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How to take care of mama: physically, emotionally spiritually

It takes a lot of work to keep everyone in the family happy, especially mama.  Mama's needs are often overlooked, thought our own happiness can have everything to do with how we manage to deal with the rest of our family's challenges.  An emotionally-drained urbanMama recently emailed, seeking some support, guidance, and specific suggestions:

I have a 3 and half year old and a two month old. Both children have medical issues.   I have been struggling with Postpartum Anxiety and Depression.   Anyway,  I need your help.  I am trying to schedule some self care activities for myself, both in and out of the house.  This is a hard thing for me to do, so hard that I am struggling to think of things.  Help me!!!  I would love to hear what other Mama's do to take care of themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. I am looking for things that help you when you feel lousy.  Even if you could offer specific recommendations for massage therpaists, or good books, I'd appreciate it!

Related posts:
"When mama ain't happy"
"Post Partum depression help"
"More than the baby blues"


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I've so been here. I'm still kind of in this place but getting better at taking care of myself. I always sleep whenever I can, that helps me the most. I also take Vitamin D and large doses of Cod Liver Oil daily (9 pills). Massage can help a lot: Sarah at Ruby Violet on Broadway or Kristy Geffen of Harmonize (www.harmonizebodywork.com). Also Blue Sky Wellness Studio on Mississippi. Yoga always helps. Exhale is amazing and peaceful - on 16th just off NE Alberta - they have a Yoga Nidra relaxation workshop (more restful than sleep) this Sunday I think. Also they have Yin Yoga on Sunday nights. Cranio-sacral therapy at Whole Mama, Whole Child. Acupuncture at DragonTree Spa in NW, Spa Pedicure at New Identity on Broadway. Thai Food and a nap. Walk along the Willamette on either the East Bank Esplanade or at Willamette Park in John's Landing. Beer or lunch with friends. Lots of your favorite warm drink and some uplifting green tea. Baths with Epsom salts. Do a free trial at LA Fitness and sit in their hot tub? Read lighthearted novels and People Magazines or Mothering, Hip Mama and Brain, Child magazines depending on your mood. No Law & Order, CSI or other crime/drama stressful shows on tv or murder mystery books. So these are some of my favorites. You are NOT alone, this is a really hard time in our lives! Take care of yourself as often as possible because it will make you a better person and a better mom!

You could look into getting a little help from a Post-Partum doula. There are plenty in the Portland area, even doulas seeking certification who don't charge. That might make it more possible for you to find an hour or so to relax or do something nice like a bubble bath.
Best of luck, mama. <3

Sometimes it takes a detox for me to feel grounded, peaceful and in control. You can do one slowly and still be nourishing; green smoothies all bkfast/lunch (just plain fruit, greens like kale spinach etc) and water...steamed or baked veggies for dinner with miso, a few says on this I feel renewed...

In the midst of the cleanse, I drink lots of detox tea, Green tea, get massage, sauna/hot baths, and go to bedcwhen the kids do. I always co-sleep so the kiddoes don't make me get up out of bed.

I also think it's important to laugh often, have a support system of mama playdates, get out in the fresh air EVERYDAY even if it's pouring...

I agree about the yoga. and the bath. also, find a friend to go out with. the thing I needed most was some adult time. being around my babes all day left me hungry for talk of things not kid-related. sometimes just a break from speaking about my babes was relaxation enough.

have you heard about the w(h)ine night coming up in NE?

Great suggestions, all! Thank you! I'm in a similar situation, with a 3 year old and a 6 month old - and working full time. Craziness. I also recommend acupuncture - Annabelle Snow at North Portland Wellness Center is phenomenal. We had wonderful help from MotherTree, extraordinary postpartum care and nurturance (Amanda Strauss, Allie Machen, Trish Woodbury, Hope Edwards). Netflix is key (Glee episodes and a glass of wine, the perfect evening). Best to you and take good care.

North Portland Yoga has a family yoga class Friday mornings with someone to assist and/or occupy the kids if needed. It is a wonderful space and very supportive of mamas!

Walking helps me. Walking alone. It's quick and easy. And a 15 minute walk cleans my head out. And when I think "I should take a walk" but can't get myself out of a chair, I try to remember something I read somewhere that said, (I wish I could cite it directly because it was brilliance) that sometimes how much you DON'T WANT to do something is a really good indication of how GOOD it will be for you if you do it. (That's a bit wordy but you get the gist.)

Also, if realistic, it might help to try to get to know your neighbors. Just a 10 minute chat with a grown up in the front yard can be a good support.

All the best for you.

I completely agree with the detoxing. As a breastfeeding mama, you'll need lots more calories, though. If you eat meat, only eating meat and veggies, and cutting out all grains, bread, and sugar can be so healing for the body. I have found that by doing this, my anxiety levels and depression have improved tremendously. My sleep quality has improved, so even after five hours, I don't feel like I'm in a black hole. However, dark chocolate chips are still a delicious treat after dinner!

Like others have said, walking is awesome, too. You can process stuff without really having to actively process it - if that makes sense. Don't wait for motivation - you'll wait a long time. Make a point of looking up and noticing the birds, clouds, trees, and all the beauty in the world.

If you aren't feeling touched out, allowing a friend or partner to massage your feet, hands, and/or shoulders can also be really soothing.

Create time once a week to go out in the evening hours with a friend or three. Eat chocolate at Pix (yes, contrary to my first suggestion), have a cocktail, and unload with good company.

I've also been there (and at times still am). I have a 3.5yr old and a 1yr old and the transition from one child to two was ROUGH! There is so much info and support out there for first time moms, but for me, adding to our family was a million times harder than having my first child. Our extended family lives on the east coast and my husband works constantly. During the summer I hired several of our 10-12yr old neighbors to come and play with my older child to give me a break. I also LOVE Fred Meyer's babysitting. I'd go for no reason just to check my son in and wander the aisles somewhat alone. IKEA babysitting is also amazing! What I crave most is to just be alone or kidless and pretend for a short while that I'm an adult and a woman and not just a mom. It's kind of all consuming! Yoga, massage, etc are all amazing...but on a basic level just try to do something, anything for yourself! And lean on your friends and family. Also try to stop doing so much. I kept up playdates and activities for longer than I should have. It added to the stress to attempt to be anywhere on time.

For me it depends on what things add to my depression. A messy house, yard, and undone chores piling up make me feel rattled and exhausted and like I can't relax, and, more depressed. Gardening makes me feel great.

I also was surprised at how much a body treatment relieved stress. I got a pedicure once and almost cried, and a great facial that also felt very healing.

I finally got a planner again and write things down. Then I can see what needs to be done, and when I can do it. I feel like I got parts of my brain back. Funny thing is, my husband had to give it to me as my birthday present. I couldn't seem to break through the decision making inertia to commit to which one to buy. Ridiculous, but real! The other thing I've done is get a mothers helper for a few hours at a time on the weekends, regularaly scheduled (standing time either every week or every other week, with flexibility on hours, or needing cancel), and I used those hours to clean furiously, garden, cook a big meal that gave a couple days of leftovers, or whatever else was weighing me down. Another thing I did was make myself sit down and figure out how to organize the room we spend most of the time in, so that things could be really put away if not in use, and picked up the clutter. Then I got the stuff from IKEA and it made the room so much easier to look at and be in.

For me I find that if I don't schedule it, it doesn't happen, and for me the first step in that was the planner!

I wish you the best, and hope you're feeling better and that life is more manageable soon.

Mother's helper is a GREAT idea. I also like to read children's books when I am emotionally drained. And sometimes, just reminding yourself that you are allowed to feel good, even if your kids are having problems, is a useful thing to do. My oldest is on the autism spectrum, and when she was 3 1/2 and having trouble, and the youngest was a baby, I remember feeling like I just didn't have a right to feel anything but worried. But worrying all the time doesn't help anyone. Helping yourself feel OK is a great thing you're doing for yourself.

Yoga is pretty amazing when it comes to relaxing & revitalizing you - I have a 3 yr old & a 1 yr old and when our 2nd was a newborn I had a really hard time. I definitely think trying to get as much sleep as you can (even if it means having someone else helping with your kids so you can sleep in or get a nap), eating really well and taking a good vitamin, and trying to take care of yourself in basic ways are vital to well-being. I always try to get out of the house at least once a day - when our 2nd was brand new sometimes it took an hour to get out of the house only to be outside for 10 minutes, but it was worth it! Now that our 2nd is older we go and do lots of things out of the house, which makes our time at home a lot more pleasant! As far as doing something for yourself - even just walking up and down Alberta or going to see a movie by yourself will make you feel better. I know that grocery shopping at New Seasons by myself in the evenings has become a special time for me :) I also listen to a lot of music, try to read books and write and do art or whatever else inspires me. Like another poster said, being a parent to young children can feel all-consuming, but it's important to keep your soul, mind, and body nourished. It makes for a happier mama which is a good thing for everyone!
Lastly, I think spending time with other moms is so refreshing, it helps you feel less alone and it's a great time to vent, share stories, and just realize that there are other people out there who are sharing similar experiences to you...
If you feel like your PPD is more serious, there is a great organization that gives support in all kinds of ways - here is their website: http://www.babybluesconnection.org/

It is hard o be a mama and not have enough resources or help but there is a non-profit organization name babyblues connections and they have a warm line where you leave a message and another maother that had had hard time can call you for you to talk and give you resources, their web also tells you about practitioners that work with mothers, from therapists, to psychiatrists, naturopaths and acupuncturists. They also offer groups, which are great to have a place that is safe to talk about what is going on in your life and support each other as mothers.
I also agree with alot of the mothers that wrote walking, breathing, yoga, eating well and getting some spiritual practice. I am a naturopathic doctor and I work with women with postpartum anxiety and depression, since I had to deal with it my self as a mother I realized that their is work to do in this regard so I been studying and succesfully helped my self and other mothers. with nutrional support for the brain and hormones, cranial sacral and other energy balance in the body,and relaxation techniques. I hope the best in your journey

You can call Baby blues connection even if it is not serious Postpartum depression it is there for when you need someone to talk to without judgment and you are having a hard time, any hard time is important for the mother to get some support. We have mothers that come to group only when hey are very overwhelmed, stressed and need a place to release it, many moms set group time as their special time that they get or one time is what they need. I encourage moms to utilize the service babyblues provides, we are just moms, helping other moms for them to have a safe space.
Wish the best. And Everyone is suggesting great thing I hope they are helpful for you

I'm kind of shocked how many of the suggestions here are for activities that cost money (yoga, facials, etc.). Yes, I realize there is a certain level of financial investment sometimes to make life easier, but also, many of the above suggestions seem to imply that the original poster has some live-in nanny or something. Sorry, but I guess I come from a different perspective and lifestyle. Also, does everyone assume this mama has childcare provided for so she can take care of herself??

My first idea is to open yourself up to *asking for help* to your family and friends. It's okay to admit that you're feeling down, having some difficult times, and you can't "do it all." When you start to share that with others close to you in your own life (aside from posting here, which is a great start) then you might be more comfortable asking relatives or friends to help with babysitting to give you some much needed personal time here and there. I struggled with a lot of anxiety and anger post-partum, and while not depression, I found it immensely helpful when I opened up with family about my struggles, and then I got more outright help offered. Also, I second calling BabyBlues Connection. Even though I wasn't feeling depressed exactly, I found support through them and connected to a counselor ultimately through them. Wishing you the care that you deserve!

TJ, thank you so much for noting that most of the suggestions above cost money. With my first, it helped to take a shower first thing in the morning before my partner left, then to make sure to leave the house every day, no matter what the weather was like. Join a moms' group, it makes a huge difference and most activities don't cost money. Get workout DVDs from the library, even if realistically you might not get to them :) With the weather improving, get to know the moms at your local park. Keep a diary of one thing you did that day that made you happy, then look through it two weeks later to get a bigger picture. Also try to sleep when the toddler takes a nap (if the toddler no longer naps, try to introduce quiet time in his/her room). If you're lucky enough to have another mama friend in a similar situation who does not work outside the home, take turns dropping the kids off and enjoy some down time. Also, if you have a partner, date nights once a month (ideally more often but sitters are so expensive) offer a great adult break. Good luck!

I think that it is amazing that you have a tiny baby and a toddler - both with medical issues - and that you are able to recognize your need and reach out! You are adjusting to a whole new family dynamic, your work load getting exponentially greater, two tiny souls with medical issues...and you have the presence to realize that you are the Source, the Headwaters. That is great!

I have a three and a half year old and a 6 month old, and the first four months felt so crazy that I was in total denial. I felt if I acknowledged how lousy I felt - incapable, unsupported and overwhelmed -that I would crumble.
I've heard from other mamas that things get so much better at four months postpartum.

I don't know what part of town you are in. But here are my three favorite white canes that helped me stumble through this time:

1) 'Mama and Baby Yoga' at Yoga Shala - SE 33rd and Division - They have childcare for older kids for just five bucks.

2) NE Community Center - Its a gym (used to be a YMCA) with free childcare. There is a sauna upstairs that is a great way to finish, and is almost always empty and silent!!

3) Childcare swaps with your older toddler. So I could look forward to a few hours every week or two when I could spend time with just my baby.

I am at seven months postpartum and am just now starting to feel blessed by my life.
I am sorry that things are so hard right now. And thank you. It is nice to know I'm not alone on this!

PS Mama/baby yoga at the Shala is on Wednesday at 930-11am

One thing that may help is just to know that it will get better and much easier when they are older. Where you are now is not your forever.

Right now you're in survival mode and that's all you should expect yourself to do...really...no grander goals other than taking care of yourself and your children. The rest will come...

Money was definitely something that got in the way of me taking care of myself. We do think massage & yoga when we think of caring for ourselves. It was really most important for me to get some regular time to myself. Men seem to be much better at making sure they get their time than women are. I can be reenergized by a walk, a bath, a phone call with an old friend, meeting a friend for an hour to have a drink at a bar where kids aren't allowed. I sometimes do a few minutes of yoga using a youtube video. There's so much you can do. I think a good start is getting some regular time without kids and figuring out what it is you like to do that makes you feel like you're taking care of yourself.

I have found help reading books about mindfulness and meditation. Cheri Huber has some great books (many at the library) that are from a Buddhist perspective but I think accessible for anyone. Just sitting and paying attention to my breath for 5 minutes helps.

I sometimes go here to meditate:
No one is turned away for financial reasons.
I sometimes go swimming, 3$ at Buckman pool.
I go to Loyly Spa in SE, 10$. I sometimes soak at Common Grounds Wellness Center, about 12$. I enjoy getting tea at The Chinese Garden (we have a family membership).
I occasionally go out with friends for happy hour, though that is few and far between.
I have gone to acupuncture, which was great.
I also went to a therapist. But time and money do not allow for lots of therapy.
For things that cost nothing:
I go to bed early, with the kids early now and again.
I lay in child's pose or put my feet, bent at the knees on the wall while I lay on my back. Sometimes I find it helpful to do a handstand.
I take a bath
I put on my pajamas in the afternoon
I do DVD exercises
I jump rope
I yell I cry by myself
I email my sister and let it all out, poor thing.
I get a library book (Sarah Napthali was a helpful author)though often I try to read books that I like that have nothing to do with children.
I watch something on Hulu or a DVD, also not kid related whatsoever (Smut or funny stuff like True Blood, Lost, Wire, 30 Rock, Arrested Development)
I treat myself to home spa treatments (cucumbers, tea bags on the eyes, avocado, egg white, yogurt coffee ground masks; lots of sources online for this kind of thing)
It also helps me to realize I am (clearly) not alone, and I imagine other mamas out there trying their best.

You know, for me, when I felt lost in the 24-7 world of baby care, the most revolutionary and sustaining activities were the ones that reminded me of my own identity outside being a mom--the things that I personally loved to do before the baby came and never had time to do anymore. For me, that included working in my garden and doing crafty projects like sewing and knitting, and when my son was old enough to survive without me for a few days, travel! These activities are more active than getting a massage or pedicure or taking a hot bath, but for me, working on project or making something beautiful really helped me remember who I was, what I loved, and what I was good at. It sounds like maybe you're having a hard time remembering what you loved to do before the kids came along. I think that's an important thing to do. Your kids really need you to be their mom, but you really need to have a non-mom identity, too.

Great point Tsubaki.
I also forgot to mention crying. Alone. It really helps.
The first opportunity I had to go hang out with girlfriends...I drove up Mt Tabor instead. And I just sat in my car and cried.
Not because I was sad, or disappointed. But because I had all these intense needs and emotions directed toward me all of the time. (I had a toddler, an infant. a friends teen-age daughter with behavioral issues. and a husband recovering from surgery. All with very important and different set of needs, and all the emotions that accompany.) I could not react to any of those emotions and needs heaped on me in a responsible way. So, I cried for three hours, and drove home feeling uncannily refreshed!
A few months have passed, and I've stopped fantasizing about jumping in my car and driving, far far away. We have all adjusted to our new roles nicely. I love my husband and toddler and baby..and yes, even the teenager, most of the time!

Oh, and music therapy! I put on some good hip hop and dance. I also don't feel right if I don't shower and put on a little make up or put a little effort into my appearance in some even small way; it is hard when you are covered in food and spit up, under-slept, under-appreciated and greasy. So sometimes a little flash helps. Going to Powell's at night and browsing has made me feel sane again.
I also took up jogging and would jog until the dark thoughts stopped, I come home happily exhausted and clear headed.

I know that lots of the suggestions here depend on money--yoga, acupuncture, etc., but the original poster seemed open to spending money to take care of herself. She listed recommendations of massage therapists and books as examples of what would be helpful. So while low-cost or free suggestions are great, I don't think the other posters were being insensitive to the original request by listing lots of service providers.

I am learning to take care of myself in a high-stress situation that involves dealing with an ill parent rather than dealing with my kids, but I think a lot of the techniques are the same.

Exercise is great. When you're tired/worn out anyway, it's hard to be self-motivated (at least for me). I work out with a personal trainer when I can afford it. I'm on indoor soccer teams. That is a fabulous escape.

Reading escapist books is wonderful for me. I read things that have no connection to real life and every time I crack a cover, I can feel my blood pressure drop. I go back to children's books--Laura Ingalls Wilder is incredibly soothing. I read romance novels. Anything that is shallow and has a guaranteed happy ending--that's my kind of book these days. The same could apply to movies.

Gardening is a very positive thing for me. I can see things grow. I can improve part of the yard. I can look at some beautiful flowers or plants and know I am part of them. And if I'm feeling angry, I can go kill some weeds. Take that, English ivy!

Also, I try to keep the rest of my life orderly and not take on any additional sources of stress. So I say no to many volunteer requests. I say no to some social events (I'm an introvert, so they add stress instead of easing it). I turn down work if we can afford to miss that income.

I really understand how hard it is to take the time for yourself, and especially sometimes to spend money on yourself. My image of myself until recently was that I was completely capable and competent and strong. I could handle stuff. Ummm . . . of course, I can't. I had to admit that and then take care of myself the same way I would take care of my kids or my husband if they were this stressed.

acupuncture while sitting in a recliner chair under a mood lamp with heat, aromatherapy and serenity. Alberta Street Acupuncture Clinic - see Carrie Klein

While I'm sensitive to not having to spend money to help yourself, sometimes it's important to put your own needs first (mom's aren't good at this!).
If this mama is really depressed, then finding a trained and qualified therapist could ease her load. When I had PPD, I resisted getting help - didn't want to spend money on myself - thought I SHOULD be able to cope - felt like less of a mom and a person.
If it's truly depression, most insurances will cover to some degree.
I too recommend the resources at Baby Blues Connection - they helped me find my wonderful therapist who made the world of difference.

Oh, and I will also add that some people with PPD just can't find joy in the things they normally would find helpful and satisfying. So when people suggested I just read a book or take a hot bath, while well-meaning and normally would have helped, didn't do anything to ease the burden of the depression.
I even had an acupuncturist tell me that, after her treatment wasn't helping, I really just needed more "will". Not helpful!

As a breastfeeding mother, I always found (and still do) it hard to schedule appointments for things like massages and classes, afraid that my baby's schedule would change on the exact day that I had scheduled the time to be away (and it often happened this way). My solution was to go to a coffee shop and read a magazine. It takes about an hour (about the time I wanted to be away from my little ones when they were really little), is cheap, and felt so good. GigiBar on Division and 60th is great because they already have a ton of great magazines there, so you don't even have to buy one for yourself!

During my maternity leave, I got a great massage from Kelley Burke, 503.880.5201, at 28th and Everett. I had the same concerns as SJ about being a breastfeeding mom and K's schedule, but decided that taking this time for me was important and the baby could just take a bottle if she got hungry while I was gone. Of course, this depends on having someone for child care, but as it happened, I managed to get there and back before she needed to eat again.

I also got great prenatal acupuncture from Catherine Lowe at Seastar Community Acupuncture. She has a sliding scale and everyone sits in comfy recliners for the treatment - which lasts as long as you want it to (she'll wake you if you need to be somewhere). I'm getting relaxed just thinking back to it.

For other "me time," I take a nice warm bath, an alone trip to the grocery store or Target, or just the chance to go to bed early/stay in bed late while someone else does the baby care.

Good luck, and we're here for you.

Run mama, run. It is what saves me from myself!

I so appreciate this thread, as well as the one about losing sleep. I have a 2 year old and a 4 month old, and after the birth of my second son in Dec, I found myself constantly angry. Very against my general disposition. Really without addequate cause, I was on the verge of being furious, pretty much all day long. Trying to get toddler and infant through each day from morning til night, i was like a constantly frustrated robot, waiting for 8 pm respite.
I, too, am a mom who changes out of pj's in the morning and puts on a little makeup, gets dvd workouts in once in a while, goes grocery shopping alone at night, gets the occasional pedi, meets a friend for happy hour sometimes... but none of it was helping. The fact is, I need (like many moms) REGULAR me-time. And right now, there's just no time in my life to allow for that.
So... and I know this isn't popular... I started taking a low-dose anti-depressant. I know, I know, blieve me I KNOW! But until these precious boys are old enough to be somewhat self-sufficient and on a similar schedule, I needed to take care of myself before I went insane, and aliented my husband too. Do I wake up the embodiment of sunshine and lollipops each day? No. But I'm also no longer consumed with anger, and am amazed at the daily motivation to not simply exist beside my children, but to really be WITH them.
Just some food for thought from a mom who needed the help, and got it.

I too take an anti-depressant. I went to a good doctor, also a mom who helped me see that it was okay to take a pill. Sometimes our chemicals get off and it is okay to take a boost. She also explained to me that parenthood is such an enormous, change- of -life adjustment. My doctor told me that the stress of parenting comparable to loss of a spouse or retirement, and often shared symptoms with war veterans. Your identity changes, your body/hair/face/chemicals change, your schedule changes, money is tight, sleep is scant. So, anyway I love my anti-depressants, they have changed my life for the better. I am a better me, partner, employee, and of course parent because of them. No shame in pills!

I have anxiety and am always trying to manage it...I have one 3 month old now and am a little nervous for when we have more kids, but am taking it day by day. As part of my spiritual practice, once a month I attend the Taize service at Trinity Episcopal in NW (2nd Sunday of every month at 7pm). It's extremely meditative...it is candle lit, with time for silence. There are trained people who will sit with you in silence if you need support. It helps me in my dark moments to feel like I am not alone in the universe.

I also practice yoga daily at my home. I have a few DVDs, but mostly just do a handful of poses and focus on the breathing--which helps my anxiety tremendously. Even if I only have 10 minutes, I still will just sit in child's pose or lotus pose and do deep breathing.

Lots of fresh food and less caffeine might help too...sleep is always my answer. I shower every day and try to put on a little make-up because I like how I feel.

I haven't done this yet, but dream about having my groceries delivered from New Seasons...

For the physical wellness, I suggest a massage. It does wonders as it relieves stress and body pain.

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