Caring for a newborn can be a source of both joy and stress for a new caregiver. The demands of an infant are often underestimated and many find it challenging to divide attention between baby and both the physical and emotional demands of daily life.
“When an individual becomes a parent or caregiver, their occupations drastically change and it can be overwhelming,” says Theresa Carroll, OTD, OTR/L, Clinical Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy at the University of Illinois in Chicago and also a volunteer Babywearing Educator with Babywearing International. “Many find themselves having to sacrifice self-care, leisure activities, work and even education to prioritize the new occupations involved in caring for a newborn.”
Occupational therapy practitioners are experts in activity (occupations) participation such as self-care, work and play, and can help new parents and caregivers compensate and find balance by promoting healthy routines to preserve mental wellness.
In honor of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) offers evidence-based tips for new caregivers to promote mental and physical health and well-being:
- Increase skin-to-skin contact. Physical contact between caregiver and child promotes physical and mental development for baby, and elicits good feelings for the caregiver.
- Wear baby when safe. Wearing a baby in a carrier or wrap promotes physical development including head control and understanding of the world around them. It also gives caregivers the opportunity to participate in occupations such as household chores, tending to older children, and leisure such as walks.
- Connect with others. Join a parent group, playgroup, moms’ club, dads’ club, parenting support group, stroller exercise group, etc. for support. Many local libraries hold free weekly events for young children, which offer structured play for both parent and child, and informal networking for caregivers.
- Set realistic expectations. Caregiving is not all giggles, hugs, and “I Love You’s” all the time. Some days, the dog is barking, the baby is crying, the toddler is having a meltdown, the sink is full of dishes and the laundry seems never-ending. Sometimes, juggling work demands or little sleep and continuing to breastfeed can seem impossible. Understanding that most parents feel this way and are going through these changes can help.
- Accept help. Understand that accepting help with daily activities is not admitting defeat. Assistance from others can offer time to participate in self-care and health-promoting leisure routines. “Taking care of yourself as a caregiver translates to the mental wellness of the child,” says Carroll. “Allowing others to care for your child so you can take a shower, go for a run, or read a book can be beneficial to both caregiver and child.”
“Occupational therapists understand the benefits of engaging in meaningful occupations for mental health,” says Carroll. “Helping caregivers establish routines that facilitate the balance of caregiving, self-care and leisure can promote mental wellness for both the caregiver and the child.”
In addition to these tips, AOTA has recorded a podcast for parents. To listen, visit http://otconnections.aota.org/galleries/aota_podcasts/m/pediatric_virtual_chats/121029.aspx. To learn more about how occupational therapy practitioners work with children and their families, visit http://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Patients-Clients/ChildrenAndYouth.aspx.
Founded in 1917, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) represents the professional interests and concerns of more than 213,000 occupational therapists, assistants and students nationwide. Based in Bethesda, MD, AOTA’s major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential.