“I want to punch the next person who tells me to take care of myself.”
That is a direct quote taken from a woman I worked with a few months back. She was diagnosed with her second pregnancy complication and was prescribed bed rest since 16 weeks. She knew, best case, she was in for a long road on bed rest of ups and downs, scares and so many unknowns.
How can I take care of myself when my baby’s life hangs in the balance? she wondered.
In that context, whether she got a back rub, treated herself to dessert one night or bought an extra pillow to help with sleeping at night seemed laughable in comparison to the gravity of the situation.
As mothers, we are wired to give to our children first.
No matter how old they are, it’s in our blood and bones to ensure they are taken care of. Whether it’s giving them the last bite of food at the expense of our hunger or letting them wear your sunglasses to ease the glare on their eyes, it can feel unnatural to do anything for yourself when you feel you could do more for your baby.
This is why self-care doesn’t work during a high-risk pregnancy.
You’re not built to put yourself first, especially when your baby’s life is in danger. This is true of all humans and all animals. It’s in our genes to protect our young first. So when you are terrified about losing your baby, the only thing on your mind is, “What more can I do to save my baby?” Planning a girl’s nights, watching a funny movie or even trying your hand at coloring can feel like a diversion from what you should be doing - protecting your baby.
It’s possible you’ll try it once because you know you’re “supposed” to engage in self-care. It’s “supposed” to be good for you. But your heart won’t be in it.
You’ll be distracted by the aches and pains you feel, wondering if you’ll bleed again if you laugh too hard. You won’t enjoy the experience of whatever self-care activity you choose and you’ll tell yourself you knew it wasn’t going to work anyway. Then you never try it again, instead imagining how you far back you can roll your eyes at the next person who tells you to “take care of yourself”.
Stop taking care of yourself and take care of your baby instead.
Your primary - and only - goal right now is to give your baby a fighting chance for a healthy start to life. So don’t engage in self-care. (Tweet that!)
Instead, engage in baby-care by reframing self-care activities.
Movie nights or teaching yourself to crochet aren’t for you. They are necessary to help your baby survive and thrive. That is not an exaggeration or an opinion of mine, but a scientific fact. (Tweet that!)
Your baby needs you to worry less because high stress changes the blood flow to your baby and impacts your baby’s neurological, physical and emotional growth.
Your baby needs you to manage your anxiety because anxiety impacts your ability to make confident, informed medical decisions that can impact your baby’s health.
Your baby needs you to sleep better because vital exhaustion puts your baby at risk for being born far too early, even if everything else is going well in your pregnancy.
Your baby needs you to lift your mood because low mood and depression during pregnancy increases your risk of preterm birth by two-fold.
Every time you get your body to relax, you laugh until tears roll down your face, your brain gets a reprieve from all of the what ifs, your baby feels it and thrives on it. (Tweet that!)
It positively impacts your baby’s growth and development and improves the health of your pregnancy. This is exactly what you’re fighting for right?
So the next time someone tells you to take care of yourself, feel free to say no. Instead, think about what can you do in that moment that can positively impact your baby’s growth and survival. You truly can do it.
What’s your favorite way to take care of your baby when you’re on bed rest or facing pregnancy complications? Leave your comments below. I would love to hear from you.