Self-Care and Boundary Setting After Giving Birth

Source: Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Whether this is your first child or your fifth, life undoubtedly looks different after welcoming your new baby into the world. During this transition, you might find that you are putting pressure on yourself to do everything just as you did before baby arrived. Unhelpful societal expectations with phrases like “bouncing back” unfortunately contribute to unrealistic expectations new parents may have about how they “should” be able to handle this new chapter of their lives. While evolving in some spaces, social media still only show the “highlights” version of life, contributing to a supermom myth that in reality does not exist.

Behind those Instagram posts, or moms with the perfect drop-off outfit at daycare, lie all of the same struggles that you are going through. You are not alone. From sleepless nights to emotions running high, there is no one who gets through early parenthood untouched. All of this to say, you are not crazy or different, and despite whatever you see on the surface for others, they are struggling in one way or another too.

Unfortunately, as a society we tend not to talk about the “not so pretty” parts of life. This can leave you feeling isolated and reinforce the idea that you need to do it all and have it together 100% of the time.  I encourage you to find self-compassion and be gentle with yourself. When thoughts of self-judgment arise while practicing self-care, see if you can take a moment to intentionally reframe these thoughts to be more gentle with yourself. Use these realizations to understand why you are feeling this way while at the same time finding space to shift the narrative for yourself.

Ask yourself: Am I and my family safe and healthy? If the answer is yes, you have already accomplished more than you may realize. Take a moment to thank yourself for the effort you put in to fulfill those essential needs. From there, think about your basic self-care needs. Am I hungry? Thirsty? Tired? While it may sound simple and difficult all at once, meeting these essential needs can do wonders for your mental and physical health. When looking at that long to-do list, I encourage you to check in with your priorities and core values to see if there is anything that can wait or even be put on hold indefinitely. Even if it is setting the boundary of only allowing yourself to do one non-essential activity each day, this can be helpful in feeling connected to yourself while still prioritizing your self-care needs.

Beyond unrealistic social expectations, there also tends to be a shift in messaging around who to prioritize once you become a parent. During pregnancy, society typically is supportive of your self-care. However, after birth the focus shifts to suddenly prioritizing only the baby’s needs, all but forgetting about your needs as a new mother. All of this combined can lead to feeling “mom guilt” when meeting even the most basic of needs for yourself.

While you of course deeply care for your baby, know that also caring for yourself and your own needs does not diminish your love for them in any way. In fact, in the words of adrienne maree brown, “When [you are] happy, it is good for the world.” At the end of the day, you cannot take care of others if you do not first take care of yourself. There simply won’t be anything left for you to give no matter how much you want it. Many times, people think that what is best for them is selfish, but in reality when you are meeting your needs in order to operate as your best, well self, that is when you are able to best care for your loved ones.

During this season of life, it is important to turn toward social support in your life that may be able to help take a few tasks off of your plate while you attend to your own self-care. Perhaps this includes a meal train from local friends and family, or creating a helper task-list for those who come over to visit and offer a helping hand. Other local resources, including postpartum doulas, may also be able to offer the support you need. Oftentimes, the hardest part of this is asking for and accepting help.

Please know that allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open up to support in your life is an act of courage. Even if you initially feel guilt due to societal expectations or fear from not feeling safe in the past to rely on others, I encourage you to explore who you can rely on now and remember that this is an act of strength, not weakness.

After reading this article, take a moment to reflect. Write down some intentions that will help you stay committed to your self-care boundaries. Perhaps you set the intention to allow your body to rest when you need it, or that you will check in with your body each hour to inquire about its needs with the commitment to honor what arises however possible. Trusting that you know what you need best, find what works for you and your family.

“When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” -Eleanor Brown