Why looking after yourself is important as a parent
Raising children is an important job, and looking after yourself helps you do the job well. That’s because looking after yourself physically, mentally and emotionally helps you give your children what they need to grow and thrive.
Looking after yourself involves looking after your relationships, your health and your wellbeing.
When you’re focused on looking after babies or children, it’s easy to forget or run out of time to look after these parts of your life. But looking after yourself is worth it – it’s good for you and good for your children.
Looking after your relationship with your partner
For parents with partners, looking after your relationship can help you both get the most out of being parents and partners.
Open communication can help you cope with the relationship changes and challenges that come with raising children. You might be getting less sleep, less time to talk to each other, and less time alone with each other. This can sometimes lead to disagreements.
You can handle these tensions and keep your relationship positive by talking with each other about how you’re feeling and finding ways to support each other. It also helps to pick your battles and set aside a time and place to discuss frustrations and work out solutions.
Setting realistic expectations, being understanding and forgiving each other can often make the difference between staying together and drifting apart.
In the first 6-8 weeks after your baby is born, it helps not to expect too much from yourself or your relationship. This is a time of transition, and the most important things are getting to know your child and managing sleep deprivation!
Looking after yourself: activity, food and rest
Three things make a world of difference to your energy levels and ability to help your children grow and thrive:
- staying active
- eating healthy food
- getting as much rest as you can.
Regular exercise improves circulation, increases your overall metabolism, boosts the immune system and makes you feel good. A daily walk gets you out of the house and into the fresh air. A change of scenery can do wonders for your mood, or you can just jump around the house listening to your favourite music.
Healthy food gives you energy. Have some simple food on hand, like fresh vegetables cut up ready to eat with dips, fruit, yoghurt and wholegrain bread.
When it comes to rest, there are two golden rules: go to bed early, and nap whenever you can!
You can read more about healthy lifestyle choices for parents, healthy eating and exercise for parents and better sleep for parents.
Postnatal depression in women and men
Postnatal depression in women and postnatal depression in men can affect parents in the weeks and months after their babies are born.
Symptoms of PND include sleep and appetite disturbance, crying, inability to cope with daily tasks, exhaustion, irritability, anxiety, fear of social contact or fear of being alone, feelings of guilt, loss of confidence, and negative and even suicidal thoughts.
It’s very important for you to recognise the signs of postnatal depression and ask for help as soon as possible. You don’t have to cope by yourself. Talk to your GP, your child and family health nurse or another health professional. With proper diagnosis and treatment, help and support, people usually make a full recovery from PND.
Dealing with stress
Most parents feel stressed from time to time.
After all, raising children is an important and challenging job. For example, there are everyday challenges like getting yourself and the children out the door and off to school and work on time. And you might sometimes have to navigate bigger challenges like financial issues, health concerns, relationship issues and so on.
You can manage stress by thinking positively, using routines, staying connected with others, and making time for yourself. Even a few minutes alone to drink a cup of tea can help bring your stress levels down.
Asking family or friends for support – or just talking to others about how you feel – can take the pressure off too.
If you’re feeling frustrated, distressed or like you can’t cope, put your child in a safe place – for example, a cot or bed – and take some time out until you feel calmer. Or ask someone else to look after your child for a while. Never shake a baby or child. It can cause bleeding inside the brain and likely permanent brain damage. It’s OK to ask for help. If you’re having trouble coping, call your local Parentline.
Looking after yourself by getting support
A range of services can help you as you navigate the challenges that come with raising children. You can get free parenting advice in every state of Australia by calling a parenting hotline. There are also many services and support options that can help you.