The New Mom’s Guide to Putting Herself First

Put myself first?! But mothers are supposed to be selfless!

Let us stop you right there for a moment. Mothers are many things: nurturing, fierce, protective, loving, caring – but selfless shouldn’t be something to aim for, especially as a new mother. The opposite of selfless isn’t necessarily selfish. But the self- part is correct. It’s about self-care.

New mothers (and veteran ones, too!) do best for themselves and their babies and children when they can balance fulfilling their child’s needs with fulfilling their own. Self-care, it turns out, is just as important – and often more important – than your child’s care. It’s the oxygen mask theory: take care of yourself first, and everything else falls into place after that.

Why you should put yourself first

First, because you owe it to yourself. You’re still the person you were before you had a baby, which is a fact that can be hard to remember when you’re a very new mother. Think of becoming a mom as adding a layer to your personhood – not shedding existing parts of yourself. Second, you owe it to your baby. Say what? Yes, it’s true! No matter how great your child’s needs are (and if you’re a mom to a newborn, you know they are great), if you’re not meeting your own needs as well, you’re setting a poor example for your child. Infants don’t see their mothers as separate beings for a while – but eventually children do. What kind of woman would you like your child to look up to and emulate? Exactly.

These are the emotional reasons putting yourself first matters. But there are important physical wellness ones, too. Remember when you were a teenager and you could stay up all night and do terribly unhealthy things and bounce right back? Yeah, you can’t do that anymore without suffering some potentially serious consequences. Just one example is the importance of sleep: If you don’t make your own sleep at least as important as your baby’s, all you’ll do is make yourself ill – literally.

How to go about putting yourself first sometimes

So how do you go about prioritizing your own health and wellbeing? You have to be intentional about it – otherwise it’s just too easy to slip into Mama Selfless Mode, which (see above!) does no one any good. Our put-yourself-first suggestions:

  • Make appointments. If you see in your calendar that you have a “date” with the gym, the walking path at the park, even just with your car keys to go for a quiet drive while your partner is with the baby, you’re more likely to keep it. The idea: Don’t just say you’re going to do something for yourself. Write it down. Even better, enlist a friend to be accountable to. It’s harder to miss Barre class when you already told your friend you’d be there.
  • Get outside. Do this every single day (almost) no matter the weather. A healthy body needs fresh air and sunshine. This goes double if it’s fall or winter—maximizing the amount of time you get of whatever weak sunshine’s out there is a proven booster of health as well as mood. (Bonus: a dose of air and exercise makes everyone sleep better.)
  • Feed yourself first: Addressing the urgent needs of a newborn is not easy. When your child cries and it’s feeding time, it can be hard to think of yourself first, but that often leaves many new moms nursing or bottle-feeding while they themselves are hungry or thirsty. Instead, strategize: Prep a sandwich and a bottle of water while your baby’s sleeping, so you can have it near you while you’re feeding him.
  • Prioritize sleep: We can’t say this enough, but there’s literally nothing that needs doing around your house that’s more important than your own, precious rest. That includes laundry, emptying the dishwasher, returning a phone call, and everything else. Just lie back and close your eyes. You deserve it.


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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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