If you’ve been around these parts for long, you’ll know that I’m absolutely passionate about helping mothers thrive. I have 6 children and my first 5 were born when we were a long way from family. My husband was posted away for weeks and even months at a time and I was very much parenting solo for a lot of the time. When James was home, he was an amazing hands-on dad and great husband, but of course, it was all the away time that was tough.
We had a few good friends in the places we lived, but they were also in the trenches with small children and so it was hard to find a substantial amount of physical support, although I must say, I do feel that having a business helped to keep me balanced and I certainly considered (and still do consider) many of my customers and business colleagues to be very dear friends.
I think these early years of my child-rearing served to drive my current passion of helping mothers, particularly newborn mothers, to thrive, and so I want to write today about what I consider to be the 5 pillars of wellness for mothers. This is my personal opinion based on my experiences and if your 5 pillars are different to mine, I’d so love to hear about them! Please do leave a comment so we can continue the conversation as it’s an important one to have.
While I would argue that sleep is perhaps the most important pillar (because without sleep, you won’t care much about any of the others), these aren’t listed necessarily in order of objective importance; it’s just the order they came out of my brain in and every mother will have a different order of priorities. I encourage you to think about which one feels the most important to you right now and focus on that.
Pillar 1: Sleep
Y’all know I’m a HUGE proponent of sleep. It’s one of my very favourite things to do. But I wasn’t always like this. For years, I thought it was ok to get by on very little sleep but forgot what normal felt like and just got used to operating at sub-optimal wellness because of a lack of sleep. Some of this was simply because I was up feeding a newborn at all hours, but some of it was self-induced because I’m a bit of a night owl and I loved to work on my business until all hours. Honestly, it wasn’t until I started consistently getting 8 hours of sleep each night (between babies #5 and #6) that I remembered what it felt like to get enough sleep and started to feel far more rested to face the day with energetic small folk.
Apart from the physical impact of sleep, it has also been shown to directly affect emotional equilibrium, decision-making ability, problem-solving, creativity, judgement and happiness!
Trust me: you want more sleep in your life and you need to make changes to ensure that you get it.
I realise it’s easier said than done, but if you take one thing from this blog, let it be that you make sleep a priority. I’m now at the point in my motherhood where my youngest is 3 and I’m no longer getting up to feed or settle wakeful babes, so I can manage on 7 hours of sleep, but while it was being interrupted, I absolutely needed 8+. Everyone is different though, so find the right amount for you and make it happen. If the only thing you change is that you get another 20 minutes of sleep each night, you’ll be a changed woman and your motherhood will be impacted for the better. I guarantee it.
Some ways to encourage more and better quality sleep in your life:
- Don’t take your phone to bed and definitely don’t look at it right before you go to sleep. The light emitted by screens has been shown to obstruct the body’s production of melatonin (the hormone that regulates your sleep–wake cycle). If you need to work with screens in the evening, try to take a break before heading to bed and invest in some blue-light filtering glasses.
- If you’re night feeding a little one, try to rest your eyes and body during this time and resist the urge to scroll social media or catch up on emails or Netflix. Introducing a screen during a 3 am feed will affect how quickly you can fall back to sleep again after the feed.
- Invest in a good pillow and nice pyjamas that actually look and feel like pyjamas. When we go to bed in day clothes, or nightwear that looks and feels like day clothes, it can be hard for our mind and body to draw the important distinction between being awake and getting ready to sleep.
- Diffuse lavender. Every. single. night. I honestly can’t recommend this enough and I know I talk about lavender essential oil a lot, but it’s only because it’s so amazing. Among its many benefits, lavender has been found to reduce tension, elevate mood, aid relaxation and improve sleep quality. Some other essential oils that aid rest are cedarwood and frankincense. For more about the benefits of essential oils, CLICK HERE.
- Have a hot shower or bath right before bed – make it the last thing you do before lying down – as this can help to relieve muscle tension and signal your body that it’s time to rest.
- While it may not feel like it’s having an impact, day napping has been shown to bestow substantial benefits, so if you can nap while your children nap, do it!
Pillar 2: Support
The second pillar of wellness for mothers, new or seasoned, is a support system. Support in motherhood can be broken down into two categories – practical/physical and emotional.
One seriously awesome practical help I have is a weekly cleaner. I’ve spoken about her awesomeness before, but it bears repeating that this is something I put off for a really long time. For years I struggled along cleaning my home, looking after babies, homeschooling and running a business, and at the time it didn’t feel like such a big deal. But once I relinquished this task, I suddenly realised just how much stress it had placed on me. Yes, it’s a cost and yes, it’s somewhat of a luxury. But it helps me thrive where I would otherwise just survive. And that’s important to our family.
In terms of emotional support, I have an incredibly supportive husband who is a really hands-on father. This means that I’m not going this parenthood thing alone.
It also means that when he’s away for work, I really notice his absence! And that’s where a complementary support network – family and friends – comes into it’s own.
I know there are many parents out there going it alone most of the time, and I would encourage you, if you can, to find a support buddy. Someone you can call each day for encouragement, or text every night for three cheers. Someone you can check in with regularly and who can support your parenting journey. This might be a family member, close friend or another parent in a situation similar to your own.
Apart from the importance of this support for our own health and wellbeing, it’s also crucial for the kids. Steve Biddulph talks about the importance of girls having an ”auntie army” – a group of women, other than the girl’s mother, to help support her through to a healthy, confident adulthood. I believe the same is crucial for boys. Surrounding ourselves with support has positive repercussions for our children and it’s important for them to see that we can ask for help, receive it with grace and give support in turn.
Pillar 3: Physical activity
The third pillar of wellness for mothers is sufficient physical activity. It’s so important to make time in our day for physical activity, and I’m not necessarily talking gym memberships (unless that’s what works best for you) or body building workshops or losing baby weight in record time. I’m literally just talking about making time in every single day to get up and move. Preferably outside, but indoors is fine too if the weather is inclement. Whatever works for you and your child/ren.
It might be a walk to the park or 15 minutes of a low-impact workout. Or it might be something simple 3 days a week with something more involved 2 other days. It’s not about losing weight or fitting back into skinny jeans (although, all the power to you if that’s what comes of it!). For me, it’s about strengthening my body so that I feel strong and healthy enough to run around with my kids or hike a (very small) mountain on the weekend.
I always feel better after physical activity. Always.
Pillar 4: Consumption
Health professionals agree that much of our food is low in nutrients thanks to the way the food is produced: from the lack of goodness in the soil, to the herbicides and pesticides it’s sprayed with, right through to how long it sits in transit and on supermarket shelves before we even consume it. With the difficulty in finding fresh, wholesome, nutrient dense produce, it’s hardly any wonder that we’re struggling to fuel our bodies with what’s required for the first months of caring for a newborn.
It’s really important to find a solid system of supplements to support the incredible work our bodies do to repair after birth and to nurture a newborn and I highly recommend speaking with a nutritionist or dietician if you can.
Another facet to the pillar of consumption is what we consume with our minds, but this crosses over into the final pillar…
Pillar 5: Mental well-being
When I talk about mental well-being, I’m not touching on clinically diagnosed mental illness, so please – speak to your health professional about managing any mental illness you’re struggling with. When I talk about mental well-being, I’m really talking about your headspace, your mindset and your general attitude to life and the daily struggles of raising children.
To be able to raise a family really is the most incredible blessing and is intensely rewarding, but it can also be intensely difficult at times and it’s so important to be aware of how our mind controls our reaction to the multitude of situations that arise on a daily basis. Combine lack of sleep with too much sugar (consumed to stay awake), lack of physical activity and juice spilt on the kitchen floor and you might find yourself with a highly emotional outcome… and a headache!
If you went into pregnancy with a solid spiritual life, you may find it hard to go from a daily practice of prayer/meditation to suddenly struggling to get enough alone time to manage even just going to the toilet by yourself! If previously your prayer life/meditation practice played a big part in staying emotionally stable, it will be hugely beneficial to make an effort to incorporate this prayer time back into your day, or ensure that it stays relatively fixed amidst everything else around you that might change.
Positive affirmations are another immensely helpful way to form strong habits of resilience in your brain, and mood boosting tools are also really helpful. Quick and easy mood boosters can include: eating well, getting outside, deep breathing, enjoying a hot shower, diffusing essential oils, speaking with a friend and volunteering.
What we consume with our mind is just as important as what we consume with our bodies and it’s important to take the time to understand the impact that certain information has on our wellbeing. This is particularly pertinent in the consumption of social media, daily news, movies that leave us feeling upset or conversations that stress us out. Take the time to reflect on how you feel after specific encounters and make changes where necessary to filter out or reduce those encounters or platforms which leave you feeling unhappy.
Now over to you. I’d love to hear from you about what you feel is the most important of these pillars for you right now.