We’ve all heard the adage about putting the oxygen mask on our face first, right? We can’t pour from an empty cup and looking after yourself means you will have the strength and energy to look after others. And in this case, if “others” means a new baby, or baby plus toddler, then it’s even more vital to give yourself some much-needed self-care.
As an exhausted new mother myself, the stress of juggling seasonal commitments, work, feeding and Christmas presents was starting to pile up. I asked some of the best experts in postnatal health, wellbeing, fitness and even eye health how I could keep myself well this winter and start the new year feeling a bit calmer – and in keeping with the meaning of the season, I’m sharing them with all of you, too.
‘A lot of new mums feel different and anxious after giving birth and this is completely normal. There is a lot of pressure on mums to do certain things, like breastfeed, and continue to do everything they were doing before. Throw in the pressure of Christmas and all the expectation that comes with it and it can be a minefield, the most important thing is to give yourself space and time,’ Helen O’Leary, Physiotherapist and Clinical Director at Complete Pilates advises. ‘This means time for your body to recover, space to do nothing if you want to and the patience with yourself to progress in your own time.
A ten-minute eye mask can work wonders
Consultant Oculoplastic and Ophthalmic Surgeon Elizabeth Hawkes, who is a new mum herself to a six-month old, echoed my feelings that feeling tired and exhausted is one of the most common woes among new mums -affecting nearly two-thirds of them at some point.
Sometimes I am so tired I can barely see straight, not to mention this can affect feelings of self-esteem as your eye bags come with their own eye bags when you’re up all-night breastfeeding/soothing/changing nappies.
’There’s no doubt that a new baby makes you tired! The hormonal changes in the postnatal period contribute to dry eye symptoms and lack of sleep contributes to dark circles.
But Dr Hawkes said it’s vital that new mums look after their eye health for self-care over the Christmas period. ‘When you’re tired, you are prone to rubbing your eyes more, which can irritate them and it risks causing damage to the eye itself or surrounding areas.
‘As a mum to a little baby myself, I also suggest using a cold compress in the morning or evening for 10 minutes…but I appreciate this may be impossible and if you do get 10 minutes to yourself, you might want to spend it showering or having a cup of tea,’ adds Dr Hawkes. ‘But if you have a mask you can keep in the fridge and do find the time to pull it out, it can really help reduce dark circles. Please do make sure you keep it clean as otherwise it could lead to infections.’
I’ve been testing the S8 Power Eyes Massager once I’ve put the baby to bed and while I can’t say I see much difference in my dark circles, I do feel like the ten minutes to myself helps ease some of the tension headaches I’ve been having, plus the warming sensation on the eyes is heavenly.
Take five minutes to breathe
Being a new mother can feel over whelming at the best of times but at Christmas it seems to take on another level and the ‘to-do’ list feels never ending. ‘Mothers often put everyone else around them first and forget to take care of themselves,’ Gemma Naylor, a Meditation and Wellbeing expert told me while guiding me through a blissful mediation over the phone. It was one of the only times I actually switched off all day and that after only a few minutes focusing on Gemma’s soothing voice and taking the time to breathe deeply, I felt calmer, and my frayed nerves were soothed. ‘Simple things like keeping hydrated and sufficiently nourished are easily overlooked which add to fatigue and increased stress levels too,’ Gemma told me. ‘When you feel overwhelmed a wonderful life hack is to take three deep belly breaths which helps us to instantly decrease our stress levels due to the calming effect controlled breathing has on our nervous system.’
‘The greatest gift any new mum can give themselves this Christmas is to make best friends with Mother Nature and get outdoors with your baby,’ says new mum and outdoors advocate India Pearson. ‘Sleepless nights and baby brain can be tough for any new mum, let alone during the busy festive season but a brisk winter walk every morning will do you and your baby the world of good. This is because breathing in fresh air helps us get more oxygen to our brains which can help us feel more focused for the day. The fresh air will get you breathing deeper and more innately doing so much good for your lungs!
‘We have a habit of shallow breathing when we’re sat down indoors but moving outdoors will do the opposite and your body will love you for it. The natural light will also give you and your baby a dose of Vitamin D which helps regulate our body clock, making us more awake during the day and helping us to fall asleep at the appropriate time at night (even if it is on the sofa in front of a Christmas movie!). Getting outside doesn’t have to be extravagant, it can be as simple as a walk around your local park, woodland, or river. So wrap up warm and enjoy the beauty of nature at this time of year as a new mum.’
‘Being a mum and a new mum can be very overwhelming and carries lots of uncertainties, anxieties and added stresses on the mind and body. Exercise can help a lot,’ says Sarah Campus, a PT a mum of 3 under 5 herself and founder of LDN MUMS FITNESS. ‘Regular activity this Christmas doesn’t need to take long and has numerous benefits holistically – for the mind, body and soul.
Being a former yoga teacher and a lover of exercise, getting my body moving while having a newborn has been one of the hardest things I’ve tackled. My need for movement is essential, but so is feeding and changing my baby and there are only so many hours in the day.
‘Try and do even 6-20 minutes daily, something is better than nothing and you’ll feel so much better for it afterwards.’ Sarah Campus advises me when I tell her my worries.
I’m intrigued by a new LES MILLS’ study that reveals a pre-bedtime stretching and meditation session can improve sleep, boost positive feelings, and enhance recovery from mental as well as physical stress so I’ve started spending ten minutes stretching at night after I’ve put my baba down for the night and it’s working wonders. The good news is that you don’t even have to stretch every night, Sarah Durnford, Head Trainer at Les Mills UK tells me, the study revealed that stretching for just three nights a week was enough to show a calming response in the nervous system.
Be kind to your mind
I asked Marta Kinsella – Specialist Pelvic Health & Rehabilitation Physiotherapist and Luna Daily collective member for her top tips on how to manage feeling frazzled this festive season.
1) Acceptance. Accept that things aren’t going to be perfect and the first Christmas with a baby is going to be different, might be stressful or overwhelming. Be kind to yourself, life with a new baby can be a roller coaster of emotions and responsibilities but by identifying that it is both a magical but challenging time, things will get easier.
2) Try and eat well. If you have had a sleepless night you will need to have a slow start to your morning making sure you have some breakfast to start the day well. Adding linseed to your morning routine will help new mothers to kick start their bowel in the morning which is so important in the early postnatal stage for a healthy pelvic floor.
3: Set realistic expectations: New mothers can put a lot of pressure on themselves, especially over Christmas by attending social and family gatherings. Focus on your fatigue management and be gentle with yourself.
4: Find small moments of calm. A warm shower or making yourself a cup of tea and calling a friend for a 5-minute chat will make the world of difference.
Take the pressure off
Dr Gill Jenkins and an advisor for the Deep Freeze Cold Patch gave me some sage advice when I asked her how I could tackle Christmas this year while feeling I had far too much on my plate. ‘There’s a lot of pressure for everyone around Christmas time. We want to make everything perfect and that’s a recipe for a stress blowout. Add into that, a new little person to care for and new mums can feel completely overwhelmed. I’d advise new mums to stay at home if they can for that first Christmas. You’re less likely to have other people placing demands on you in your own home; don’t rush round trying to be supermum. Just enjoy your newborn and be as kind to yourself as possible. The house doesn’t have to be spotless and the food doesn’t have to be perfect. Ask for help and be specific about what you need. Even if it gives you just 20 minutes to relax or one less thing to stress about.’
This advice is gold dust because as a mum who tries to get everything done herself, asking for help does not come easily. I find that I get wound up and resentful if I don’t ask for the help I need, my loved ones aren’t mind readers so me spelling out how and when I need help has made a big difference to my mood.
Dr Gill added, ‘keep Christmas simple. You don’t need tons of family traditions for this year. Maybe choose one, and get your partner or mum to help out. Just enjoy. Next year can be different if you want to go Christmas Crazy! If you have a busy house, take little one into the bedroom for feeds, as this can give you some quiet time for yourself and your little one.’
Take some time for yourself
Now it’s all very well me advising you to take some time for yourself but I can almost hear you shouting back at me, babe in arms; ‘I’d love some time for myself, when is that going to happen?!’ I hear you. I’m not sure how to tackle this one myself so I asked Monique Eastwood, Personal Trainer to celebrity mums such as Emily Blunt for her advice. ‘I would definitely make the most of having more people around at this time of year and ask for time out even if it’s to have a lovely bath or do a Pilates or yoga session. Can they take care of the baby while you go for a massage, have your hair done or just catch up with a friend? I would try to delegate so that a family member or close friend pops around to watch your baby for a few hours so you can take some time for yourself.’
‘With the current cost of living crisis and rising inflation the pressure that is being put on people’s stress levels and mental health is higher than ever. Worryingly, latest polling from YouGov has found that one in five Britons have sought help with their mental health recently and NHS waiting lists for mental health treatment are now 1.2million people long and waiting time targets are not being met,’ explains author and leading authority on mental toughness, Penny Mallory.
‘Burnout can be characterised by a huge number of symptoms including exhaustion, feelings of negativity and mental distance, and reduced professional efficacy. These can be both debilitating and have a huge effect on someone’s life.’ I loved speaking to Penny, who is about to embark on the ultimate test of mental toughness by rowing the Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge in Dec 2023 and took speedy notes as she gave me her top tips for developing resilience.
‘Resilience is our ability to adapt, recover quickly and bounce back when things don’t go as we had planned or hoped,’ explains Penny. ‘Resilient people don’t wallow or dwell on failure; they acknowledge the situation, learn lessons from mistakes and move forward. Set aside the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can.’ I’ve committed to letting mistakes made in motherhood go, babies don’t come with a manual and we are all learning as we go! I commit to taking Penny’s advice, focusing on what I can control and letting everything outside of my control go.
New mothers tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves and with the current trend for being so visible on social media – it can become very overwhelming trying to ensure you achieve your baby’s care checklist of feeding, burping, changing nappies, bathing alongside appearing like you are effortlessly coping and maintaining new mother and baby group socialising. Add Christmas to the list and all of a sudden your day ahead seems momentous – let along thinking about the countdown to the festive period, Henal Somji, Co-founder of @drmedispa told me when I sat down to chat to the mother of two recently.
Co-running the DrMediSpa group with my husband Dr Munir Somji means that I have to be disciplined so I make sure ensure I compile a to do list and delegate where possible. Also, never forgot to ensure to allow enough time in your day for baby cuddles and to enjoy your new baby, this is a special time, and it goes by so fast-enjoy every moment.’
Give your pelvic floor some TLC
Dr Gill gave me some further great advice when I quizzed her on how best to take care of our pelvic floor while we have so much going on. ‘Pelvic floor issues are common in and following pregnancy. They can cause symptoms such as urinary and anal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapses and changes in sexual activity, which may have a negative impact on a new mum’s daily life.
‘It’s important to do pelvic floor exercises. Get comfortable and try to contract the muscles that you use to stop your urine flowing. Or try to stop your urine flowing when you go for a pee. If doing the exercises, squeeze for a couple of seconds, then relax completely for at least 10 seconds before trying again. The movement is upward and inward, not down. Breathe normally throughout, do not hold your breath. Keep your stomach, bottom and legs relaxed. Keep working on this until you are confident that you can squeeze whenever you choose to and hold a squeeze for 10 seconds or longer once your muscles feel fitter. If you don’t manage this after a few minutes, don’t worry, have another try the next day.
‘If you don’t have any success after a week, it is probably a good idea to see your GP, who can arrange supervised pelvic floor training for you. Pelvic floor exercises sound simple but are not!’
The best products, skincare and gadgets for busy and knackered mamas this Christmas
I have tried and tested everything on this list, and they are the things I swear by to help me navigate busy days when I’ve been up all night with a teething baby and then juggling a full working day trying to write while my baby sleeps. These are all aimed at busy mums with hardly any time and get results fast. All tried and tested by me while juggling my own little one.
For your mood
I adore the NEOM Wellbeing Pod Diffuser. It was the first thing I turned on when I got home from the hospital, I place a few drops of Lavender essential oil and turned on the pod so it glowed gently in the nursery and kept me company in the middle of the night feeds.
The Salter Ceramic Diffuser is a great budget alternative.
For your face
I love Sarah Chapman’s new multitasking product, Glow Illuminating Elixir. It’s essentially an oil-serum hybrid, imparting glow and radiance – perfect for a super quick boost as when you’re a mum, there’s never enough time so you need fast acting products that work.
The formula contains a nourishing blend of vitamins and omega oils and smells delicious.
In the shower
The shower became my haven during the early newborn days, even ten minutes to myself felt like a luxury during the blur of breastfeeding and sleep deprivation. My favourites are the ESPA Positivity Bath and Shower Gel to give you a lift and the refreshing Urtekram Nordic Birch Shower Gel to give you a boost.
For a further boost you could try the new FOREO Luna 4 Body, it is tiny but mighty and makes you feel like you’ve had a full body exfoliation in under five minutes. Clinically proven to be 35 times more hygienic than brushes or loofahs, helpful for gently exfoliating cracked nipples.
Before the Christmas party
When you want to look your best and get ready fast then micro-current is your best friend. I swear by the NuFace Mini and not only used this on the morning of my wedding but also whip it out and give my face a once over while the baby is napping.
It’s a quick trick and emulates a mini salon facial, the NuFace takes under 5 minutes and totally uplifts facial contours, tightens and tones the skin and is great for nights out when you have literally no time to prep your face beforehand.
For Christmas Day
I resisted buying the FOREO UFO Mask for a long, long time despite reading glowing reviews. I couldn’t see how attaching a sheet mask to a gadget for only five minutes could make any real difference. Reader, I was so very wrong. My hubby bought me this for my birthday and it has made a huge difference to my new mum routine. I use it when I have five minutes before I head out and it feels like I’ve infused my face with lashings of hydrating serums for hours on end (I can assure you, I have not). Absolutely brilliant for busy new mums.
For sore nipples
Weleda Nipple Balm is your best friend. I packed one in every bag in the house during the early months.
For winding down after Christmas
For a good night’s sleep when you’ve been up all night with a teething baby
It has to be the one and only This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray. I packed it into my maternity bag and used it the night after I welcomed my new arrival to the world. I’ve used it pretty much every night since and wouldn’t be without it.
Mum bag for on the go
A pram bag is your new best friend. The Finnson Eco Stroller Organiser looks great, is well made and environmentally sustainable.
To help you get ready super-fast
I recently tried out The Beautifect Box, it’s both mini dressing table and lit up make up box which means you can get ready while on the go. I used this sitting up in bed in between feeds and found it invaluable for feeling human again after giving birth. Highly recommend.