Why Self-Care Matters For Moms

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated September 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Some mothers may become overwhelmed as they confront motherhood, often putting the needs of their families ahead of their own. Self-care can significantly impact one's mental, physical, and emotional well-being—prompting some mothers to attempt to strike a balance between their health and their children's health.  

Learning to use self-care properly can be a vital part of becoming the mother you want to be. There are several benefits this skill may bring into your life, and you may also be able to learn healthy coping mechanisms with a professional through therapy. As a mother, you're not alone, and support is available.

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Take Care Of Yourself In Motherhood

What Is Self-Care, And Why Does It Matter?

Beyond the essentials required for survival, humans can benefit from additional efforts to promote mental and physical well-being. The term for activities that increase well-being and enjoyment is self-care—referring to any activity that positively impacts one's mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and social health. 

Self-care can be essential because it gives you time to focus on yourself instead of only focusing on external situations, such as your career, family, or relationships.

The benefits of self-care for mothers might include the following: 

  • A reduction in the risk of future medical issues, such as heart disease 

  • More time to devote to building and maintaining personal relationships

  • Improvement of your self-perception

  • Higher self-esteem 

Self-care can help you safeguard your mental health. As you practice self-care, you build practical coping skills to manage stress. It can also help you reduce the impact of depression and anxiety if you live with these conditions. 

How Do You Define A "Good" Mother?

While the qualifications of a healthy mother can be subjective, some common traits and qualities that mothers might have can lend themselves to a more rewarding experience with parenthood. 

Characteristics like respect, affection, patience, empathy, support, healthy authoritativeness, and humility are often considered positive in a caregiver. Self-care can help you find a balance to provide these qualities and others to your family. In addition, children often mimic their parents, so seeing their mother partaking in self-care can help them choose self-care for themselves. 

Recognizing The Signs Of Postpartum Depression

Some mothers might experience intense sadness, distressing thoughts, and other psychological symptoms after giving birth. While the "baby blues" are common after childbirth and may last up to two weeks, some people experience more severe symptoms. If you are experiencing severe depression after the birth or adoption of a child, you might be living with postpartum depression or peripartum depression, which begins during pregnancy. 

Postpartum depression is not the baby blues and often requires professional support from a therapist or psychiatrist. Understanding common symptoms of postpartum depression and its possible range of manifestation can result in shorter diagnostic processes, more accurate treatment, and more positive experiences for the parents and the child. Additionally, postpartum depression is not a weakness or character flaw. Instead, it's regarded by many as a complication of childbirth, potentially caused by the influx of hormones that can affect body and brain chemistry. 

Mothers and people with gynecological reproductive systems are not the only people who can experience postpartum depression. Fathers, adoptive parents, foster parents, and non-gestational partners can experience the condition after welcoming a new child to their home. Self-care may help you recognize the symptoms of a mental health condition early on, and seeking treatment as a form of self-care can minimize the impact postpartum depression can have on you and your family. 

Postpartum Depression Symptoms

Several symptoms are associated with postpartum depression, including the following: 

  • Severe mood swings and a low mood 

  • Difficulty bonding with one's new child 

  • Sleeping too much or not enough

  • Intrusive thoughts of suicide or death

  • Anhedonia, a lack of interest in or pleasure from previously enjoyed activities 

  • Intense fear that one is a "bad parent" or caregiver

  • Shame or guilt

  • Intrusive thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

If you're experiencing postpartum depression and have the urge to harm yourself or your child, please call 988 for immediate support. If you're living with postpartum depression and want to find support, you can also contact the Postpartum Support International HelpLine at 1-800-4773 for resources and guidance. 

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Why Moms Often Struggle With Self-Care

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) experts, people may struggle with prioritizing their own needs for various reasons. Mothers, for example, might focus so much on meeting their children's needs that they forget to care for themselves properly. 

It can be helpful to remember that parents can often provide the best care for their children when caring for themselves. Additionally, you might find it helpful to remember that you are worthy of the time to care for yourself—it Isn't selfish to practice self-care. 

Prioritizing Yourself May Help You Be Present For Your Children 

Consider beginning your self-care journey with short and long-term self-care goals. Once you have those established, you can create family-care plans, such as helping everyone connect emotionally or communicate effectively.

While you may feel guilty for leaving the children with your partner to have a quiet moment to decompress after a hectic day, it can be helpful to remember that taking the time for self-care allows you to present the best version of yourself to your family. 

As you continue the practice of self-care, work on changing your perspective about self-care by considering how you want your children to approach their mental and physical well-being in the future. 

Learning To Take Care Of Yourself: A Guide

For some, one of the central facets of self-care is learning how to manage your stress reactions. Stress management may help you show up as a stable, attentive influence in your family, allowing you to release stress and strain in healthy ways rather than self-denial. Below are a few self-care activities to try. 

Use Your Senses 

Sensory input from your five senses can help you manage stress in numerous ways. Exploring these outlets with sensory-friendly toys, slime, or other materials can help you to remain more physically and mentally calm. Some people use a "worry stone," a smooth stone they can run their finger over during the day when stress arises. Others use fidget toys, which adults can use and have been proven to reduce anxiety and stress

Make Time For Yourself 

Make time to partake in your hobbies without your children or partner present. Alone time can help you process your emotions from the day and prepare for potentially stressful situations. In addition, it may give you a moment to breathe and focus on what you enjoy, outside of what others want from you. 

Complete A To-Do List Item 

Cross off a task you've been avoiding from your to-do list. Overwhelm can be expected when you have many ideas in your mind about what you "must do." The significance you place on these tasks may be greater in your mind than the task requires. Once the task is done, you can reward yourself with relaxation and less mental rumination. 

Center Yourself 

Centering yourself means connecting with your environment, soul, and beliefs. Some mothers might achieve this skill through meditation, prayer, or time in nature. Find what makes you feel connected to the world around you and try to partake in it once a week or more. 

Focus On Your Basic Needs 

Survival needs can be an essential part of self-care. However, some parents might struggle to eat healthy, sleep on time, and exercise. In these cases, adding a bedtime to your schedule, eating healthier foods, and going for a daily or weekly walk may make a difference in your health. If parenting makes it challenging to find time for these activities, consider bringing your children along and making it a fun family activity, such as a family hike. 

Stay Connected 

Stay connected with your social network. Friends and family can be powerful, uplifting, and encouraging you when you need it most. Humans require social connection for mental and physical well-being, so do your best to find healthy connections with others, even if that means joining a parenting group to meet other moms.  

Consider Other Forms Of Self-Care  

Some moms may spend a significant amount of time attempting to meet the standards of what they believe a "good mom" is. However, motherhood is unique to everyone. Being kind, empathetic, and supportive to your children often comes from being that way to yourself. Below are a few other forms of self-care to consider: 

  • Don't compare yourself to others

  • Learn to identify the cause of your stress and unhappiness

  • Develop and implement practical solutions to your problems

  • Ask for help if you need it—both personally and professionally

  • Take care of yourself first to take care of your children

  • Remember that your kids don't have a scoresheet. Everyone makes mistakes. Apologize when you make one

  • Check in with your kids and emphasize the importance of self-care

  • Celebrate your successes

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Take Care Of Yourself In Motherhood

Talk To A Therapist 

If you consistently undervalue your feelings, time, and well-being, consider contacting a professional for support and guidance. Self-care can benefit from effort, emotional intelligence (recognizing and understanding emotions), and literacy (communicating your thoughts, feelings, and needs)—all of which you can learn with a qualified therapist. 

Some mothers find that working with a licensed therapist online through a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp can be a convenient way to fit therapy into their busy schedules, especially with the bustle and demands of parenthood. With flexible appointment formats, frequently lower costs, and shorter wait times on average, online therapy can make treatment accessible to people who previously lacked options. 

Some therapists use online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help clients identify and overcome harmful or maladaptive behaviors and thought patterns. According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, online CBT treatments can be as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy. Online therapy is sometimes more effective, especially for those who have not tried therapy before. Some clients find the convenience of therapy from home makes it possible to participate in more sessions. 

Takeaway

It may be easier to care for your children when you can adequately care for yourself. In this vein, self-care can be crucial to your overall physical and mental well-being. If you struggle to develop a self-care routine, consider contacting a professional online or in your area for further support and guidance. You're not alone, and caring for yourself is often the first step to caring for others. 

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