Social distancing rules, whilst crucial, have strongly limited physical contact with other family members, friends and healthcare professionals. This has left many new mums and dads dealing with the pressures and time constraints of parenthood, alone.
I recently gave birth to my second daughter during lockdown. Whilst having a longer period in the newborn bubble has been lovely, finding time for self-care has been a challenge too. However, as a GP, I know it’s vital for parents to prioritise taking time to look after themselves, and self-care is nothing to feel guilty about. In fact, it’s a responsible way to ensure your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing is looked after.
Eat healthy foods
During the first few months it can be easy to just focus solely on your little one’s nutrition. However, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet for yourself is a crucial part of self-care and is important for your physical and mental wellbeing. Whilst it’s tempting to reach for sugary snacks or a caffeinated drink during those first sleep-deprived days, eating three healthy and balanced meals every day will be much more effective for maintaining energy levels. If you are breastfeeding, this will also ensure vital nutrients and vitamins are passed onto your newborn too.
Try and incorporate the below into your daily diet:
5 portions of fruit or vegetables1– try snacking on a banana or a handful of berries when your newborn is feeding.
Fibre – good sources include beans and pulses, rice and wholemeal bread.2 These will be particularly helpful for easing any post-birth bowel problems too.2
Proteins – incorporating foods such as chicken, eggs, lentils, and tofu in meals will help you feel full and keep your energy levels up.3
It’s also essential that you stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids (especially if you’re breastfeeding).
My top tip - when your baby feeds, reach for a glass of water too!
Talk to your healthcare professional
Given the current situation, you may find it a bit harder to speak to your healthcare professional or worry they may be too busy to answer your questions or concerns.
Usually, a health visitor will do a check-up within 10 to 14 days of giving birth.4 However, you may have found that your health visitor is doing ‘virtual visits’ given the current situation, designed to keep you and baby safe. As the lockdown lifts, health visitors will begin visiting you at home, for face to face appointments.
During your first appointment, your health visitor will check both yours and your baby’s health. This is a good opportunity to discuss any worries or concerns you may have, including around self-care strategies and adjusting to parenthood. The health visitor is there to check your physical and mental wellbeing too, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
The most important thing to remember is that your healthcare professionals are still there for you, so don’t let the current situation prevent you from seeking medical advice and self-care support. If you’re at all concerned about your baby’s health, be sure to speak to your GP. They will be open as usual.
Schedule that important ‘me’ time
Caring for a newborn will undoubtedly change your daily schedule, however, it is important to try and maintain a healthy routine. There is some great advice about coping with routine changes as a new parent during the pandemic, but my biggest tip for new parents is to always set aside time for those simple daily habits, like washing your hair or brushing your teeth. These are important during those sleep-deprived early days as they help bring a sense of normality and routine to the day.
As time goes on, you may find yourself gradually getting into a rhythm as a new parent. It then might be easier to schedule in longer periods of ‘me time’ to practice self-care that you can enjoy and look forward to, such as reading a book or catching up on a Netflix series. Making a weekly date night with your partner to cook dinner or watch a movie together is an excellent self-care strategy for new parents. It’s a great way to relax and unwind and whilst it may seem hard to find the time, putting a note in your diary will help you stick to it!
The first few weeks with your newborn are filled with health visitor check-ups for your baby, but don’t put off any of your personal health appointments either. It can be tempting to cancel your GP check-up or dental appointment when you’re overtired and busy with your newborn, but your health is a priority too.
Staying active during the first few months can help relax the mind, lift your mood and maintain energy levels. Even doing some gentle movement and being outdoors in the fresh air can make a huge difference. Try a short stretch or a gentle walk with your newborn and gradually build this up as you feel comfortable to do so. If you would prefer to not leave your house just yet, you can still get moving inside, and there are some great tips for new parents wanting to practice home exercising. Just remember if you feel tired or in discomfort, then stop and rest. Your bodies and lives have gone through an amazing change!
Using technology to stay connected with your loved ones is particularly important for new parents during this time. If you participated in an antenatal course, you may already be part of an online messaging group, but if not, it’s a good idea to create one and share your experiences of new parenthood with each other. If you’d like to be part of a new parents support group, speak to your health visitor who can recommend some local ones.7 Settling into a new routine can be difficult, so it’s important to have a support network.
If you’re looking for further advice or support, WaterWipes will be hosting #earlydaysclub 2.0, a live event and support panel for new and expectant parents on Wednesday July 29th at 11am. I’m excited to be on the panel alongside host Ellie Taylor, new parents Lucy Mecklenburgh and Ore Oduba, and bestselling wellbeing author Caroline Foran. Join us for a chat and ask us anything about birth, pregnancy and self-care for new parents.
Having a baby changes your life, and you may find it difficult. Try not to be hard on yourself or feel guilty. Talk to your loved ones about how you’re feeling and remember that as you settle into a new routine, your emotions will begin to settle too.8 Make sure you talk to your healthcare professional if you have concerns.
Whilst social media is a great tool for sharing knowledge and connecting with loved ones, it can also place unnecessary pressure on parents to look ‘perfect’. Just remember that you’re doing a great job and that no one is a ‘perfect parent’. Don’t compare your everyday with the ‘highlight reels’ of others, and if you’re finding social media is causing feelings of anxiety or stress, disconnect for a while.
If you or your partner do begin to feel a persistent feeling of sadness or low mood, speak to your GP, health visitor or midwife for support and guidance.7
About the Author
Dr Stephanie Ooi is a private GP at the MyHealthcare Clinic in London. Stephanie has a special interest in paediatrics as well as women’s physical and mental health. Alongside her professional interest, Dr Stephanie has personal experience of caring for two newborns as a mum to two young girls which she regularly documents on her Instagram – the GP Mum.
WaterWipes are the world’s purest baby wipes, made with 99.9% water and a drop of fruit extract. For more information on WaterWipes visit:: https://www.waterwipes.com/uk/en
27 food that can give you more energy. Available at https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/energy-boosting-foods#section8
15 Self-Care Strategies for Parents. Available at https://www.verywellfamily.com/self-care-for-parents-4178010
Your Mental Health After Birth. Available at https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/labour-birth/after-birth/your-mental-health-after-birth