“Best Advice for New Moms Ever” was the title of a blog post I read recently. Curious mom and pediatrician that I am, I couldn’t wait to read the post. It was very good. The gist of the post was to try to relax in your new role as a mom.
But that title just wouldn’t leave my brain. As a pediatric hospitalist, a good part of my career involves caring for new babies in two very different hospital settings. I have been sending moms and babies home for 15 years now. Having watched them, and having gone through motherhood myself, what would my “best advice for new moms ever” include? Many books have been written about caring for babies, so there is much advice that could be given. But, what one piece of advice would make the biggest difference, have the biggest impact? What one piece of advice could change the experience of motherhood and improve the health of mom and baby?
The “best advice for new moms ever” isn’t in many of the books on how to care for your baby. It’s something many women work hard to do throughout their pregnancy but stop once they hear that first baby cry. It’s something that has a rippling effect for decades. It costs nothing, but saves society millions. It is something that is so hard to do at times and yet so vital.
So, what is my “best advice for new moms ever”? Take care of yourself. That’s it, four little words.
When you are pregnant it is easy to see why this one idea is so very important. The little baby growing inside of you is directly affected by what you eat, drink and do. If you smoke, the baby gets exposed and doesn’t grow as well. If you are chronically stressed or depressed, your body’s responsive hormones cause a cascade of negative effects on your baby. If you eat poorly, the baby is at risk for poor growth.
But once the baby is no longer a part of your body, it is easy to forget that tight association between how you care for yourself and your baby’s health. In a study published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, research found that if a mom is depressed in the first three years of her child’s life, the child’s risk for needing medications to treat psychiatric diagnoses doubles. Doubles!
Mothering is hard work. It is constant work. It is so easy to stop caring for yourself or to get overwhelmed. But, when you stop caring for yourself, your ability to care for your baby is impacted and your ability to enjoy motherhood is impacted. A mom who is well rested, eats a healthy diet, gets plenty of exercise, maintains close relationships with friends and gets help when she realizes she isn’t coping well, is far more equipped to be the best mother she can be than one who doesn’t do those things. It isn’t selfish to take time to exercise or to get an adequate sleep each night. If you feel overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, talk to your doctor. You deserve to feel good.
So, “Take care of yourself” first, and then read the other excellent advice at your fingertips.