New motherhood is about fitting your own mask first

Mother-of-four Lou Jones reflects on the early days with her firstborn, postnatal depression after her second baby and the importance of self-care. She shares some tips for new mums who may be feeling a little lost…

There are many things that parents-to-be brace themselves for – sleepless nights, sore nipples. My NCT teacher warned us that the dirty washing would pile up, and we’d be doing well to be dressed by lunch time. A pretty major side effect of parenthood went unmentioned.

When my first baby was a few days old, I remember feeling totally overwhelmed that a little human was wholly dependent on me. Nature had built us to be as one to ensure her survival, and I threw myself into this role.

A friend experienced this too, “I was engrossed in [my baby’s] basic care. I resigned myself to the fact that I was limited in things that I had once taken for granted… necessities such as brushing my teeth were hard to achieve.” We put ourselves on the back-burner.

Some of my friends felt that becoming a mum made them feel complete, creating a deeper connection to their sense of self. They felt pride, joy and strength at the huge achievement of bringing new life into the world. I remember having a new-found respect for women after experiencing childbirth, but it didn’t complete me.

Other friends said they didn’t think being a mum rocked their sense of self until they had their second or subsequent children. It’s very clear every woman’s experience is vastly different and unique, and based on many factors.

Having a baby often equals time away from work, hobbies and socialising. Being thrown out of your usual daily routine can leave you questioning many elements of your life.

After baby number two, I learnt the hard way that maintaining a sense of ‘you’ is not a luxury, but an absolute necessity. A few months after giving birth I experienced postnatal depression, or in my case, anxiety. It was truly awful. Once I acknowledged that I needed help, things gradually got better.

For me, going right back to basics and ensuring I ate decent food, drank lots of water, and realising that I didn’t need to ‘do it all’, helped hugely. As did planning a baby free day out with my best friend. I realised that there was still room to be ‘me’. I took this approach with my next baby and it worked. Three months into life as mum of four and the same tricks are working.

You know how inflight safety announcements tell you to fit your own oxygen mask first? The same applies to parenthood. If you look after you, you’ll be able to look after those around you.

My top five tips

– Give yourself a break. Perfection is not the name of the game. Being good enough is just right.

– Your baby is not the only one who needs nurturing. Looking after yourself is essential.

– It’s OK to do adult stuff. It’s so important to maintain connections outside the baby bubble. Again, the small things can help, like listening to your favourite music in the car, or having a baby free meal where you don’t have to eat like the speed of lightening.

– Being ‘mum’ does not define your whole being. It’s OK to have your own wants, needs and passions.

– Talk, talk talk. Clichéd as it is, talking about how you feel is essential. Don’t stop talking to your non-mum friends too. They might not always understand your current situation, but they know you for who you are.