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Self-care for Emotional Health

With a new baby in the hospital, it can be easy to put care for yourself at the bottom of the list of all the things needing your attention. It can be easy to feel like the only way to get through the hospital stay is to keep moving forward. But it’s just like the advice you get when flying on an airplane: you need to secure your own oxygen mask first before you can take care of your child. Here are some simple ways you can care for yourself.

Sleep helps restore the brain and body, keeps the body’s immune system strong and reduces tension. While every new parent is impacted by less sleep than usual, there are some things you can do to maximize rest.

Establish a Sleep Routine:

  • Try to go to bed around the same time each night and keep lights dim as you get ready for bed.
  • Allow a few minutes before bed to unwind by doing something relaxing – drink a cup of tea, read a few pages of a book, write down some thoughts from the day, etc. Find what works for you and use the same thing before bed each day. This will create a routine that signals your brain that it’s time to sleep.
  • Consider using a relaxation technique as part of winding down. Relax Melodies, Calm and Breathe are all apps that have voice-guided exercises you can listen to.
  • White noise can help make it easier to stay asleep. White Noise or Relax Melodies are apps that offer different forms of white noise.
  • Avoid blue light from devices like a smart phones or tablets before you sleep. Blue light has been shown to make it harder to get quality sleep. (There are apps that will eliminate blue light.)

Your appetite may be different than when you were pregnant – that’s normal. It can also be hard to find the time or support to eat the way you would like. Aim to eat small snacks that have a protein, fat and carbohydrate element to them throughout the day (peanut butter and crackers; an apple and almonds; string cheese and grapes). Stash small snacks in your bag to have them handy when pumping breast milk or sitting down at your baby’s bedside. Keep taking a prenatal or multi-vitamin as the many nutrients in vitamins can benefit you now.

Other Tips:

  • If you are pumping breast milk for your baby, you can access meal vouchers with the milk bank that can be used on a meal or snack items in the cafeteria.
  • Keep a water bottle with you at all times and refill it frequently (or ask your support person to do this for you).
  • Ronald McDonald Room (RMR) is available to you during the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. They have a kitchen stocked with snacks and often have meals served daily. Visit RMR on the second floor of the hospital.
  • If you are staying at Ronald McDonald House, you have access to grab-and-go snack items each morning in the kitchen area. Make sure to pick up a couple of items for times when you may not be able to step away for a full meal.
  • The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the Parent Resource Room, and the Nourishment area on 3 Henson have water refill stations and often have snacks available for families.

Moving your body is an important part of healing from pregnancy and childbirth. Exercise keeps bowels moving, lessens stiffness, improves mood and helps with sleep quality. Be sure to talk with your provider about what level of movement is appropriate for you. In general, women can begin or resume exercise as soon as they feel able to do so. Start slow with walking and stretching, and listen to your body. Early on in your recovery, simple things like getting up to do some light stretching or taking a walk back and forth down the hall, are good ways to move your body.

Other tips:

  • If you are staying at Ronald McDonald House (RMH), use the sidewalks between RMH and the hospital for a short walk. Go at your own pace and be smart about the weather and time of day.
  • There is a walking track and park just to the North of the Hospital. The park has benches, a small covered pavilion and a few pieces of outdoor exercise equipment. Getting outside for even a few minutes each day has proven to help moods.

Even if you are usually able to do things on your own, now is a time in your life when every little bit of help makes a big difference. Say, “Yes” when people offer to help you. Accepting help is a sign of strength. Have a ready-made list of items people can choose from if they offer to help: Walk the dog, do the dishes, take your older child out for a few hours, fold some laundry, bringing you some grab-and-go snacks like granola bars, hummus cups with cut-up veggies, etc.

Other tips:

Adapted from:
Fourth Trimester Project –
March of Dimes –
University of Michigan Depression Center –

Kara Hansen, LSCSW, LCSW, PMH-C

Postpartum emotions

It’s common for women who have given birth to feel a range of emotions; after all, you have just grown and given birth to a brand-new human being. The physical toll that labor and delivery takes, combined with sleeplessness and major hormonal changes, can leave many new mothers feeling overwhelmed or with mood changes.

The “baby blues” is the time right after birth up to two weeks after birth, in which up to 80% of new moms experience sleep loss, irritability, are easily moved to tears, and may feel happy one moment and sad the next. This period of time can also be marked by feeling anxious and being unable to focus. This is normal for the "baby blues." Most women notice these symptoms start to go away and get better by the two-week mark.

If you notice any thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or your baby, then what you are experiencing is more than the "baby blues." You should talk with a doctor immediately.

About 20-30% of women with a baby in the hospital will experience a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD), often more commonly referred to as Postpartum Depression (PPD). PMAD can occur anytime two weeks postpartum or more, up to a year following childbirth.

Symptoms are different for everyone and may include:

  • Feelings of anger and irritability
  • Lack of interest in the baby
  • Being overly worried about the baby
  • Not being able to sleep or eat well
  • Feeling sad and crying
  • Feeling guilt, shame, or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest, pleasure or joy in things you used to enjoy
  • Feeling anxious or panicky
  • Thoughts of harming self or baby 

Mothers who have infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit are at risk for developing PMAD. Other risk factors that can increase the chance of experiencing PMAD are stressful relationships, having multiple babies, a history of infertility treatment, or major recent life events such as a new job or move.

The good news about PMAD is that early detection is helpful and treatment works. If you are concerned about your mood or coping, talk to a trusted loved one and get help. People to get help from include your doctor and/or a therapist, or contact your social worker in the hospital for help. Your social worker can talk through your concerns with you and help connect you with therapy in the hospital or close to your home.

Ways to treat PMAD include:

  • Self-care strategies such as increased sleep, regular exercise and time outdoors
  • Medications
  • Therapy – especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Interpersonal Therapy
  • Support groups (online or in person) or peer support
  • Coping skills – relaxation techniques, breathing exercises, mindfulness

Other resources:

Parents with a baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit are at increased risk of experiencing symptoms of traumatic stress, sometimes rising to the level of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Post-traumatic stress symptoms are most often caused by real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum, including having a baby in the NICU. Women with complications during childbirth or a history of trauma are at increased risk of experiencing postpartum post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Symptoms are different for everyone and may include:

  • Intrusive re-experiencing of a traumatic event – visual images in your mind that pop up frequently
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Avoiding things associated with the trauma including thoughts, feelings, people and places associated with it
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Persistent increased arousal – irritability, difficulty sleeping, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response
  • Feeling a sense of unreality and detachment

If you notice that you are experiencing some of the above symptoms, talk to your hospital Social Worker, your doctor, or a therapist to get help.

Adapted From:
Postpartum Support International,

Kara Hansen, LSCSW, LCSW, PMH-C