Tips from parents on how to stay healthy with a new baby in the house

When you’re pregnant, you try to be as healthy as you can for the sake of your baby. You eat right, don’t drink or smoke, do your best to get some exercise, take your vitamins and spend hours devouring information about how to have the healthiest pregnancy and best birth experience possible.

But once you have a newborn at home, it feels as if the last thing you can handle at the moment is getting back into a healthy lifestyle. After all, you’re sleep deprived because you’re up every two hours. Go for a run? Who has the time? Or the energy? And even if someone is preparing wholesome meals for you, too many times to count, the baby needs attention the moment you stick the fork into your food.

Then there’s the stress you’re feeling — the anxiety and possibly, post-partum depression. You worry about the tremendous responsibility you now have. About how your relationship with your partner may change. About all that pregnancy weight you’re still carrying.

It’s been 30 years since I brought home a newborn, but I remember what it feels like. And I’m reminded of it as I watch my daughter with her first child, now four months old. It’s overwhelming. All of it. The love, the joy, the challenges. And with all of that, how can a new mother (or father) stay healthy when they’ve got a baby to care for?

I turned to some experts for advice. Parents!

My questions were:

  • What are your three biggest challenges for you to stay healthy with a newborn — and how do you deal with them?
  • What is your greatest joy/boost/new advantage as a new parent as it pertains to YOUR health?

Here’s what they have to say:

Courtney Freeman's son Henry. New mother health tips
Courtney, mother of Henry

Three biggest challenges:

  1. Eating Healthy – I am rushing around playing with him/laundry/getting his meals/cleaning/etc – that by the time I have a chance to eat it is more of what can I grab a handful of and keep going?  Chips?  Trail mix?  We have started to cook meals for a few days in advanced, that way it is a bit easier to eat more and  healthier.
  2. Working out – I have not been to the gym since I had the baby. That’s because between work, the baby and everything in between  if I do get a minute to myself, I don’t have the motivation to go to the gym. I have yet to get myself back to the gym but I’ve been able to do workouts with the baby (at home) and make it more of a game with him.  Also, we play outside more – go for walks, etc.  So, I am able to get some physical exercise.
  3. Sleep Deprivation – Very little sleep. Luckily, I have an amazing husband. Since I have gone back to work, he takes the early shifts, and I will  take the late shift. It has helped quite a bit but it still feels like I am always trying to catch up. I  don’t think that is changing anytime soon :).

Owen

Diana, mother of Owen

Three biggest challenges:

  1. Of course, there are many challenges but I would say first and foremost that I feel as though my priorities have drastically changed. Rather than taking care of myself I am now responsible for this adorable little human who needs us for survival. Being a new mom is hard both physically and emotionally and trying to find a good routine where I can incorporate self-care, exercise etc. is difficult. Another challenge is time.
  2. Another challenge is time. Now that I am back to work full time there are fewer hours in the day free to do things to keep me healthy like exercise, cooking well-balanced meals and having down time to relax. When I am home I want to spend quality time with Owen because I don’t get to see him much during the week.
  3. The last would probably be “mommy guilt.” Sounds strange but I honestly feel guilty for taking the time to do something nice for myself. I feel as though I should be doing something to help around the house, helping my husband with his long to do list, or taking care of Owen. I am getting better about this because I truly feel it is important both for me and my spouse to have “me time.” To help with all of these challenges my husband Scott and I now give each other a night off every week to have time for self-care. We encourage each other and this communication and routine helps with that “mommy guilt” and helps us have a more balanced life.

My greatest joy /boost/advantage as a new parent as it pertains to my health:

Owen is by far the best stress reliever I have ever known. I have an incredibly busy and stressful job and often times this leaves me feeling stressed or anxious. We now know how terrible stress is for the body and mind. Just thinking about Owen or looking at a picture of him on my desk instantly makes me smile and I feel better. When I walk in the door his glee and smiles fill my heart with love and joy like I have never known before. My shoulders drop, I take a deep breath and I feel at ease. His hugs and laughter are better than any anti-anxiety treatment. That release of oxytocin is all I need and I am grateful for it.

Coraline

Stephanie, mother of Coraline

Three biggest challenges:

  1.  Staying active I used to be pretty active – running about four times a week. Around month six of my pregnancy, though, my weight and growing belly made running uncomfortable and me nervous. So I stopped. Instead, I started to do a brisk walk during lunch and attended a prenatal yoga class each week. Now that Coraline is here, I haven’t been able to get back into running. It’s hard to find the time and I feel overwhelmed when thinking about starting a weekly schedule. Instead, I tried to get to postnatal yoga twice each week and took frequent walks. Now that I’m back to work, the lunch walks have continued and I’m back to yoga once a week.
  2. Eating When I was pregnant, I paid close attention to the things I was putting into my body. As a vegan, it was particularly important for me to make sure I was getting the right nutrients, so meals became intentional. Once Coraline arrived, I still paid attention to what I was eating, but I also started to stress eat. More often than not I was grabbing things that were easy to eat, and more often than not that meant chocolate. Snack foods were easy and comforting during a time when I was sleep-deprived, anxious and stressed. My husband Keegan and I worked on this one together. He helped by preparing healthy snack foods for us at the beginning of each week; making them just as easy to grab as the chocolate. Grapes, cut-up veggies, hummus and more became regulars in our fridge.
  3.  Staying calm/taking care of myself Maternity leave wasn’t easy for me. As much as I loved (and love!) our new little addition, I regularly felt like I wasn’t doing a good job. Add sleep-deprivation to this mommy guilt and you have a perfect storm ready to erupt at any second. There were a number of times when I was home alone with her when she was screaming and I couldn’t calm her, and I thought I was going to lose it. I think the more ramped up I got, the more upset it made Coraline, making the situation worse and worse. Advice from friends helped me to know that in those moments, it’s okay to put your baby down in a safe space and walk away. From there I was able to take a few deep breaths, center myself, and come back to Coraline with a fresh start. Okay, not quite a fresh start … but it helped.

My greatest joy /boost/advantage as a new parent as it pertains to my health:

Now that Coraline is smiling, laughing, and interacting with us more, she has the power to flip a switch inside me. I feel such joy when I see that face. And spending time with her, especially when she’s breastfeeding and so close to me, warms my heart. As someone who has felt depressed at times, especially during those first few months after she was born, I’m really grateful for all the light and positivity she puts back into my life.

the-three-of-us-copy
Kristy, mother of Belle

Three biggest challenges:

  1. I am a BRAND NEW MOM. Our baby girl is a little over 15 days old. Because she is so new and I am still recovering working out isn’t the focus, but I’m focused on eating right and my mental/ emotional health.
  2. I make sure I’m getting the nutrition I need to feed myself and my newborn. I make sure I have the protein my body needs, along with healthy fats and carbs to help with my energy and breastmilk. I’m not “eating for two” when it comes to high empty calories but instead, I am the feeding tube to her nutrition.
  3. Mentally/Emotional as someone that has competed in sports most of my life, I look at it as a “team sport.” My husband, newborn, and I are all on a team and we are learning to work together. We aren’t pros at it yet, but we are all working together to be the best we can be. Her role is to eat, poop, and sleep … our role, to help her do that.

What is your greatest joy/boost/new advantage as a new parent as it pertains to YOUR health?

It would be more of a mental/emotional thing for me. I want to be the best version of myself I can be.  I want to be a positive female role model for her to look up to in the future. I want her to know she can do anything she sets her mind to, and that she has our support to do so.

Jackson

Beth, mother of Jackson

I had my son, Jackson, on May 21st. As a Beachbody coach before having a baby I worked out my entire pregnancy (right up until the day I was induced) and was able to jump right back in 2 weeks postpartum.

Three biggest challenges:

  1. Time! I include my son in my workouts. It has become one of his favorite times of day!
  2.  Motivation. Waking up multiple times a night takes a toll on your body, but I feel better and more energized if I eat well and get a workout in each day.
  3. Eating. Especially at the beginning when I was first home by myself eating, in general, was tough, never mind eating healthy. But getting used to meal prepping for the week on the weekend when my husband is home has helped me.

What is your greatest joy/boost/new advantage as a new parent as it pertains to YOUR health?

Having worked out from home pre-baby I feel like I had an advantage after he was born. I don’t have to deal with the hassle of finding someone to watch him while I go to the gym or actually deal with the hassle of getting myself to the gym.

He LOVES working out with me! Since he was two weeks old I would place him in his swing and work out for a half hour each day. He got used to that time and now he gets so excited when I take his weight rattle out and turn the workout on. He yells at me and keeps me motivated through my workout.

I’ve learned how important meal prep is. Not just to help myself eat healthy, but to eat in general. The day gets crazy and before I know it it’s 2pm and not only have I not eaten anything, but there’s no break in sight. Preparing healthy food options on Sunday afternoons while my husband is home and can be entertaining the baby is my saving grace. My fridge is always stocked with things that are grab and go or can be prepped and eaten with one hand while holding my little guy with the other hand!

Wyatt

Amanda, mother of Wyatt

Three biggest challenges:

  1. Eating healthy. It’s hard to actually cook a meal during the day when my husband is at work. My only real solution so far has been to try to snack on fruit versus convenience foods although I do grab things like pop tarts and frozen dinners on the occasion haha
  2. Getting enough sleep. The only solution has been to nap when I can and just forget everything else.
  3.  Remembering to take my ulcerative colitis medication. Solution: I have a reminder set in my phone and have my husband remind me as well.

My greatest joy as it pertains to my health: That my son is growing appropriately due to exclusively breastfeeding. This keeps me motivated to try to drink more water, watch what I eat and take supplements. If I wasn’t breastfeeding I probably would eat more fast food, dairy (I’m lactose intolerant) and fried foods.

Kaitlyn Morse with son and husband
Kaitlyn, mother of David

Three biggest challenges: 

  1. Staying sharp for things like work. I even have a baby who sleeps pretty well and it’s still challenging. I’ve discovered that allowing myself a little bit of coffee or black tea every now and then really has made a difference.
  2. Recently my son has been weaning and that’s been a challenge not only because I would have loved to make it to a year and he’s only seven months but also because it’s something that doesn’t get discussed in terms of women’s health. I do my best to remember that fed is best, it doesn’t have to be breastfed is best and I make sure to build in time for self care. Taking a shower every night means a lot to my state of mind.
  3. I stress a lot about spending time as a family when we’re busy with so many things and the baby goes to bed at 5:45 some nights after I get home from work at 5:15! I do my best to share uninterrupted time with him even if it’s just half an hour some nights before bed and banish the Mom guilt. I enjoy working too so that helps. When I begin to worry too much, prayer and church help when it feels like nothing else can.

My greatest joy I think the biggest joy has been learning about parenthood along with the community. If it takes a village we’ve got one mighty village. My parents watch my son two days a week, my husband stays home a few days a week and we’re out and about in our community with the baby at least a few nights a week. This makes a huge difference on my emotional state as it’s so nice not to have to use a daycare but with all the friends, family and loving our baby gets I do have to keep germ phobia in check. There’s a lot of hand washing but I’m not sure there’s ever going to be enough. I guess my theme would be not to sweat the small stuff.

A parenting resource

If you live in the Portland, Maine area, Birth Roots offers classes and groups where parents can find support, perspective, context, ideas and commiseration. Founding director Emily Murray told me, “Wonderful things are shared and even when there is no solution, parents leave feeling less alone and less crazy for struggling so much.”

Are you a new parent? How do you stay healthy?

Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.