Mommy (and Daddy) Wellness

Practical Self Care Strategies for Parents

When I enter an exam room and ask “how are you today?”, my question is directed at the caregiver as much as the infant, kid, or teen patient.  As a pediatrician, I care about my patients’ parents because the parents need to be well to care for their kids (2012 NYT article by my hero Dr. Perri Klass). Parents of infants are particularly at risk of not feeling so well due to lack of sleep and postpartum depression. Here are some practical self care strategies (adapted from NIH) that I discuss with my patients’ parents and with my friends with young kids. I’d say I’m quite well-versed with them because I put them into practice too. 

Prioritize yourself! Download and customize the self care plan here.

* Do something you enjoy every day *

  • Even if it’s just a few minutes to journal, read a book, do a few yoga moves, or put on lipstick. Call a friend (bam, this one is a multi-tasker because it hits on another strategy below). Check out this journal to record just one line a day – the joys and the tears and the we-will-laugh-about-this-later-but-not-right-now moments too! Take some extra moments to sip on tea (fruity flavors for any mood) and close your eyes. 

{Self care can be as serious as meditation or as superficial as quick fix fake-it-tip-you-make-it lip care!}

Burt’s Bees

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Chapstick that goes on smooth with an energizing scent.

Mineral Fusion

Lipstick Butter

– rich in color

& in texture.

* Rest when the baby sleeps – or cries *

  • Yes, unrealistic to actually fall asleep every time, but just lay down. Close your eyes for a few minutes (put on an eye mask like this lightweight cotton one if that helps), of course, assuming the baby is on their back and in a crib or bassinet in a safe place and position. If not, then do that first before you rest. Or, if the baby is fed, changed, and just being a stinker, crying for no reason (babies like to do that sometimes – both of mine did), then put the baby on their back in their crib or bassinet, put in some ear plugs, and rest for a 15-60 minutes. I did this and it was a glorious nap! I wasn’t trying to let my baby cry it out. I was trying to prevent myself from losing my mind and that little bit of rest is exactly what my brain needed. I survived. The baby survived – albeit with a hoarse voice for a few weeks.

Screen-free activities to entertain your kids
when when you just need few moments to yourself.

* Be realistic *

  • It’s normal for the baby to cry and be fussy for no reason sometimes. It’s normal for kids to have temper tantrums. It’s totally normal and ok to have a messy house (I’ve had some piles of clutter that are 2-3 years old now). It’s normal for kids to vomit and poop at all the wrong times. Just roll with it. Honestly, I think this is how I survive at home. As a “beta” momma, I am totally not OCD and perfectly satisfied with imperfections in my personal life.

{Self care doesn’t have to take up a block of time, a few seconds here and there to sip, reflect, or close your eyes, add up.}

Relaxing can be difficult

for some parents, especially

in the midst of chaos. Shut

out the mess with a cooling

eye mask, and dampen the

noise with some ear plugs

(these are the same ones I

used to study in med school).

Write in a journal to capture the

everyday moments of parenthood.

The joys, the tears, and the

tantrums (from children AND

parents). Jot them down now,

laugh about them later.

Soak up some self time with

a steaming cup of fruity tea

to sip slowly. A change in

flavor maybe just the thing

to get through the day.

* Ask for help (the saying it takes a village…) *

  • My favorite advice for parents of a colicky baby is to outsource the fussy hours. If the baby is most fussy from 3-6pm, plan trips to the mall or park to walk around with the stroller during that time. If the baby is most fussy from 6-9pm, ask a friend or family member to watch the baby during that time while you eat, shower, take a cat nap. Since my 2nd child was fussy all afternoon and all night, and all twilight and dawn, I asked a friend to come over from 7-10pm when my husband had to travel. The start time was late enough I didn’t need to feed her dinner (and her food is way better than what I can cook anyway), and end time was early enough she could still go home to sleep in her own bed for a good night’s rest. Of course my baby did not fuss at all during those times, but that gave me peace of mind to bathe my older child, and have a proper bed time routine with her without interruption from her cranky infant sibling. Other things to outsource if possible – laundry, meals, dishes, groceries, and diapers. The only thing that can’t be outsourced is self care and sleep.* Make time to be with other adults *
  • Go on a date with your partner. Go out to lunch with friends & family. Go to a crowded place such as gym or mall – these may also be crowded with potential helpers. Or if you can’t get childcare, go to the local library story time with your child – meet other parents there, another place where you might find potential friends and build up your village network. 

Before you leave this website, please put this number in your phone. Suicide Prevention 800-273-TALK (8255). Someone you know may have a mental health crisis (even if not suicidal – severe anxiety, can’t get out of bed). Mental health problems affect 1 in 4-5 people. Chances are, you or someone you know will have a crisis, and this number could save their life. 

When Self Care Means Getting Help From A Professional

Sometimes, the parents I talk to were just looking for permission to do something for themselves. Occasionally, the parents don’t really want to talk about it, so as long as they don’t seem to be in danger of harming themselves, I will address their wellness again at the next visit. Sometimes, the parents don’t realize they need more help or were already considering therapy but didn’t know what number to call. Sometimes, a questionnaire that pediatricians and OB/gyn doctors give to moms, called an Edinburgh survey, helps to screen for postpartum depression. Sometimes, it’s the subtle signs that point to a parent feeling beyond overwhelmed. 

Parent 1 bursts into tears when I talk about how it is okay to let the baby cry.
Parent 2 gets into 2 minor car accidents with 9 month old baby aboard, all within 2 weeks.
Parent 3 asks a million questions about her 6 month old baby regarding completely benign behaviors that most parents wouldn’t think twice about.
Parent 4 tells me about how she is worried about her smiling baby at the restaurant, in the daycare, during play time, while the baby sleeps…

Repetitive life trauma leads to mental & physical diseases
What’s your ACE (Adverse Childhood Events) score?

I ask the questions, I administer the surveys, and I probe when the signs are there, because I have resources that I can point parents to – therapists, the local women’s wellness center, and sometimes referral back to the family doctor, OB/gyn, or psychiatrist if they already have one. Self care also means seeking proper guidance from a medical professional and taking the time to do so. Someone listen. Someone to do cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to change those nervous, paralyzing, sad feelings to more positive reactions. Someone to discuss if taking a medication might help with brain hormones and health. Someone to coach through picking priorities so that life seems a bit more bite-size manageable. 

So, the next time the pediatrician asks “how are you today?” remember that the pediatrician wants an honest answer and wants to offer practical solutions, to validate the chaos and the feeling of having lack of control, and to point parents to additional resources as needed. 

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This is not medical advice. Consult your child’s doctor and your doctor for proper guidance and recommendations that fit your child’s and your  specific needs.

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