As a new mom with a daughter almost 5 months old, Elizabeth Farrell found that staying sane, healthy and fit has been an intense five-month journey.
Farrell, a yoga instructor and practice manager for Unity Medicine in New Mexico, quickly realized after her daughter's birth that she needed the support of her family and friends to balance the joys and responsibilities of motherhood while slimming down her post-delivery body.
By reaching out to loved ones and fellow moms, she has found she could do both.
Make promises to yourself and keep yourself accountable with the support of your husband and family.
Elizabeth Farrell, yoga instructor and practice manager for Unity Medicine
Realize You’re Not Alone
New moms need a lot of emotional support, says Dr. Fran Walfish, California-based psychotherapist and author of “The Self-Aware Parent.” “Many new moms feel alone in their experience and isolated because they have less social contact out in the world with friends, colleagues and entertainment,” she says.
The feelings and anxiety you may be experiencing may cause you to feel alone, but resources for emotional support are everywhere. Walfish urges new moms to join an infant and mommy group. “Knowing you have a safe place with other new moms in the same boat can be extremely relieving,” she says.
It is also important to recognize you are going through a real life transition and change can raise your level of anxiety.
“Some people eat more when they are stressed, whereas others lose their appetite and forget to eat,” says Walfish. “Know yourself and create a plan you can put in place after you settle in to new motherhood.”
Utilize your friends, parents and in-laws as occasional babysitters to give yourself time to regroup. “Meet a friend for lunch, take an exercise class, get a manicure or simply have coffee and read a book,” suggests Walfish. “Take time to nourish and recharge. Being a full-time mom is exhausting and rewarding at the same time.”
Asking for Help
Communicating your needs and wants is essential to your mental and physical health. Do you need help with preparing dinner? Do you need someone to keep an eye on the baby while you take a walk around the neighborhood? Now is the time to speak up.
Speak with your husband about how you are feeling and what you need from him, Farrell suggested. “It is important to continue talking and share what you each are going through as new parents,” she said. “Also, set aside time to spend just with your husband to continue nourishing your relationship.”
As you settle into life with a growing family and begin a journey toward eating wisely, exercising and fitting back into your pre-pregnancy clothes, let your friends and family know about your goals, too. “Make promises to yourself and keep yourself accountable with the support of your husband and family,” Farrell said.
It’s important to get the entire family on board with a healthful diet and workout routine, suggests Sarah O’Toole, a California-based health coach and co-founder of Cooking With CSA.
“It’s hard to stick to healthy eating when everyone around you is eating junk food,” O'Toole said. “I suggest making one meal that is healthy and that the entire family will love to win them over.” Once your family understands the challenges you are facing, you will be more likely to get the emotional support you need.
If friends offer to make meals for you, take them up on it, but be sure to let them know you are working on eating healthy, balanced meals, advises Jessica Fishman Levinson, a New York City-based registered dietitian and nutrition consultant. “If friends want to visit, meet them for a walk instead,” she said. “Pushing the stroller is a great arm workout.”
Get Moving With Loved Ones
The best way for new moms to balance the emotions of a brand-new family member with getting back into shape is to get moving again, said Molly Setnick, fitness trainer and owner of Crowbar Cardio, a fitness boutique in Dallas.
You don’t have to walk or stair-climb all alone. Working out with friends in an intimate, friendly environment can be the key to success. “Support from those around [a new mother] can help keep the depression and stress that is common after giving birth at bay,” Setnick said. “Plus, knowing that a friend or class instructor is looking for her may help a mom stay accountable to her routine.”
Even with a rigorous exercise schedule, Setnick warned, weight loss might be gradual, and many moms struggle emotionally with this realization. “A new mom’s body, especially a nursing mom, may hold onto extra weight to ensure ample nutrition for the baby,” she said. “That doesn’t mean not exercising. Instead, it means accepting the results exercising brings and knowing that they will most likely change.”
For Farrell, her post-baby bod journey involved enlisting the help of her family, the community and herself. She dedicated time to not just exercising, but also relaxing. “Our body cannot heal without rest and rejuvenation,” she says.
Farrell learned to love her body and that helped her improve her emotional well-being.
“Instead of saying ‘I look so fat’ or ‘I don’t like the way I look,’ love your new body because it is beautiful and giving birth is a complete act of grace,” she says.
Join Forces With the Community
Find the motivational and emotional support you need with online chat boards, blogs and fitness apps. Many sites offer videos, health and fitness tips, recipes and exercise suggestions designed exclusively for new moms, notes Anne Rust, founder of mamaseeds, an online support network for fitness and education during pregnancy and early motherhood.
“We incorporate a support piece with our community, where moms can encourage each other and provide support for what is normal and realistic during the childbearing year,” Rust said. Many sites also provide mental health experts and fitness trainers who can weigh in when new moms have concerns or questions.
Build a network of support with daily text messages and emails to keep all of you in good spirits and optimal health. With a plan in place and support and motivation from family and friends, you should soon feel better -- both emotionally and physically.
Invite neighbors, friends, fellow parents and members of your church community to join your healthy eating efforts while encouraging each other’s progress.
Coordinate a healthy-meal potluck luncheon or dinner each week to enjoy tasty food, exchange recipes and health tips, and build friendships that will offer support when you -- and they -- may need it the most.