Did you know that oxytocin plays a role in motherhood, not just in birth? And that if you increase your oxytocin, you will feel better, happier, and more loved? We all know that if we take care of ourselves, we have more to give our babies and partners.
Specifically, if you raise your oxytocin, you will be more relaxed, contemplative, and companionable; you will be more tolerant of monotony and boredom (which can come in handy as you experience long days of doing the same thing over and over with your new baby!); your digestion and appetite will be better; you will have lower blood pressure; wounds will heal quickly; it helps with letdown if you are breastfeeding; and best of all…it is contagious! So if you have high oxytocin, it will flow over to your partner, children, other family.
Sometimes a steaming cup of tea is all you need to boost your oxytocin.
Here are some examples of what can raise and lower your oxytocin:
|Things that raise oxytocin
||Things that lower oxytocin
Eating comfort food
Meditation, Yoga, Exercise
Touch, including skin-to-skin
Anything you love!
A crying baby
Books and experts
Social isolation or too many visitors (you need the right kind of visitors! This video talks about that.)
With new moms, it’s important to try and avoid anything that can lower oxytocin because once a mom becomes stressed, it’s a lot harder to care for a newborn, which while a lovely job, can be a demanding and tiring one. (Just as an example: if you’re breastfeeding and stressed, it’s that much harder to get the baby to latch on. Then the baby is crying. Then you are crying. It’s a vicious cycle. In this case, you need to stop and breathe, think of something that brings you joy, and try again.)
This is where her village of friends, family, postpartum doula comes in. It’s time to call on all those people who said, “Let me know how I can help when the baby comes!” A mom experiencing stress or worry over any of the above oxytocin killers might need someone to hold the crying baby to give her a break, or someone to do the laundry or cook a meal. She needs to be given the confidence to know that the answers to her baby lie within her, that she is the expert, not the author who has never met her baby.
This mom also needs help boosting her oxytocin! And there is a simple way to do that: by making and following your own self-care plan. It’s actually pretty simple:
- make a list of all the things that bring you joy
- pick 2 or 3 and determine how you will do them and when
- write down your intentions and put the reminder somewhere you will see it regularly
- try these for 6 weeks and see how you feel!
Here are a few examples:
- When my partner is home from work, I’m going to garden outside for an hour by myself twice a week.
- After my baby goes to bed, I’m going to read a chapter in my book before I go to bed each night.
- Every day I’m going to take the baby and I for a walk, even if it’s just down the street.
- My baby and I will bathe together, since I don’t have much time to myself, and we will do it when baby is happiest, so mid-morning.
Not everyone has a village or support: if you are a single parent or solo parenting with a spouse who has to work away a lot, there are still ways to take care of yourself. This post explains one such example.
The video below will walk you through how to create your own self-care plan and give you more examples of oxytocin boosters!
I would love to help you boost your oxytocin or hear what are your favourite oxytocin boosters! Shoot me an email below and I will hook you up with your own self-care plan template and follow up with you in 6 weeks so you don’t have to add that to your to-do list (thus, lowering your oxytocin!).
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It’s easy to feel touched out and like you have no time for yourself when you a new mom (or a mom at any time!). You have this new little being who needs you almost constantly. It can be difficult to find time to pamper yourself, even though you know it’s important to take care of you. Maybe it’s hard to find a massage therapist who is comfortable with having an infant at the appointment. Maybe you don’t want to or can’t leave the house. All of these are valid!
Have you ever considered self-massage as a solution? It’s win-win. You as a new mom get some pampering and self love, plus you get to do it on your own terms in your own home. Baby welcomed. Baby might even enjoy a massage as well (stay tuned for a post on baby massage) or a bath with you after. Our baby was the most content when he bathed with me rather than on his own. Or maybe you do it while baby is napping (though you should be, too, if you can!). Self-massage is a self-care tool I wish I had thought of sooner.
Here’s what you need: the 5 “warms”
- Warm oil (I use organic coconut oil, but your options are vast, so use what works for you!)
- Warm room
- Warm bath
- Warm hands
- Warm heart
I run my tub first and start massaging on a towel beside the tub. There is no right way to do self-massage! I do a bit of massage while the tub runs and I finish my massage in the tub.
Here is a guide to get you started:
Experiment to find what works best for you and your family. Maybe evening doesn’t work because your baby is cranky. Who says you can’t do this in the morning or before an afternoon nap? Maybe you do it right when your partner gets home for the day.
So massage away and bask in the love hormone of oxytocin. The more loved mama feels, the more love everyone feels: oxytocin is contagious! Let me know how it goes for you.
As I drove through the rambling countryside today as my toddler napped, this thought popped into my mind. My husband will probably laugh, because I’ve been lamenting the past couple days how it’s no longer as nice out, and he keeps pointing out it’s still only April.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small town, but I find driving grid roads and looking out at the countryside relaxing. It might also be because it’s a past-time we’ve done as a family for years, often looking for wildlife. Since my dad and I are both competitive, it was always a competition to see who would see the deer or coyote first.
I tried to time my day so that Cub would fall asleep when we left the city, and it worked out perfectly. Instead of taking the highway straight home, I took the “scenic route.” I drove past monster homes at Cathedral Bluffs and took in the amazing skies along with all the sloughs and fields peppered with geese and ducks.
It sounds cheesy, but I was so full of gratitude. We’d had such a lovely day, first having a play date with friends and then meeting another friend for lunch. It was wonderful to see both the women and little ones and eat cake on top of it. Cake!
And while driving, an article I’d recently read crossed my mind. A mom wrote how there are always two ways to see every situation, and pointed to a recent week of solo parenting and the exhaustion she felt when her toddler needed her in the middle of the night. She could either focus on her exhaustion and be frustrated, or she could look at it as a gift: it can be hard, but what a precious moment to cuddle your son in the middle of the night and feel him drift back to sleep. What a gift and how strong you feel being the one who is able to cuddle him back to slumber.
It seems so simple, but it’s how I was framing our country drive. I already love the drive anyway, but it made me realize I could look at it as a hassle, that my son fell asleep while I was driving, so that meant no nap for me or no time to do work while he napped.
Or I could look at it as a gift. It gave me time to sip and enjoy the rest of my London Fog and marvel in a beautiful Saskatchewan prairie. We took the ferry twice, the second time Cub was awake so he could enjoy it, too.
It’s no secret I’ve been struggling the last bit, but I feel like I’ve come out the other side, and I know that at least part of it is changing how I look at things. (The other part is recognizing that babies and toddlers are always changing, and you’ve gotta just go with the flow! Easier said than done, but once you can master this…you’re golden. I am still working on this.)
As I look back on some of the recent struggles, I realize I needed to be embracing the season rather than fighting it. So there were days my boy didn’t want to nap. So what? That means more time to go outside for a bike ride or have him sit in my lap as we read books. Nothing lasts forever. (And as hindsight is 20/20, he was just trying to communicate to me that he wasn’t ready for a nap, he wanted it later – I’m growing up, Mama!)
It dawned on me, too, that there will come a time where he won’t fall asleep on the way home from Saskatoon, so we may not be able to take the scenic route and I may not get this quiet time to myself to enjoy CBC Radio 2. Or maybe he’ll enjoy country drives like me, who knows. The point is, I need to embrace this time for what it is now, and I felt like today was a good step toward that. It doesn’t mean things aren’t or can’t be tough. They sometimes are. But there is always something beautiful about every season if you just look for it. Even when it’s a windy, rainy April day in Saskatchewan.
You’ve probably felt that way at some point in your life, whether it was in your role as mom, dad, wife, husband, boss, employee, student…you name it.
Well, I hit that point about a week or so ago. I’ve dragged my husband down with me, too. He’s our rock and puts so much energy into encouraging me to focus on all that is good and into making things easier for me. He’s now exhausted. I don’t blame him.
What self-care looks like. Just add wine.
He came home from work early one day last week after a flurry of frustrated texts from me. I was trying to get our son to nap. I know in my head not to push things, so I have to ask myself why I get so frustrated when it doesn’t work? Just let it go. I KNOW THIS. And yet, you get in your head that he will nap, therefore I will nap, and when it doesn’t happen, well, shit.
Upon his arrival and his stern direction that I go take a nap, I melted into an ugly, bawling mess on the floor. I sobbed that I was tired, I was overwhelmed, I was sad. That it was hard to keep up with being the mom I wanted to be. That I couldn’t dream of keeping up with housework. That I felt like I was falling behind in my other job. (Which is a total phallacy. I work with the best team in the world. I can do my work whenever I want, within reason, unless it’s time sensitive. If I need help, they help me. When I emailed saying I was basically having a breakdown and going to a counsellor, one of them did some of my work for me.)
So yeah, I went to counselling that night. I got in fast after a recommendation from one of my dear friends in my mama tribe. She, too, kind of admonished me: why hadn’t I messaged her before and that I could call her any time. I knew that but yet maybe I didn’t or forgot, because I didn’t think to admit to her that I was falling apart until I pretty much hit rock bottom.
I’ve written before about admitting when you’re down to help other moms. I wouldn’t say I have post partum depression, but I wouldn’t say it’s smooth sailing either. What the counsellor thinks is that my cup is empty. That I’m not getting enough Darla time. When she asked me about this, I burst into tears. To be fair, I spent a good chunk of that day crying. While she didn’t say I was ridiculous, she looked at me like I was when I said I enjoyed a nightly bubble bath and yoga once a week.
When I reflected on the session later, I wondered if I cried because I actually need more Darla time, or if it was the perfectionist in me, feeling like I was failing or someone was giving me heck for not being good enough. APB (hubby) says I’m way too hard on myself, that I’m always trying to be the “perfect” mom. I’m smart enough to know there is no such thing as a perfect mom, and I always argue that I’m not trying to be perfect, that I’m just trying to be the mom I want to be. But yeah…If you’re a perfectionist, you’re often striving for the unattainable.
We like our jetted baths in this household.
My counselling homework was to come up with things I can do on my own, and honestly, I lost sleep that first night trying to think of things. Which was totally counterproductive to the fact that I’ve been exhausted lately. I have since come up with a couple things (gardening season is right around the corner – hopefully – and maybe punching the ol’ punching bag or adding another yoga class), but I didn’t want to just sign up for something for the sake of signing up for something. Plus, with not knowing a ton of people since moving here a year and a half ago, caregivers out here are somewhat limited.
The other part of my homework was to spend more time with APB. I’ve always thought I checked in with him to make sure we were cool, and he’s never said otherwise, so it was just her suggesting we weren’t. Or that we could end up on a path where we weren’t. When I checked in with some other moms, our lives didn’t seem that different than theirs. It’s for now, it’s not forever. That said, we had a great supper out Friday night while the toddler hung out with Auntie Cathy. Everyone had fun, so we’ll make sure to do this more often.
I’m back to the counsellor on Tuesday, and I’m hoping I’m less of a mess this time so I can be straight with her: your homework stressed me out, and while it doesn’t hurt to add something if I’ll enjoy it or get something out of it, adding something for the sake of it won’t help me. It felt like another task, and lord knows I don’t need another task right now. I agree self-care is important, and I want to set a good example of that to my child, but I’m not going to start taking a dance class if I don’t want to dance.
I’m hoping I’m on the upward of the swing. I’m surrounded by a lot of love: a very supportive husband who is weary but hopefully in a few days will be better; very supportive and helpful parents; lovely friends who care about me; and a beautiful little boy whose smile lights up my heart.
If you feel like garbage, tell someone. Tell a friend, your spouse, a counsellor if need be. No shame in going to see a counsellor: as she told me, everyone should see one at some point in their lives (I’ve gone twice before for work-related stuff!). Heck, tell me. I’ll always listen. Being a mom is hard.
As a wise friend told me, being a mom is tough: the best and worst of times. Those little moments and special people help us through the hard parts. Now time for my nightly bubble bath.