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Helping tired parents: Ways you can support their self-care after baby arrives


Parents with newborns typically put baby's needs before their own.

*This story was co-written with Reshmi Abraham, BHSc., Community and Population Health, previous student who worked with Northern Health’s Public Health Practice team.

New babies are a lot of work, and this time in a parent’s life is exhausting. Hearing advice like “sleep when the baby sleeps” may not be helpful, as this isn’t always possible. So, how can we help tired parent(s) with infants?

One way is to let them know that resting is still valuable, even if they aren’t getting the sleep they need right now. If you know someone who’s expecting, or has had a baby recently, keep reading for more ideas.

Postpartum self-care: Think of NEST-S

What new parent(s) need to hear more than anything is that their health and well-being is as important as their baby’s. Quality support from friends, family, neighbours, and peers can help them find the time they need to rest.

Did you know that sleep is one of the five key aspects of self-care for new parents? As we think about physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, consider the acronym NEST-S:

Lend a hand when there’s a new baby

Family sits in a comfy chair together
There’s a lot to juggle with a new baby. It can feel vulnerable for new parent(s) to ask for help. There are many ways you can be there for them.

We know there are many demands on new parent(s). There’s a lot to juggle with a baby! This can make it tricky for them to get rest when they need it. To make things more difficult, new parent(s) may find it hard to ask for help – it can feel vulnerable to do so, even when others say, “Let me know how I can help.” This is your chance to offer support!

To start, have a conversation to learn about the parent(s)’ goals and how you can help them. What works for one family may not work for another. Maybe they need support with some chores around the house, such as:

If they have older children, offer to watch them. Taking them outside the home can allow parents some quiet rest time with the new baby.

Protect parent-baby togetherness

What about watching the baby so the parent(s) can rest? Depending on the parent(s)’ goals, this may or may not be the best approach. Keeping the parent(s) and baby together supports bonding. It also helps them respond to early feeding cues and establish breastfeeding. For more information, read about the fourth trimester.

Remember: Many parent(s) bedshare with their babies. This is especially common for families who breastfeed. Bedsharing (also called “co-sleeping”) can help parents get better sleep in the weeks and months after birth. Safe bedsharing is possible: Learn how to make every sleep a safer sleep.

Support families’ unique needs

Child playing happily on the floor
Offering to watch older children is one way to help. Taking them outside the home can allow parent(s) some quiet rest time with the new baby.

Life with a baby also brings new feelings and emotions. Often on little sleep, parents are learning how to respond to their baby’s unique needs as well as trying to meet their own. There are ways you can empower them as they cope during this sleepy time.

Your emotional support can be a big help.

Consider these ways to offer this important type of support:

  • Listen to their feelings and offer heartfelt encouragement such as, “You’re doing a great job.” This can really help to uplift a tired parent.
  • Help them put a sign on their door to avoid unplanned visits. Families may not want visitors right away and can struggle with how to ask for this space.
  • Suggest that they turn off or silence their phones when they’re resting. Even the smallest of noises can disrupt much-needed sleep.
  • Encourage them to connect with peers who are going through similar situations, such as online or local peer support groups. As they learn about life with a baby, these connections can help them to see what they’re going through is normal.

Consider more ways you can help

It makes sense that new parents prioritize the needs of their babies, but they still need people in their lives who remind them to “put on their own oxygen mask first."

They may be too tired right now to thank you, but your support makes a real difference. Learn more about this delicate time - here are some resources to get you started: