear plugs or headphones to try and create a quiet sleep environment. Spray lavender on your pillow, do a small skin care routine before bed. Have some tea and a light bedtime snack. Anything that you can be consistent with that can cue your body into it being sleep time.
Nap when your baby naps to catch up on sleep during the day. Okay okay, I know we have all heard this a million times. If you are not a napper, just take a moment to pause when the baby goes down. Even if this means sitting or laying down for 5 minutes before getting up and starting on your nap time to-do list.
Explore postpartum exercise routines designed specifically for new moms. Our bodies are strong! We just created life! Give yourself some time to heal while getting back into moving. Find an exercise class or routine that focuses on gentle movements, not one that is focused on loosing weight or getting a 6 pack.
Even short, 10-minute exercise sessions can boost your mood and relieve stress. Get outside, lay out a blanket for your baby and do some yoga stretches. When you go to Target to get some alone time, park in the furthest parking spot and get your steps in.
Remember, you are not alone in this journey called motherhood!
Hi, I’m Kristina Anzell, I am a Clinical Social Worker dedicated to providing specialized and compassionate mental health support for moms postpartum. My mission is to empower you to thrive in your role as a mother while nurturing your own well-being. If you enjoyed this blog post, check out my blog here! If you want more information or are seeking treatment, feel free to reach out!