Over Thanksgiving I traveled home to visit my family in Nashville. I was especially excited to hold the newest addition to our family, my sister’s eight week son, Charlie. While my youngest, Henry, had recently turned one year old, seeing my sister with Charlie reminded me of how much time and attention a newborn requires. “Me-time” – a rare commodity during this season of motherhood life. As a mother of three young children, I often reminisce about those days when it was just me to care for. How in the world did I fill up 24 hours prior to kids? Self-care drastically changes the minute you bring a new baby into this world.

If you are a mom or caretaker, you might often question:

  • Am I doing enough to take care of my own needs? 
  • Does self-care suddenly feel selfish now that I have a baby? 
  • Do you feel guilty when you spend time doing something for yourself – like enjoying a meal, reading a book, or exercising? 
  • OR – Do you regularly take the time to reflect on your needs? Do you recognize that your bucket can’t be empty if you have to pour love into someone else?

I have seen the adverse effect to one’s health (ie: decreased immunity, creeping weight gain, emotional eating) when self-care gets put on the back burner in my private practice. Many of the women I work beside are learning how to reconnect with “me-time” and honor it versus “guilt-ify” it. Some of the things we talk about include:

Let Go of Guilt.

For many of us, the “guilt monster” creeps in the moment we think about doing something for ourselves. It tries to convince us that we don’t have time to meet our own needs. You might find yourself standing while eating or skipping meals only to overeat at the next.  You cut workouts short so you can get home to help your spouse. I advocate we kick the guilt monster out and replace it with a more compassionate tenant. As moms of young children, this season of life requires that we carve out time to fill up our own buckets. This might look like taking a cat nap, getting outside to move or sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. A few minutes of daily “me-time” goes a long way. The sooner and more often you start caring for you, the easier it becomes to offer others the fullest version of you.

Plan Meals for You, Too!

Have you found yourself serving up meals you wouldn’t eat prior to kids? Snacking on Goldfish crackers? Maybe you are a vegetarian primarily serving meat-based meals while you rely on microwaved veggie burgers. Plan meals and menus around the healthy foods you enjoy.  Not only will you nourish yourself, but you will expose your children to a wide variety of foods. If you struggle with meal planning, McDaniel Nutrition is creating a private Facebook group dedicated to parents of young children called Nourished Beginnings. One of the many benefits provided in this group will be a weekly meal planning guide.

Sign up for the group and receive your FREE grocery list/meal planning worksheet.

Take a Seat.

Now that you’ve given yourself permission to enjoy your own meal preferences, take the time to sit down and eat. I will be the first to admit that I don’t mindfully eat at every meal, but I do commit to regularly nourishing myself with healthy meals and snacks to avoid energy crashes, and hangry mood swings. When toddlers complains they are hungry or their latest tantrum indicates hunger, you don’t ignore it. So why should you ignore your own signals? Don’t wait till hunger is screaming at you to eat; listen to your body’s whispers. “Hey, you’re feeling hungry, can you take five minutes and fuel with a healthy snack?” Listen to that inner voice and take a break to whip up a snack you look forward to eating.

Deliberately Choose Exercise.

Is exercise just a means to burn calories? I argue that exercise should do much more for you. If you are dragging yourself to the stair-master, you might be selecting the wrong way to move. After my third child was born, I purchased a 12-week at home post-natal exercise program. One of the daily recommendation was to walk outside 20 minutes a day. Even though it was the middle of winter, I bundled up and followed through. Not only did I start feeling more like myself physically, the outdoor air boosted my mood. I often invited girlfriends to join me on my walks. The combination of fresh air, movement, and social connection provided me with so much more than 20 minutes worth of burned calories. What does your current exercise routine (or lack their of) do for you? When exercise meets more than just a calorie-burning need, you are more likely to stick with it and fully reap the benefits.

Progress over Perfection

Do I perfectly practice self-care? Do I have mom guilt on a regular basis? Yes and yes. However, I fully believe in taking the time to at least think about what we need to do on a regular basis to live our fullest lives and work towards these practices. Life is about progress, not perfection.

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.