Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are wired to process stimuli very deeply. As a result, we can be easily overwhelmed. As an HSP myself, I often become overwhelmed in large groups (such as at loud, crowded concerts or parties), and I especially struggle in places with tons of stimuli — such as an amusement park.
But, while self-care is crucial for anyone who’s an HSP, I believe it’s even more imperative to practice as a new mother.
I’ve been highly sensitive all my life but have only been a mother for five months. It’s been the most intense five months of my life — both wonderful and very hard; joyful and yet exhausting; exciting at times but other times monotonous. Becoming a mother has changed me and challenged me to grow more than anything else I’ve experienced so far. I’ve learned everything from swaddling a baby to assembling a breast pump in the dark to how utterly unimportant baby apps are (more important: how to open a stroller without straining my back).
Yet the most important thing I’m learning is how to take care of myself.
Why Self-Care Is Crucial for Highly Sensitive New Moms
Change is hard for anyone, but I believe it’s particularly challenging for HSPs. Becoming a parent for the first time may be the biggest change that anyone can experience. HSPs need a lot of time to rest and recharge from external stimuli. Unfortunately, in the early days with a new baby, there isn’t much (if any) time to recharge. Rest is tricky to get — and support can be even harder to find.
Some new moms are better at handling sleep-deprivation than others. HSP moms generally won’t fall into this category; we’re already at risk of overwhelm or “running out of steam” in our daily lives, so dealing with the added stress of not getting enough sleep can be a tremendous challenge.
Some new moms will thrive on the lack of structure that comes during postpartum and will be more comfortable handling such drastic change. However, that lack of structure can be hard for HSPs, who thrive on routine and predictability.
Together, these factors mean that HSP moms will probably experience a hard transition and won’t have much time for their usual coping strategies. This is why it’s so important for new moms to build in extra time for self-care.
6 Self-Care Steps for Highly Sensitive New Mothers
To ease the change of becoming a new parent, I encourage all HSPs to prioritize their wellbeing. Here are six recommendations, based on my own experiences, on how to do just that:
1. Give yourself permission to stay in bed.
All day! Don’t even get dressed. Stay in pajamas. Have meals and snacks and water (SO MUCH WATER!) brought to you if possible. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll be thirsty, so keep water bottles and snacks by your bed. Even though sugar can be tricky for HSPs, during the adjustment to new parenthood, I say eat what feels good. I had a strong chocolate supply at my fingertips. If you’re a new mama who’s recovering from childbirth (no matter how you delivered, you still need recovery time), you’re allowed to eat whatever you want. You birthed a human. So eat that slice of cake.
2. Rest whenever you get the opportunity.
Many doctors and well-intentioned relatives will say to “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I actually found that advice challenging because I was so desperate for normalcy that I wanted to check my email and social media or make a phone call — or even chat with visitors. But the truth is, I wish I had put my phone down more and just rested when I could. Infants need to eat every two to three hours, so your sleep will be very interrupted. A lot of couples take turns feeding the baby so each parent can get some rest, but nevertheless, the newborn time is not a restful one. I suggest that you make it one by making sleep/rest a priority. Friends and family will be delighted to hold your baby while you take a nap. Do it. It’s one of the best ways to accept help. Which leads me to…
3. Accept help.
I’m not sure if having a hard time saying yes (or no!) is part of being an HSP, but asking for help can be a humbling experience. Embrace help if it’s offered. People will often ask, “Is there anything I can do?” and usually most of us smile and say no thank you. This time, say yes. Have a list of tasks that friends and family can do, such as cooking a meal, taking out the trash, running a load of laundry, or heading to the store. Life gets messy (literally and figuratively!) and complicated taking care of a baby 24/7. You will need help. If it’s an option, hiring a postpartum doula really helps.
4. Set boundaries and say no when you need to.
Because HSPs take on other people’s emotions and energy, it’s important for an HSP parent to protect oneself. Parenting is an act of giving, and when HSPs get depleted, we can’t function at our best. Honestly, I’ve struggled to honor this point myself, but it’s important not to get too drained, especially as a new parent when so much energy has to go into taking care of a tiny person. It might mean disappointing others and maybe even skipping something fun, but an HSP needs to practice saying no in an effort to say yes to self-care. For example, a postpartum doula suggested that I only do one activity a day with my baby — even if it’s just a walk around the block.
5. Practice gratitude.
When I feel tired or frustrated, I tend to focus on the negative — and then my mood spirals. It helps to simply practice saying thank you. Sometimes we easily forget how much there is to be grateful for — and having a healthy baby is an incredible blessing. In the fog of exhaustion, I’ve forgotten that, but when I take a moment to breathe and watch my daughter, I feel immense gratitude for her, for my partner, and for all who support me every day — and even for the nurses and doctors who safely ushered her into this life.
6. Remember: “this too shall pass.”
I keep being reminded, as a new parent, that the days may be long but the years are short. Soon my little girl will be talking and walking and dashing across the schoolyard. Although I may not enjoy every second of new motherhood, I take solace in the reminder that the sleepless nights and crying fits won’t last forever.
Being an HSP mom has it challenges, but it also has so much joy! To all the new parents out there who are highly sensitive, I send you strength and blessings on this new chapter of your life. May it be filled with wonder and laughter — and, of course, plenty of self-care.
You might like:
- 20 Self-Care Ideas for Highly Sensitive People
- 21 Signs That You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
- 14 Things Highly Sensitive People Absolutely Need to Be Happy
- Why Do Highly Sensitive People Absorb Other People’s Emotions?
- 13 Problems Only Highly Sensitive People Will Understand
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