Botswana is home to many different species of Weaver Bird. This bird makes the most impressive nests; weaving grasses, plant fibres and twigs together to form a safe, solid structure that protects its young family from harm. Their nests are so intricate and complex that humans would struggle to build something as efficient. These birds don’t need specialist tools and instruments; they use their natural attributes and skills to create something both functional and fearsome.
‘Self-Care’ is a term that I hear discussed a lot in social media but it can create confusion as it means different things to different people. There’s a lesson to be learned from our weaver birds. We have the tools and skills to take care and nurture ourselves. Sometimes help and support is needed but often it’s about realising that we have the agency to make important changes in our lives.
Self-care isn’t all about spa breaks and fitness challenges. It doesn’t need to be something that takes you out of your comfort zone. Self-care means paying attention to the basics; nurturing yourself well enough so you are in a position to look after your little ones.
Experts working in the field of Maternal Mental Health in British Columbia, Canada, have coined a useful mnemonic to break down what is meant by ‘self-care’ in a clinical setting.
Each letter stands for an important element of self-care that new mothers are encouraged to consider as part of their treatment and support through perinatal mental health challenges. It’s not always easy, sometimes it can feel like more work, but it is important.
I think it’s a great way to start thinking about self-care. As mothers, we need to start creating our own nests.
So what do you need to build your nests?
When you have a baby to take care of, well balanced, regular meals are not always a priority. Unstable blood sugars and depletion of vitamins and nutrients can contribute to negative moods. More research is emerging about the depletion of nutrients in new mothers and the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet. It may seem like more work but meal planning, making sure you have easy access to snacks and water when you are out and about and eating regular small meals are all part of looking after yourself.
Quite possibly the last thing you want to think about but studies have proved the link between gentle, regular exercise and an increase in positive wellbeing. Apart from stimulating those feel good hormones, getting up and active can lead to a sense of accomplishment that challenges negative thinking patterns. Postnatal pilates, yoga and other exercise classes run by qualified teachers are recommended. Getting out for a walk can be a great option, or if your body is used to exercise, follow your doctor’s advice on getting back into a regime you feel comfortable with. If you struggle to get motivated, try the ‘5 Minute Solution’ where you try any activity for a minimum of five minutes before deciding to stop or try something else. Sometimes that first hurdle is the most difficult.
Most new parents complain of lack of sleep. It’s the source of tiredness, irritability, frustration and low mood. The accumulative effects of sleep deprivation can be serious and contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression. You may feel like you should make the most of the time you get when baby naps, but tasks can often wait or be handed to others. There isn’t a quick fix solution to this one, especially when you don’t have family around or are responsible for other children but it’s important to make it a priority.
Time for Yourself
This is mainly about finding things that you enjoy and weaving them into your day. It shouldn’t be about accomplishment, now might not be the time to learn a new language or take up carpentry, but it should be something that gives you a little lift or down time. Anything from enjoying a cup of tea, sitting outside, to reading a chapter of a book or watching an episode of your favourite series.
It’s all about creating a space where you can press pause.
Good social support systems can be one of the most protective factors against maternal mental health challenges. Positive social support has been connected to greater feelings of self-belief and confidence in parenting. Feeling heard, understood and having a network of people who can offer practical and emotional support is really important.
Some people aren’t lucky enough to be in that position but support doesn’t always come in the form of family or close friends. Parenting groups, healthcare professionals and even online forums can often meet some of your needs. It’s important to reach out and ask for help when you need it.
Parenting can be challenging and it’s important to reach out and ask for support if you need help building your nest. Come and learn more and connect with a group of supportive parents at SensoBaby’s monthly ‘Cuppa Love’ meetings.
Haring, M, et al, 2011. ‘Coping with depression during pregnancy and following the birth’. The BC Reproductive Mental Health Program.
Leahy-Warren, P, McCarthy, G and Corcoran, P, 2011. ‘First-time mothers: social support, maternal parental self-efficacy and postnatal depression’. Journal of Clinical Nursing.