Self-care has become a buzzword in recent times, but what exactly does it mean? According to WHO, self-care refers to ‘the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease and cope with illness with or without the support of a healthcare provider’. In this regard, self-care is a rather broad concept.
In narrowing it down, Psych Central defines self-care as any activity that we do, intentionally, so as to take care of our mental, physical and emotional health. This sounds simple enough at first glance, but the truth is that it is something that many people often ignore. In fact, for many women, self-care may feel unachievable with the numerous responsibilities often placed on women’s shoulders. This is why it is important to look at what self-care for women looks like, particularly in the perinatal period.
Self-care and the perinatal period
Having defined what self-care is, it is also important to outline the perinatal period. This refers to the time period between conception up to one year after birth. During this period, women are vulnerable owing to the many changes that come with the transition to motherhood. These changes include hormone fluctuation during pregnancy, the process of childbirth, adjusting to living with an infant, breastfeeding and complimentary feeding.
With these numerous changes, it is easy to see why the perinatal period is crucial for many women. To be able to function optimally and take care of the little ones, women need to practice self-care. Finding practical ways to care for oneself makes a big difference for a woman’s health and her ability to nurture her baby.
Ways to look after yourself during the perinatal period
Plug into your support system
A woman’s support system makes a big difference in her transition through pregnancy to motherhood. This support system not only offers a safe space for a woman to share her fears and frustrations, it also offers her the assurance that she is not alone. This emotional support is very affirming for many women during this vulnerable phase of life.
Support systems are as variable as the women themselves, and may typically include:
- Immediate and extended family members
- Local mom-and-baby groups
- Online support groups for mom – these are particularly popular on some social media sites such as Facebook and WhatsApp.
- Chama groups
- Alumni groups where former school members come together to walk with the woman
Managing daily chores
Coping with the mundane day-to-day tasks of household duties, coupled with caring for a new born is hectic for most new moms. Left unchecked, the pressure to keep up often predisposes woman to an array of mental health conditions. Finding ways to manage these tasks is a key part of self-care. For pregnant women and new mothers, it is important to learn to accept help whenever it is offered. Many women find it difficult to accept help. Whenever your support system offers to help with daily household chores, accept this kind of help as you need this support. Practical ways that a woman’s support system can assist include:
- Doing grocery shopping
- Running errands
- Preparing meals in advance
- Doing laundry/ folding clothes
- Clearing the sink and cleaning dishes
- Babysitting so that the new mom has time to rest
Women in the perinatal period need to remember that accepting help is not a sign of weakness. While you may have been used to getting work done around the house, it helps to keep in mind that taking care of a new born is a time-consuming job. It is okay not to be a ‘Super Woman’ and to accept help.
Making small changes for self-care
As mentioned above, taking care of a new-born is a full-time job. It can seem very daunting for pregnant and postpartum women to look after themselves, but making small changes can help them feel better.
- Stay active. It is well-known that physical activity goes a long way in improving one’s moods, something that is particularly important for women in the perinatal period. Whether that is going for an evening walk with the baby, dancing to your favourite songs or doing stretches in the evening, this helps women do something for themselves (and not for the baby per se).
- Try and get enough sleep. Sleep patterns are bound to change when a new baby comes into the picture, but finding time to rest is crucial for good health. For new moms especially, it helps if her community is at hand to assist. (More information on what community care looks like at the end of this post).
- In addition to getting time to sleep, it also helps if women in the perinatal period can get time to unwind and relax. This doesn’t have to be grandiose activities such as bubble baths and spa dates. Even five minutes of watching the sun set, or reading a chapter in a book can make a huge difference.
Beyond self-care for women: what community care looks like
Self-care largely focuses on what one can do for themselves – it is individualized. This care typically focuses on an individual preserving themselves. The truth of the matter is that to enable self-care, it is important to create community care initiatives. This does not necessarily refer to grand-scale operations. Rather, it is geared towards building a supportive network of people who can assist when members re in need. Simply put, it enables self-care for individuals who would otherwise not be able to practice it on their own.
A perfect example of this is the age-old practice of cooking for new mothers in many different communities in Kenya, with the full understanding that the transition to motherhood makes it difficult for new moms to care for themselves. Additionally, in these communities, women would take turns to care for the baby and allow the new mother to rest. In today’s global village however, this is easier said than done, and it can be very isolating.
Tunza Mama offers support for women through pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding and weaning. We provide the ‘village’ that it takes to raise a child with all our packages. Get access now when you click this link.