Be kind to yourself
Self-criticism can stop you from moving forward and seeking advice or support if you’re not sure about something you’re doing. Everyone makes mistakes or is unsure how to handle new situations. Remember, it’s common for parents to think they’re not doing a good job if they can’t soothe their baby’s crying, or their newborn is struggling to feed. During these experiences, it’s important to bring compassion to yourself. Find kind words and phrases you can say to yourself that you would say to a friend going through a similar experience.
Take care of your physical health
When you’re exhausted, preparing a nutritious meal or doing exercise can feel impossible! But try to find some time and shortcuts to look after your health. Have some cut up carrot sticks in the fridge or nuts on the kitchen bench to snack on. Go-to meals that are quick to prepare or can be frozen and reheated on those days when cooking is not an option can be really helpful too. Even a short walk with your baby in the pram or carrier is good for your body and your mind. Ensuring you get some sleep is also vital. It may not always be possible, but when your baby naps during the day, try and get some rest yourself – even a small recharge can make a big difference.
Manage your mental health
As well as the excitement and moments of joy, becoming a parent brings challenges and stresses. If pressures build up, they can affect your mental health. Exercise, mindfulness, yoga and relaxation can help reduce stress, depression and anxiety symptoms in new parents. There are free apps like Smiling Mind that you can use to practice mindfulness or relaxation, even if you only have five or 10 minutes to spare. There are also hundreds of great, free yoga videos on YouTube – just search ‘5’ or ’10 minute yoga’.
Building up your coping skills can help you stay to calm in tough moments. Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA)’s website has some good advice and coping strategies for new parents.
If you have a mental health condition or have had depression or anxiety in the past, it’s important to keep in touch with your GP or health professional and continue treatment if recommended. Your baby needs you to be as well as possible. Get support from your partner, family, friends and other healthcare professionals to reduce the stress of parenting on your mental health.
Get support and advice from family and friends
We all need support from time to time. And caring for a new baby – especially if this is your first – is one of those times! Who are the family members and friends you can turn to when you need help? If you don’t have family or friends nearby, talk to your child health nurse or GP about other sources of support in your community and online. You might find it helpful to join a mothers or parents group to share your experiences and get tips from others who have been or are going through similar things.
But also learn what works for you, and drop unrealistic expectations
Not all the advice you are given will work for you and your baby. Try to drop any pressure to be a ‘perfect’ parent (there’s no such thing) or to meet your own or someone else’s ideas of how your family life should be.