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Dr. Harvey Karp: 7 Steps to Take Care of Yourself…While Taking Care of Your Baby

By Dr. Harvey Karp 

Welcome to the wonderful - and often wearisome - world of motherhood!

If you’re feeling like you walked into the deep end of the pool, you’re not alone. For the first time in human history, parents are expected to take care of babies on their own. Up until about 100 years ago, most parents had 5 nannies…their moms, sisters, cousins, and neighbors. These helpers were at the ready - around the clock - to cook a meal, hold the baby or change a diaper. But nowadays, with families spread across the country, parents have no choice but to do it all on their own. Yikes! No wonder parents in modern, 2-earner families feel so overwhelmed.

Luckily, there are ways to look after your own health while protecting your baby’s well-being. Do it for yourself, but also do it for the little human who needs you at your best. Like they say in airplanes, “Put your oxygen mask on first.”

1. Stick to the basics.

It can feel overwhelming to be responsible for a new (little) life! But, assuming you are keeping your baby safe, fed and diapered - pat yourself on the back - you’re doing great! And if you’re able to get sleep, do baby yoga, take walks and keep the house sort of clean, you’re crushing it as a new parent.

2. Tend to your mutual needs.

Two of the biggest new parent challenges are: calming crying and increasing sleep. They’re not just important for baby, they’re important for you too. They are a stress on babies and trigger anxiety and depression for new parents. A baby’s cries naturally make our hearts race, palms sweat and prompt feelings of anxiety, anger and a sense of failure. And, of course, it fractures a baby’s and parent’s sleep. Fortunately, baby calming is a whole lot easier once you learn the 5 S’s. This simple tool calms crying and boosts parent confidence and a glow of success.

3. Get sleep.

Exhaustion is arguably the #1 new parent stressor. It can lead to serious health risks, like postpartum depression/anxiety, breastfeeding failure, mastitis, marital conflict, weight struggles, car crashes and thousands of infant deaths from unsafe bed sharing and sofa sleeping. The great news is the 5 S’s can boost sleep for your baby…and you. It can also help if you play white noise, use blackout shades or blinds, use a blue light filter on your phone/computer, wear a sleep mask, drink calming mint or chamomile tea, and use soothing lavender oil to catch some Zzz’s.

4. Don’t be shy - ask for help.

Caring for a baby “takes a village.” Ask a friend or relative to come visit or even stay for a while (make sure it’s someone who will actually be helpful). Call a friend to walk the dog or stop by to hold the baby so you can take a shower, or even just chat. Isolation takes a mental toll. Get ahead of it, and create your support network now! Added bonus: if you have (or can make) a friend whose child is near your child’s age, reach out to them in particular. It is extra helpful to have someone to ask questions and to go through milestones with.

5. Take a moment alone with your partner.

If your in-laws or a babysitter is watching your child, use that time to be with your partner. Take a walk or even just plop down on the couch and connect. Check in with your partner and ask how they are doing. Make sure your partner knows that their feelings matter to you and invite them to share their challenges. Parenting as a team makes relationships stronger than ever!

6. Lean on technology.

Today, we have smart phones, smart cars, smart TV’s, and finally… now there are smart baby beds! SNOO Smart Sleeper uses womb-like sound and motion to add 1-2 (or more!) hours of sleep for babies and parents. It is also the only bed that keeps babies in the safe back position all night. So, in addition to getting the rest you need, you’ll have peace of mind that your baby is safe, which might help make it easier to fall asleep. Not everyone has lots of friends or family to ask for help, so SNOO can be a spare set of hands when two just isn’t enough. (Which pretty often, don’t you think?)

7. Laugh.

Poopy blowout? Get peed on? Spilled the milk? New parents have pretty much two choices for how to react:  laugh or cry. Sometimes you’ll cry. And that can be a much needed release. But it’s also normal to laugh a bit too loud (like someone who is a just on the edge of bonkers!). This, too, shall pass. And it will definitely make a good story one day! 

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Dr. Harvey Karp is one of America's most-trusted pediatricians and child development experts. He is on the faculty of the USC School of Medicine and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Karp practiced pediatrics in Los Angeles for over 25 years. His landmark discoveries and unique ability to translate complex science into effective techniques to empower parents have revolutionized our understanding of the needs of young children. He is the founder and CEO of Happiest Baby, a smart-tech and parenting solutions company.


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