Heard the expression, “Happy wife, happy life.” But what comes after that?
Once you start a family of course there are even more people in the mix to care about. We all want what’s best for our families when it comes to physical health and mental health. Sometimes we as parents, especially first time parents get so overwhelmed by all of it we forget about taking care of ourselves properly. There are two sides of this and one doesn’t come without the other. I’m going to focus on talking about babies and moms, to draw from my own personal experience, but of course there are many types of families, some with moms, some without, some with two dads, and some with loving guardians assuming the role.
What makes babies happy
We all know in order for mom to be happy, baby needs to be happy. How do we have a happy, contented baby? This is a big question with many different ways to answer, but for now I’ll focus on a calm, contented baby who can soothe themselves.
We will never remember what it feels like to be a baby, feeling helpless and overwhelmed by the new world around you. Our babies need us to read their cues, letting us know when they are hungry, need a new diaper, need comfort and when they need sleep.
"Babies indicate a need through gestures like wiggling when uncomfortable, or opening and closing their mouths when hungry. If that doesn't get your attention, they'll resort to crying," notes Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana, and the coeditor of Evolution, Early Experience, and Human Development. According to Dr. Narvaez, meeting your newborn's needs before they get distressed helps us build a calmer brain, self-confidence, and the expectation that she will be cared for, which leads to them being able to comfort themselves.
Many studies have found that positive touch—especially slow caresses and gentle stroking—makes an infant feel safe and comfortable by reducing the level of a stress hormone called cortisol, and stimulating the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that's calming and promotes bonding. Physical contact in the early months is important and Skin-to-skin contact is built into breastfeeding. If you're bottle-feeding, you can hold your baby's bare body to your belly while feeding her. At bath time, gently massage baby’s scalp, tummy, arms, legs, hands, and feet if they like it. And whenever your little one coos and leans toward your touch, don't hold back on the hugs and kisses. Those sweet snuggles stimulate "feel good" neurotransmitters in parents too.
As the names suggest, pacifiers help soothe and calm babies. Sucking is a normal reflex in newborn babies. In fact, it begins even before birth. It helps your baby practice feeding from the breast or a bottle. A calm environment free of chaos and loud sharp noises, akin to being in the womb again can also soothe a baby. Just like a pacifier is a helpful aid to soothe a baby, we can use noise muffling headwear to calm our babies when we can’t avoid noisy environments. As a mother I know how stressful a crying baby can be. It's normal to be upset by a crying baby and hard not to feel a little guilty. So, we can mitigate this feeling by helping our babies and ourselves as much as possible.
How to raise a happy baby
Which lead us back to taking care of mom properly. As moms we are willing to sacrifice everything for our babies. The first few months, and even years, can become consumed with tending to our baby’s needs. Baby’s eating, feeding and sleeping cycles are so short, every couple hours we ask ourselves what is next? Do they need to eat? Do they need to be changed? Do they need to sleep? And this repeats for months, or until we get a routine going. Should I talk to them or let them play independently for a bit? For many mothers it can mean putting their own needs on the back burner for a while. Having a bath or shower now seems like a luxury. This is all completely normal when caring for a baby. You do, however, need to find a healthy balance between taking care of your child and taking care of yourself.
Learn to accept help As a new mom you may feel you want to do everything for your child. This is completely natural; however, depending on the type of support network you have it can also become overwhelming. It’s a good idea to accept help when possible. It doesn’t have to be someone taking care of your child for a whole day. You can accept offers of babysitting, grandparents bathing the baby or friends bringing food. These small things can add up and do wonders for your mental state.
Many times partners, close friends and family may want to help, but don’t know exactly what you might need. One way to help yourself and accept their offer to help is to delegate needed tasks to them. If a close friends or family are visiting and offering to help let them know they can do dishes, load the laundry or help you prep baby’s food. A great gift friends can give you is offering to do your weekly grocery shopping.
Trusting your partner
Most moms have a pretty clear idea of how things they want things to be done with baby, and oftentimes dads/partners seem to think differently. While this may sometimes drive you nuts and make you feel as though you need to do everything yourself, that’s not healthy for you, baby or partner. Trust your partner and give them a chance. It may be hard in the beginning, especially if your baby calls for you or cries, but it takes a village to raise a child, and remember that. Partners need a chance to have their own experience with the baby and figure their own way together. If your partner wants to help out and participate in caring for baby, by all means let them!
Try to live guilt free
One of the biggest challenges most moms have is enjoying guilt-free time for themselves. Ask yourself, is baby with someone you trust? Will baby be taken care of? Do you need this time to rest, relax, or feel better? If you don’t get a little time to yourself will you be more stressed, sad or tired? If you do get this time will you have more energy and feel happier after? If you answer yes to these questions, you shouldn’t feel any guilt. You may miss out on a few hours here or there with your baby, but you deserve this time for yourself whether it is to nap, go out with a friend or choose to go back to work. It can be an amazing feeling to talk to another adult again, or just sit in silence and relax.
Whatever makes you happier you should do it. Remember that a happy mom makes a happy baby, and you both deserve that!