5 Ways to Feel Physically & Mentally Empowered in Your Postpartum Journey
Blog submitted by PHA Board Member Colleen Flaherty, B.A., NSCA-CSCS. Colleen is a strength coach and owner and founder of Prokreate.
The mind and body are built to work in beautiful harmony, both feeding off each other for resiliency and growth. Your body is only as functional, strong, or healthy as your mind thinks it is, and vice versa. Yes! Your mind is as functional, strong, and healthy as your body is! They are 2 peas in a pod. Your brain and nervous system create amazing and complicated connections throughout your body, all of which thrive with movement.
Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) are common, occurring in about 1 in 7 women. The language has evolved from “postpartum depression” to “perinatal” to capture the 1000’s of women who feel anxiety, depression, OCD, or other mental health symptoms during pregnancy, post-birth, or up to around 1 year postpartum (usually called delayed-onset). This allows more women to identify with these feelings at the various stages of becoming a mother and to receive the professional support she needs to be her best.
Dr. Sherry Ross, OB-GYN at Providence St. John’s Health Center recommends eating well, exercising, hydrating, sleeping 7-8 hours a day, and practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation which can minimize (pregnancy) and postpartum stress. “Exercise may be the safest ‘antidepressant’ for women suffering from postpartum stress, anxiety, or depression,” she continues. “Regular exercise can improve mental health, relieve stress, improve depression and anxiety, and help you sleep better.”
- Build your Postpartum Recovery plan
During pregnancy, start to brainstorm your vision for life as a new mom. This will include how you think you want your home set up, what items you will need, who will visit, how you’ll start back in to activities you enjoy, and possibly more! “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
The best tip I learned from a new family was writing out exactly how to do laundry and taping it on the wall by the washer and dryer. They also listed out the exact items from the grocery store they purchase in case family members wanted to go shopping! Amazing!
In terms of healing and moving your body, you want to start off simple and easy and gradually increase the challenge as you reach different checkpoints in your recovery.
For example, if walking feels hard or weird, you’re not going to start running tomorrow. You would progress from a slow pace to a progressively faster pace until you felt strong enough to TRY running a few steps. This could take 10 weeks! During postpartum, there is NO RUSHING! You can do all you can to reduce inflammation, stay hydrated, and lower stress hormones (cortisol) to aid healing, but don’t let your ego run the show. Movement should not be ignored. It’s essential to helping your mind and emotions level out and adapt to your new lifestyle. Remember, both the mind and body need each other for learning, processing, and evolution!
- Walk outside with babe in stroller for 30 minutes – increase the challenge by finding some hills.
- Squat, lunge, single leg balance while doing normal tasks around the house.
Below is a download from Postpartum Progress to identify feelings/experiences and help voice them to partners and professionals: New Mom Mental Health CheckList from Postpartum Progress
- Who’s Cookin’ Good Lookin’?
Figure out who’s grocery shopping, meal prepping, cooking, and cleaning up. Knowing who’s doing what, when, will make things easier and avoid frustration.
Are you having food delivered regularly? Meal train? Make sure you voice your dietary choices and preferences. I’ve had moms receive lasagnas and casseroles when they’re gluten free. They threw out all that food. Voice your needs so people can 100% support you!
- Speak up!
Who’s visiting you post-birth? Do you need to have a boundaries conversation with them now during pregnancy? Many times, new parents don’t invite certain family or friends over because they don’t want to subject themselves to the unsolicited advice or negativity. If expressing how you want to be treated or supported, is the key to inviting certain people in your home, don’t hold back. Communication is key to your extended family and friends who may have NO CLUE on new-parent etiquette! Our culture doesn’t do a good job at teaching us these sort of things! It’s your job to educate them on how you and your new baby want to be treated and the importance of the environment you’re creating. You got this!
- Ask for Help / Build your Support Team
We all need support from a variety of experts to fully, deeply, lovingly heal and adventure forward as a new parent. “It takes a village!”
Plan it out now. Who are you seeing or want to see postpartum as new parents with a new babe? Find the name, phone number, email, and address now so it’s as simple as calling and setting an appointment or showing up!
This can include, but not limited to:
- Women’s health physical therapist
- Lactation consultant (IBCLC)
- Breastfeeding support groups
- Postpartum Doula
- Psychiatrist/psychologist specializing in PMADs
- Massage Therapy
- Personal Training/Strength Training
- Salt water float
- Mom and Babe Yoga/Slow yoga
- Mom’s Groups
- Dad’s Groups
- Your Partner
Don’t forget about your partner who loves your unconditionally and may not exactly know how to meet your needs. As new parents, there’s a lot of learning that takes place and having grace with yourself and them is important. Sounds easy but it’s not! It takes a lot of work to communicate effectively, support one another, and feel validated. Below are some links. Please make sure you see a mental health therapist when times are tough, don’t wait. There is nothing wrong or shameful about getting support for the two of you on how you can be your best, together!