No matter how many parenting books you’ve read (or how many Cabbage Patch Kids you took care of back in the day), nothing prepares you for the tsunami of emotions that strike once you bring that squishy little mini-you home. As excited as you are about being a new mom, admit it: You’re also kind of a wreck.
“The postpartum period is the least talked about time during the pregnancy cycle, yet it’s the most challenging hormonally, physically, and emotionally,” says Sherry Ross, M.D., ob/gyn at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. It’s also the time when new moms neglect their personal needs most. But you must take care of yourself. Not only will looking out for number one make you a much better mom and partner, you’ll better enjoy bonding with your babe—and rack up some seriously adorable memories.
Here are eight crucial things new moms need to make postpartum priorities (like, right now):
1. Eat enough.
It’s easy to skip a meal here and there when you’re dealing with the demands of a new baby—or worse, forget to eat altogether—but the lack of nutrition ultimately saps you of the very energy you need to stay on top of the whole motherhood thing. One easy fix is to eat when your baby eats. Have simple-to-make snack options on hand so that when the time comes, you don’t have to prepare anything, says Lizellen La Follette, M.D., ob/gyn at Marin General Hospital in California. Fill your freezer with double batches of dinners that you can bust out when you’re too tired to cook, or put your partner on dinner duty until further notice. You should also increase your fluid intake if you’re breastfeeding, says La Follette. The breastfeedingprocess creates a hormonal reaction that can increase thirst, so keep that bottle of water handy.
2. Keep taking your prenatal vitamins.
“Many women think that once they have the baby, they don’t need to continue taking prenatal vitamins,” says Ross. Not so. “If you’re breastfeeding, your body requires more vitamins and minerals than during your pregnancy,” she explains. You should also talk to your ob/gyn about upping your doses of vitamin D and omega 3 fish oil to ensure your babe scores the vital nutrients she needs.
3. Limit visits in the beginning.
Family and friends will be excited to see the new baby right away, but that doesn’t mean you have to allow it. “Childbirth is a difficult process for your body,” says New Jersey-based urogynecologist Betsy Greenleaf, D.O. “During this time, it’s challenging to keep your energy up, and visitors can further drain your (limited) resources.” Consider staggering visits over a longer period of time to help prevent isolation and postpartum depression—and bring the initial mad rush of visitors to a gentle flow. Phew.
4. Get more sleep. Seriously.
Sleep is important for every aspect of recovery, says Ross, yet ironically is a thing of the past once you have a newborn. According to March of Dimes, newborns sleep about 16 hours a day for three to four hours at a time, making it impossible for mom to score a solid stretch of shuteye, well, ever. It’s best to sleep when your baby sleeps—even if it’s just for a quick nap—and teach her day from night asap so you can gradually get back into the rhythm of a good night’s sleep, says Ross. For example, leave the curtains open and don’t go out of your way to be quiet during daytime naps, and keep the nursery dark and super-quiet during nighttime snoozes.
5. Be patient with breastfeeding. (It’s harder than it looks!)
In the beginning, breastfeeding sucks. Literally and figuratively. “The pain from breastfeeding is hard to get used to,” says Ross. “Between the blisters, nipple cream that doesn’t really help, and simultaneous pain from uterine cramping, the entire experience can be toe curling.” And actually getting your kiddo to nurse doesn’t always come easy. Just remember that breastfeeding can be a major struggle for any new mom—lactation consultants exist for a reason.
6. Get your Kegel on.
How soon you resume your workouts will depend on your current physical and mental status, how fit you were prior and during pregnancy, and what your delivery experience was like. But once your doc finally gives you the green light, go easy on yourself. (You did just push out a tiny human, after all.) Start by walking and strolling with your newborn 20 to 30 minutes a day, suggests Ross, who also recommends starting Kegel exercises as soon after delivery as you remember to. “Pregnancy and childbirth can weaken your pelvic floor muscles, resulting in uncomfortable pelvic pressure and unwanted leakage of urine,” she says. “Kegels are a simple and effective way to whip those muscles back into shape.”
7. Give your vagina some much-needed TLC.
If you had a normal vaginal delivery, chances are you’re dealing with a lot of pain and discomfort down yonder. The best treatment for vaginal tears is topical lidocaine to numb the affected areas, says Ross, while sitz baths and ibuprofen will help with swelling. And since even two-ply TP can be rough while you’re healing, keep the area clean by filling a squirt water bottle with warm water and pouring it over the vagina during and after peeing, she adds. Within six to 10 weeks, you’ll be as good as new.
8. Ask for help.
You are no good to anyone if you don’t take time for yourself, which means you’re going to have to call in reinforcements. Getting someone to watch the little one for a while might be your only hope for finding the time to take a shower, catch up on sleep (or Orange Is The New Black), or just be off duty for a few. Embracing support from others doesn’t just apply to childcare, either: Ask for help with laundry, making dinner, grocery shopping, even walking the dog. “Others want to help, so don’t be afraid to delegate,” says Greenleaf. “Ask for help and do it often.” What she said.