Self care is important but sometimes a mum needs you to care for her instead

The advice I received most during pregnancy and the first few months of motherhood was to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I rarely slept when Henry did. Most mums I know didn’t sleep then either. There’s washing, cleaning and cooking that needs to be done. We feel like we need to do it all because we’re the ones that are home all day. ​

Like every new mum, I put so much pressure on myself in those first few months. I didn’t know what to do with a newborn, yet I was expecting myself to do it perfectly. I’d end up in tears just because I was so tired and couldn’t think rationally. When people asked how our family was doing, I always felt like I had to give a positive response. 

Before motherhood, I was a social worker working with children in foster care. At work, the term ‘self care’ was thrown about all the time.

‘Self care’ is about identifying and doing things that you need to do to look after yourself physically, emotionally and psychologically.

I kept coming back to this concept while on maternity leave and realised that there are 3 main issues with it when it comes to new mums:

1. Self-care assumes that you have time to yourself
2. Engaging in self-care causes ‘mum guilt’
3. When you’re most in need of self-care, it’s also when you’re least likely to practise it

When you become a mum, you have no choice but to put your own needs last. Your baby comes first because they’re completely dependent on you for everything – food, sleep and entertainment. It’s rewarding, sure. But living this way is an adjustment. It can be a burden. It’s a very real pressure.

Many new mums aren’t in a position to practiseself care‘. It might be because they don’t have the energy, the means or the hands to help. Perhaps it’s because they can’t see that they’re running themselves into the ground. Maybe no-one’s told them that it’s okay to take a break. They feel that doing something for themselves is done at the expense of their child. They think that others will think badly of them if they take some time out.

‘Other care’ is a much more appropriate concept. It’s about doing things for others that will help them to be physically, emotionally and psychologically well. It’s not just about responding to the needs of your loved one; it’s about anticipating them. That’s what prevents little issues turning into big ones.

Mothers practise ‘other care’ because they choose to. They know it’s part and parcel with entry into motherhood. But they also practise it because they have to, even when they’re not in the mood. And, if you scratch the surface just a little, you’ll see that a mother doesn’t just do this for her baby. She does it for the whole family. Doing so becomes a habit. A mother needs someone to return this mindset with action.

Self care‘ is an important thing for us to engage in. It’s undeniable that there are things we need and want to do on our own, just for ourselves. Mothers are not immune from this; nor should they be.

I’m not saying that a mother doesn’t have a responsibility to look after herself. She does. I’m saying that ‘other care’ is important too.

A lot of it comes down to effort and reward. There are so many things that a partner can do for a mother that require minimal effort yet have a huge impact. Doing something ever so simple, like making a mum a cup of tea while she’s breastfeeding, might be just what she needs to keep on keeping on.

Self care‘ is about telling yourself that you’re important, because you are. ‘Other care’ is about telling others they’re important, because they are too. Practise both and practise often.

Beth x

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