The newborn days, y’all. They aren’t called the “100 days of darkness” for no reason. Oh man, they were rough. Like, so rough it took at least six months before I could reflect on my daughter as a newborn without shuddering with anxiety and trepidation.
That’s not everyone’s experience. Some mommas love the newborn phase and relish every tender snuggle and breath full of tiny baby scalp. For some it’s a time of peace and joy that they long for again. But no matter who you are or how you react to those newborn days, it’s one hell of an adjustment period.
As I sat across from my doctor eight days postpartum to express my concerns with the anxiety and depression I was experiencing, he gave me some life-saving advice. Seeing as I wasn’t ready to try medication to soften the emotional and mental blow motherhood was taking on me, he strongly suggested I try these six things. And momma, I sure hope you will, too. Because they helped me find some semblance of normalcy when it felt like my world had turned upside down because of that tiny, screaming human.
1. Accept Help
This is the biggest one. This is the tip that makes all of the other tips even remotely possible. ACCEPT HELP.
“People really want to help, and it makes them feel good when you accept it,” my doctor told me.
That was such a hard pill to swallow in the beginning, as I had been adamant I wanted no one in our house when we got home from the hospital. As an introvert who loves her space, it sounded like hell to have anyone, even someone as dear as my mom or mother-in-law, in my sphere. But 48 hours in, I converted. Big time. I called my mom at 4 am and begged her to drive up to help us care for this angry little house plant, and it was the first step in the right direction. Most of all, it gave me the freedom to follow through on my doctor’s subsequent advice.
My little Emilia was born in early June in Austin, Texas. Which meant the first three months of her life were a sweltering sauna of typical Texas summer heat. It was suffocating in more ways than one. I so longed to leave the house at all times of the day, but I couldn’t lest my baby suffer heat stroke in her stroller.
BUT, my doctor emphasized over and over again the benefit of physical exertion to naturally help your endorphins give you an oomph. So I did it. I’d leave the baby with my mom or husband and go on a short walk in the morning. For months I’d step briskly around the neighborhood after she went to bed. I even took up running, God help me.
And you know what? It WORKS! For the first time in my life, I was exercising for the sake of general wellness. Not to compensate for what I ate. Not to shred those unwanted pounds. Not to fit into those jeans I wore as a sophomore in college. It made me feel good emotionally, mentally, and physically. And that goodness trickled over into other facets of my life.
3. Get Sunshine
This can go hand-in-hand with getting exercise, but it can be an effort in itself. Soaking up some sunshine on a walk is a wonderful way to kill two birds with one stone, but in those early days I would simply open the blinds to let the sun pour into our home. I’d take my restless infant and do a lap around the backyard just for some fresh air and rays. We’d swing on the front porch for a bright, happy change in scenery. Vitamin D is a gift – don’t underestimate just how good it can be for you in those early days.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps!” How many times did you hear that, and how many times did you want to punch the person telling you that in the face?
Um, the baby sleeps in 20 minute increments, and it takes me at least 30 minutes of scrolling through Instagram to feel even remotely tired and calm enough to go to sleep. So take your crappy advice and shove it.
That being said, sleep is so, so, so important with a newborn. And this is where the whole “accepting help” thing really comes into play. You need to be able to pass your offspring off to a trustworthy soul so you can rest. Trust another human to keep your baby alive while you retire for even 30 minutes of relaxation.
My doctor told me, “There’s a reason militaries use sleep deprivation as a form of torture. You lose your mind when you run on little to no sleep.”
Avoid the torture chamber at all costs. Let the laundry pile up. Ignore the dishes. Don’t worry about that hospital bill in the mail. Sleep, momma. Sleep!
5. Eat Well
This was particularly challenging with a plethora of delicious yet hearty casseroles lining our freezer. After a week or two of “I don’t care I just need sustenance” survival mode, I started craving greens. Leafy greens, fresh produce, crisp fruit… And my doctor seconded that craving. He encouraged me to eat as well as I could to give my body the best possible fuel during such a crazy time.
Give yourself grace – don’t ignore the dish of mac and cheese in your fridge. It’s still food, and you need food. But throw in the power foods that you know make your body walk with an extra pep in your step. For us, that meant buying the pricier steam-in-bag produce, just so I could throw it in the microwave without the hassle of extra effort or more dishes. Life. Saver.
6. Get Away From Your Kid
Hear me out. It may take some time for you to do this. Especially if you’re nursing and you have that invisible tether between you and your baby that won’t release you for more than two hours at a time. But that independent time – away from your baby – can refuel you.
At one of my doctor appointments, he asked, “What kind of time are you getting away from your baby?”
It felt counterintuitive to leave her for my own pleasure. What kind of mother would find joy in that?
It turns out, a lot of mommas will tell you to do this same thing.
Initially for me, grocery shopping every Saturday on my own was my time away. Several times I received a panicked call from my husband about the screaming baby who refused a bottle because she wanted the real deal, so that can bring a cloud over your you-time. But I’d find other ways to embrace some alone time away from my baby, like going on runs while she played with dad, visiting a coffee shop to read and sip an overpriced drink for an hour while grandma visited, or grabbing lunch sans-kiddo with a friend. As she has gotten older, time away from her is much easier, and it’s much more rewarding. It refuels me to give her more of my energy and love and patience, instead of trying to pull water from a well that is cracked and dry.
It is hard, especially in those newborn days, but it is a valuable way to help you be the best version of yourself and remember who you were pre-baby.
If you are in the newborn days right now…
I see you. It is hard, and to be candid, a part of me truly dreads going through it again when the time comes. But you know what? It’s a stage. It passes. And while you may go into straight-up survival mode, it’s an opportunity to lean on those around you and take a fast and intense course in self-care. So if you’re a brand new momma or are in the throes of newborn days, give these tips a try. I hope it’ll give you some much-needed fresh air and freedom to breathe.
*Photo by the talented April Thomason of April Mae Creative