For any mom in 2021, taking care of yourself is nothing short of a radical act. But making your health a priority must take precedent—and if the pandemic taught us anything , it’s to be more intentional about how you care for yourself.
That’s why Parsley Health partnered with HeyMama to bring together three powerhouse women to unearth actionable solutions for the complicated issue of how moms can take care of themselves: Dr. Darcy McConnell , Lead Clinician at Parsley Health; Katya Libin , co-founder and CEO at HeyMama; and Rachel Mansfield , cookbook author, recipe developer, and podcast host.
Because, as most moms know, carving out time for ourselves feels nearly impossible while also caring for an entire family’s emotional, social, mental, and physical wellbeing.
During the event, Parsley Health Lead Clinician Dr. Darcy McConnell offered holistic strategies for integrating a science-backed self-care regimen into a life of too many demands and not enough time or energy. Missed it? Don’t worry, you can still use her tips and tricks for prioritizing self-care, which are good for your health while being a profound act of self-love.
Asking a parent to add one more thing to their endless to-do list may seem unrealistic, but it pays off in the long run. Moms often report higher levels of fatigue and stress and rate their overall health as worse than women without children. A study published in Preventative Medicine also found that for each child a woman had, her risk of obesity increased 7 percent. There are many factors that can be at play with symptoms like fatigue and weight gain, including postpartum hormonal changes , which are common but should be addressed to prevent health issues down the road.
Hypothyroidism can also develop postpartum due in part to certain immune system changes that occur. Because moms undergo so many physical, emotional, and mental fluctuations during childbearing years, it’s important to be cognizant of holistic methods of caring for yourself.
Dr. McConnell explains, “There’s a difference between self-care and science-backed self-care. An example that I can think of is the ‘relaxing bubble bath’. What I would recommend is cutting out the alcohol, removing the iPad in the bathtub, and adding some Epsom salts and lavender essential oils. Those things are science-backed—and I can get behind them.”
Simply put, science-backed self-care is healthcare and it should be non-negotiable.
Self-care isn't something you do just once. You need to continue showing up for yourself. As Dr. McConnell reminds us, “When we’re not feeling good physically, we’re not going to be feeling good mentally and emotionally.”
Vary the activities you rely on for self-care, she says, because oftentimes typical self-care means engaging extensively with one thing. There’s power in variety, epecially when it comes to fitness and movement. Dr. McConnell tells moms to “mix it up,” because if you're only focusing on one activity (e.g., running or cycling), there’s a greater chance you’ll injure yourself.
Take a good look at your daily activities and routines. Who inhabits your world? How do you interact with your community? Dr. McConnell calls this the bio-psycho-social model. “It’s our environment that’s also so important. It’s where we are; it’s who we spend time with; it’s what we do with our lives; what we’re passionate about; the place we occupy; the people that we have relationships with; and it’s the community we spend time with."
Dr. McConnell uses this model in her work with members at Parsley Health . “When we ask about your health, we’re asking about your physical health and your mental health, but we’re also asking about your social health—how you're doing in a community, what support you have. And I think for moms, that is more important, really, than anything else.”
Dr. McConnell reminds us: “Would you let your little one stay up on their devices until 1 a.m.? Of course, you wouldn’t. Would you deny them a healthy habit? Of course not. But the same goes for us, as moms. I think of it as shining this nurturing, empowering light that we are always granting to other people—we’re teaching them, training them, loving them—and we have to turn that back internally to ourselves.”
Remember, high levels of stress can impact you AND your children . It's imperative to your health to prevent burnout before it becomes an issue.
Part of self-care is also having an expert medical team around you to support and guide you when you need it. Dr. McConnell suggests, “Find a doctor you can really trust. You want to find someone you can be in a collaborative relationship with. That they will listen, hear you, and work toward common health goals .”
Bring up the smallest issues to your healthcare team, because anything may be a clue about your health. “Ask for testing,” says Dr. McConnell. “At Parsley, we do diagnostic testing —a deep dive into bloodwork to make sure we see more than the average baseline labs at a standard care practice. We run a full nutrient panel, thyroid and hormone testing, heart health, a deep dive into lipids, and metabolic markers (like glucose and insulin). And inflammatory markers, too, for data-driven healthcare .” Make sure your doctor is onboard with your goals.
“Recognize expectations and stand up for yourself!" says Dr. McConnell. "I felt sorry for myself for too long—it appeared everyone else was having more fun in life than me. But we need to recognize that we put expectations on ourselves. We burden ourselves to be the only nurturer, to stay in complete control, of not wanting to let go, not wanting to let others assist. But everyone else was getting nurturing, and I didn’t get any myself.”
One way to start implementing this is to create a routine that sets the tone for your everyday. Go for a daily walk, set aside an hour for yourself to spend doing whatever you want, make choices that serve you in addition to your family. Commit to rituals and sacred time that is just for you.
You should also be careful when, where, and how you expend your energy. It’s ok to say “no” as you advocate for yourself by drawing boundaries around your time and wellbeing. We're all doing the best we can, so let go of the guilt of being everything to everyone.
Because at the end of the day, taking care of yourself as a mom has to come first. Dr. McConnell reminds us: “When I’m with a patient who is a mom, I talk about how moms are excellent at other care but not so great at self-care. And that’s why it’s a radical act, to turn that around.”
Brooke Klauer is a freelance writer and editor in the lifestyle and wellness space. She’s worked for various publications such as The Fold, The Chalkboard Mag, The Everygirl, and Honest History among others. She has an undergraduate degree in English from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree in education from Loyola University Chicago. When she’s not working or chasing down hugs from her three children, you will most likely find her in a cozy nook with her nose buried in a book.