You’ve just had a baby, and to you, the phrase “healthy mom,” may be a cause for a snicker or two. The experiences of snuggling, baby kisses and laughter are invaluable, but because of this different time in your life, you eat mostly on the go, there’s hardly any time for exercise, and sleep is low-priority. However, you well-being is still very important, for both yourself, your spouse, and your children.
“Mothers of children under 3 weigh more, get less exercise and consume more sugary drinks and saturated fat than women without kids, an April 2011 University of Minnesota study found.”
It seems that mothers get so busy caring for their new babies that they forget about themselves. “Unless I stay super-organized and plan ahead, my own needs become an afterthought,” says Courtney Diffner, 32, mother of a 15-month-old girl in Burbank, Calif.
If motherhood has hijacked your health, it’s not just your problem, says Helen L. Coons, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia.
“The healthier and happier you are, the better you’re able to care for your baby,” she says.
Satisfying your needs may be difficult during this period, but it’s not impossible. Here are 12 valuable ways to keep lose weight, sleep more, and improve your diet from CNN health:
Healthy Mom Tip #1: Plan and prioritize.
You don’t have time to see your doctor – yet somehow you manage to lug little ones to theirs every month. So set up appointments, mark them on the calendar and make your health as non-negotiable as your children’s.
Remember, check-ups prevent future health problems.
Same goes for the gym:
“Children are very good at demanding all your attention, so exercise will keep moving to the bottom of your to-do list unless you make it a priority,” says Sam Zizzi, Ph.D., professor of the sports and exercise psychology program at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
Work out a weekly schedule with your spouse so he watches the kids while you go for a jog or work out to a video in the next room. Or schedule your workouts after hours.
“Many gyms offer spin, yoga and Pilates classes as late as 8:30 p.m. – after the kids are asleep,” Zizzi says.
Healthy Mom Tip #2: Breastfeed.
Breastfeeding isn’t just good for your newborn; it can be a health boon to you too. Mothers who breastfeed have lower rates of breast, uterine and ovarian cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health.
They’re also less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, a 2010 University of Pittsburgh study found. That may be because breastfeeding helps you lose baby weight by promoting the loss of maternal belly fat, the researchers said.
But breastfeeding is not always easy, says Michael O’Hara, Ph.D., a University of Iowa psychology professor who studies post-partum issues. Don’t expect it to come naturally – get support if you need it, he adds.
If you get discouraged, a lactation specialist at your local hospital can help – or sign up for free classes through La Leche League.
Healthy Mom Tip #3: Make sleep a priority.
“Chronic sleep deprivation increases your risk for a host of health problems, such as high blood pressure, weight gain and fatigue,” O’Hara says. “And lack of sleep will make it twice as hard to make healthy choices.”
If your newborn is stealing too many zzz’s, ask your partner to do a night feeding using pumped breast milk so you can sleep more
Healthy Mom Tip #4: Eat breakfast.
Miss your morning meal, and you’ll be cranky and more prone to overindulge later (say, by downing that pint of Ben and Jerry’s), says Jenna Bell, Ph.D., R.D., co-author of Energy to Burn (Wiley).
While it’s tempting to do chores while your infant takes a morning nap, you should make a point of fueling up early.
“Breakfast helps wake your brain and nourish your body,” Bell says. “Skip sugary cereals and breakfast sweets – they cause a sugar crash – and eat healthy, fiber-full foods like oatmeal with fresh fruit for long-lasting energy.” Be sure to have some protein too.
Healthy Mom Tip #5: Shower.
You had every intention to wash up, but after the cleaning, cooking, feedings and diaper changing, it’s 3 p.m. – and you’re still in your PJ’s.
“Your baby’s needs can make focusing on your appearance feel superficial, but showering does more than just clean your body,” says Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Walnut Creek, Calif. “It clears your mind and refreshes you.”
Shower during your kids’ morning nap (those dishes can wait), or ask a family member or friend to stop by so you can take a quickie.
“Besides a much-needed time out, taking care and feeling good about the way you look is important to maintaining your identity and self-worth,” Honos-Webb says.
Meeting other moms going through the same experience can help you stay sane.“Spending time with women who’ve walked in your shoes gives you an opportunity to seek advice, solve problems, vent and simply feel more understood,” Coons says.Look in your local hospital, child-care co-ops, churches and libraries for a moms’ group in your community – or start one of your own.
Leave the soda, chips, cookies and other high-calorie snacks at the store. Now that you’re spending more time at home, you’re more likely to eat what’s in your cupboards.“It’s harder to resist temptation if it’s staring you in the face,” O’Hara says. “Plus, [packaged snack foods] are high in calories, fat and sodium, and don’t contain the nutrients you need to feel energized for the day.”To fill your cart with nutrient-rich foods, stick to the store perimeter when shopping. Many overly processed items take up the middle rows, while the outside aisles are stocked with good-for-you fruits, veggies and fresh meat, fish and poultry.A mother’s eating habits also affects her child’s consumption of fruits and vegetables, according to a 2010 study at Michigan State University.
Healthy Mom Tip #8: Make time for your marriage.
Don’t forget what it felt like to be a party of two.
“Focusing on what brought you together and who you are as husband and wife – not just mom and dad – is key to a healthy, happy marriage,” Honos-Webb says.
Schedule weekly dates with your partner (no kids allowed!) so you can spend time focusing on things you enjoy apart from your children.
“It doesn’t have to be a fancy dinner – simply meeting at your favorite lunch spot, cooking dinner together at home or grabbing a bite at a local joint can help keep you connected,” Honos-Webb says.
Healthy Mom Tip #9: Get outside.
A breath of fresh air really is good for you. Simply spending time outside – regardless of the activity – can help you stay sane and feel more alive, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology
Just 20 minutes was enough to significantly boost energy levels, the study found, so sit on a sunny park bench and watch your kids play, or take walks around the block on your office lunch break to enjoy the great outdoors.
Need incentive? Meet a friend to walk your kids around the neighborhood in the mornings.
“Just a moderate level of physical activity can help you feel more relaxed and better able to deal with the demands of the day ahead,” Zizzi says.
New to the neighborhood? Join Strollerstrides.com, an online community and exercise program for parents that incorporates entertainment for babies, to find others in your area who want to get fit.
Healthy Mom Tip #10: Don’t forget your passions.
“Completely sacrificing yourself for your children will leave you feeling depleted and vulnerable to depression,” Honos-Webb says.
Make a list of five things you love and find ways to incorporate them into your daily life. If you love music, introduce your children to your favorite tunes. If it’s horses, plan a family excursion where you ride and your kids take lessons.
Bonus: Brains of new mothers grow bigger in areas linked to motivation and behavior, according to 2010 research by the American Psychological Association. Why not take advantage of this brain boost and explore new interests – maybe a painting class?
Healthy Mom Tip #11: Get out of town.
Middle-aged women who take vacations at least twice a year are nearly eight times less likely to develop fatal heart disease than those who stay home, according to a classic 1992 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They’re also more likely to have a small waist circumference and lower body mass index, a 2009 study in Psychosomatic Medicine reports.
Healthy Mom Tip #12: Ask for help.
“It truly takes a village to help raise our children, so don’t feel inadequate if you need help and support from friends and family,” Coons says. “Going until you run on empty will only leave you feeling more discouraged.”
So ask grandma and grandpa for a hand- or arrange a swap with your neighbor – you’ll watch her kids for an afternoon if she’ll watch yours – so you have time to take care of yourself.
“Every bit counts,” Honos-Webb says. “What’s most important to you and your child is you’re happy and enjoying the time you spend together.”
Motherhood has many different facets to it, each one beautiful, precious, and necessary for a better world.. Mothers provide “guidance, encouragement, discipline and structure. But sometimes a busy schedule and not enough “me” time gets in the way of being the best mom you can be.” Take the time to really implement these tips as you see fit, and see where they take you. Most importantly, remember that as a mother and a woman, you are invaluable to your family and the whole of society.