Whether you’re in the first trimester or first months of new parenthood, it’s easy to focus all your attention on your baby. But don’t forget to show yourself some love, too. From staying up to date on doctor’s visits to striking a work-life balance to getting some much-needed sleep (yes, really), here are several ways to get started.
Eating better, working out more, managing stress and getting plenty of sleep aren’t exactly revolutionary ideas when it comes to healthy living. But experts agree that these so-called “four pillars” of health are crucial to keeping your body running and ― bonus ― boosting your emotional well-being.
There are easy ways to work each pillar into your life during pregnancy; consult your doctor for the best solutions for you. They may include simple changes like swapping white rice, pasta and bread with whole-grain versions; taking a stroll around the neighborhood after dinner; using a relaxation technique like deep breathing when you’re feeling stressed; or pushing up your bedtime by an hour.
These types of healthy habits can serve you well even after your baby is born. The key is to pay equal attention to each pillar, says Dr. Gabriela Cora, a board-certified psychiatrist and a medical director for Aetna Behavioral Health. “The more we balance the four pillars within our lives, the better our chances of feeling good in the long run,” she says.
One thing every pregnant woman can expect? Lots of doctor’s appointments and prenatal tests. Typically, you’ll see your doctor monthly until your 28th week of pregnancy, twice a month until week 36, and then weekly until baby is born. But these check-ups aren’t just a chance for your doctor to monitor your health and the health of your growing baby. They’re also an opportunity for you to ask questions so you can feel more relaxed and confident about your pregnancy.
Creating a healthy work-life balance may take some effort, but it’s a challenge worth undertaking. And it can start when you’re pregnant by carving out time to take care of yourself during work, says Dr. Maria Lina Diaz, a medical director at Aetna. Try to get up and move around as much as possible during the day. Even gentle movement helps with your circulation. She also recommends eating at regular intervals and building frequent restroom breaks into your schedule. You may also want to ask your manager whether your company offers an ergonomics team that can adjust your work area to make it as comfortable as possible during and after pregnancy.
While nothing can totally prepare you for the adventure of caring for a newborn, it helps to hear from moms and dads who have been there. Besides their sage advice, they can offer you a much-needed dose of humor and perspective. So don’t be shy about asking friends and family for their best tips on everything from where to set up a changing station to their favorite stroller or breast pump.
For most new moms, the first weeks after baby is born are often a blur of round-the-clock feedings and diaper changes. Thanks to broken sleep and fluctuating hormones, many women often experience the “baby blues,” where for a few weeks they may have mixed feelings about being a new mom and have some trouble eating or sleeping.
But for the one in eight moms who experience postpartum depression (PPD), those feelings are more intense and longer lasting. Symptoms may include frequent crying or an inability to experience pleasure; changes in eating and sleep patterns; severe fatigue or restlessness; severe anxiety or panic attacks; difficulty thinking clearly; trouble bonding with baby; and thoughts of harming yourself or others.
Recognizing those feelings and asking your doctor or pediatrician for help as soon as possible are important first steps. “Just like you would tend to any other medical issue, the earlier you seek help, the less severe the illness and the faster the recovery,” says Dr. Cora.
The one piece of advice most parents have a tough time following is to sleep when baby sleeps. Yet getting enough shut-eye is crucial to your mental and physical health. Experts recommend an average of 7-9 hours a night for adults. You may fall short of that during the first few months, when your child is waking up every few hours to eat. But once your baby starts sleeping through the night, there are steps you can take to get your routine back on track.
One decision you can make is to resist hitting the snooze button in the morning. Going back to sleep can restart your sleep cycle and make you feel groggy. Another is to swap the afternoon caffeine jolt for a high-protein snack, like nuts, jerky or a hard-boiled egg. Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual can also make it easier to fall asleep.
Check out more ways to get a better night’s sleep tonight.
Pregnancy and parenthood are exciting new chapters of your life, but they can be all-consuming, too. Staying on top of your health and leaning on a support network can help you find a balance that works for you. After all, making self-care a priority doesn’t just help you, it can also benefit your growing family.
Bonnie Vengrow is a journalist based in NYC who has written for Parents, Prevention, Rodale’s Organic Life, Good Housekeeping and others. She’s never met a hiking trail she doesn’t like and is currently working on perfecting her headstand in yoga class.
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