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Challenge: Taking Care of YOU

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish for New Parents

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You’ve fed, bathed, and dressed your baby. You’ve visited the pediatrician and bought diapers. You’ve rocked, bounced, and swayed — for hours.

Have you taken care of yourself?

It’s tough to find 10 minutes to shower and eat, let alone nap. But self-care is incredibly important. I’ve learned that when I’m less stressed I tend to be a better parent. As we know, kids take patience right?

No matter how prepared you are, you might be surprised at how having a baby affects you as a person. Here are some things that I wish somebody would have told me prior to being a parent:

1. You might feel guilty. Before having a baby, you prioritized yourself and your partner. But the minute you bring home your bundle of joy, everything changes. Parental instinct kicks in. Despite needing to shower, eat, and exercise, you might feel guilty. Put on your own oxygen mask before your baby’s. If you’re well-rested and at ease, your baby will be, too. When you burn out, you won’t have the energy or patience to care for your child.

2. You need to schedule it. Caring for a baby takes a lot of time and work. Every couple of hours, your little one needs to be fed, changed, and rocked. That’s on top of pediatrician appointments, visits from relatives, and the basic tasks you need to tackle, like cooking or cleaning. It’s easy to let self-care fall by the wayside. Scheduling time to rest, read, and do activities you enjoy will help. Tell yourself: Tomorrow afternoon, I will take time to nap, shop, call a friend, or take a walk. Do it, even if that means bringing in a babysitter. An hour or two can save your sanity.

3. Taking a hot shower or bath will make you feel like a million bucks. You know a hot bath helps you unwind, but my physical trainer told it also burns calories, too? I took 20 minutes to get in the tub after I went through childbirth. It helped me relax, sleep, and wake up with less pain.

4. As much as you love your partner, you need alone time more than ever. Before having a baby, you were smitten. Suddenly, your partner is making your skin crawl.

When you have a baby, you’re constantly holding and caring for another human. It’s OK to need some space, even from your partner. You might even need to sleep in separate beds: Nearly a quarter of couples sleep separately, so don’t take it as a sign that your relationship is in trouble.

5. When family offers to help, you might hesitate. You always thought you’d rely on your mom or mother-in-law for childcare. Now, you’re not so sure. Being a new parent can make you more protective than ever, but you can’t do it alone. Let relatives and friends bring you dinner or put in a load of laundry. You have enough on your plate, and people genuinely want to help. It takes a village — let them.

6. Going back to work might be a form of self-care. Or it might not. For a new parent, the decision to go back to work is very personal. For some, going back to work helps them feel like themselves again. Others have a hard time going back, finding staying home is the best way to care for themselves and their children. You do you. Take time to think about your financial situation, what makes you happy, and how your child is developing.

7. How and when you feed your baby affects you. Babies need to eat — a lot. Regardless of when your baby was last fed, parenting experts suggest feeding immediately before bed. Although the medical community touts the benefits of breastfeeding, it’s not the only way. If breastfeeding is hurting your mental or physical health, talk with your child’s pediatrician or a lactation consultant about other options.

Taking care of yourself might feel selfish — it’s anything but. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure that you let the people and resources around you help fill your cup on a regular basis so you can give to the people around you — including that cute baby.

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.