Feel better. Stay alive.

When you're suddenly and dramatically confronted with caring for, loving and nurturing another living being (your child), it’s easy to toss aside even the most basic methods of caring for and nurturing yourself. 

Now, I’m not talking about the yoga or happy-hour variety of restoration. I’m talking about basic needs: Food. Sleep. Hygiene. 

A new parent will slay a bear to sustain a fed, rested and clean baby, but will totally deny themselves these crucial components of sanity and — you know — staying alive. 

When I worked as a postpartum doula, it was my job to ensure that the parents were themselves fed, rested, clean and (as a bonus) at least partially sane. 

Easier said than done! That’s why I’m giving you my new-parent cheat sheet:

Eat easy, friendly foods. 

Look, the 500 frozen lasagnas you’re lucky enough to have thrust upon you by well-wishers are all fine and good, but even the act of planning to bake a thing can be a challenge to the postpartum-parent brain. 

Plus, exhaustion has a way of killing the appetite. And rich, dense, fatty foods don’t sound good when you’re not feeling hungry. Hormones mess with the equation, too, making the strong scents associated with casseroles and carry-out seem unappealing. 

Cold smoothies and mild soups are my favorite ways to get nutrients into a new mama. Something pleasant and packed with vitamins (I sneak spinach into all my smoothies) that she can sip over a longer period of time will have a higher chance of success. 

Also great? Packets of trail mix and healthy snack bars stashed at various feeding and rocking stations around the house.

Can’t sleep? Just rest.

New parents are tired and in need of sleep. We all know that. 

“Sleep when baby sleeps,” is a useless phrase thrown around by doctors, grandmas and yes — doulas. It’s well meaning, but — truthfully — it’s hard to get right back to sleep after a 3 a.m. feeding, knowing that another is surely coming at 4:15. 

And it’s hard to sleep in the middle of the day when you’re a grownup! It’s hard to sleep with hormones raging, breasts engorging and anxiety coursing through your veins like a pack of wild stallions galloping at top speed. And that’s saying nothing of the new parents who are already back at work!

The best advice I received from the birth doula I hired with my firstborn was this: “If you can’t sleep, please at least put your feet up and rest.” 

I did as I was told and quickly fell asleep — even if only for half an hour. Once I took the pressure off and acknowledged that my body needed rest, I got a little rest!

Shower every single day. 

Like it’s your job. 

If someone — anyone! — offers to help, you take the help. Period. Maybe you need some TP or milk from the store, maybe you’d like your would-be helpers to make a Panera run. 

Those tasks are necessary and great. But when you just can’t think of what you need, ask your would-be do-gooders to hold down the fort while you stand in the hot shower for 20 minutes. 

In your tiny, child-proofed, warped-time, other-worldly, stuffy postpartum cave, a hot shower is EVERYTHING. It’s a spa day, a reset button, a shot of espresso, a place to feel human, a safe space in which you can (and should) cry your little eyes out. 

You and your partner need to boss one another into the shower. Your mother needs to know the shower is important to you AND that you want to be alone in there! Your doula should know all about shower sanity and you should affirm for her that it’s a priority. 

I can’t tell you how many times as a doula I sent a slumped-shouldered, splotchy-faced mom into the shower only to have her shuffle down the stairs 20 minutes later with a shy smile on her face.

Feel better? Yes. 

Yoga nights and happy hours? We’ll get to those later. For now, ambitiously aim to eat, sleep and shower. 

Feel better! Stay alive.

Jen Wittes is a certified postpartum doula and writer who now works in marketing and communications. She lives in St. Paul with her two kids, her two cats and her husband. Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com.