I remember my first Thanksgiving after my son was born. What a wasted opportunity! All those family members available to take a turn holding/swooshing/rocking/changing/feeding my baby and I missed out. In the throes of new mother-dom, I was so anxious about his care, so deranged by my lack of sleep, that I remember feeling as though I needed to keep him attached to me from the soup course (butternut squash) to dessert (ten different kinds of pie.) If this year’s Thanksgiving will be the first with your baby, and your baby’s first too, then “lean-in” to this edition of the Blog. What follows are a menu of researched-based tips designed to make your holiday one for which you may indeed give thanks.
Indulge a little: If you find yourself going back for seconds (in my case thirds…um, fourths) and that voice in your head is reminding you that you are still ten pounds over your goal weight, tell her to mind her business. I say this not only as an authority on mothercare, but also as a certified pre and postnatal fitness trainer. Might that extra scoop of sweet potatoes set you back a bit? Yep. It might. But here’s the thing; let’s weigh (no pun intended) that fact against your ability to thoroughly enjoy the present moment. How often do you get to sample your Aunt Ellen’s buttery, cinnamon-y sweet potatoes? That’s right—once a year. Rather than arbitrarily denying yourself your favorite holiday treat, I suggest that you consider indulging, but do so mindfully. Regular readers know that I’m a big believer in mindfulness. Though not a religious practice, the idea of mindfulness draws on traditional Buddhist meditation practices dating back more than 2000 years. Mindfulness places focus on awareness and keeping attention in the present moment. When it comes to eating, a mindfulness based approach offers that the act should incorporate the senses, and be performed with purpose. The effectiveness of mindfulness-based interventions to combat the unhealthy results of multiple issues around eating is a research specialty of Dr. Jane Hart, Clinical Instructor and former Chair of the Integrative Medicine Committee at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. She has seen improvements in weight-loss, eating disorders, and reductions in food cravings, through the use of a mindfulness-based approach. Dr. Hart comments that “…how, when and why a person eats may be just as important as what that person eats to optimize his or her health (p. 317).”
So, try this exercise at your Thanksgiving table: hand your little one off to a trusted relative, sit down, and take a few deep breaths. Look at the beautiful plate of food in front of you. Take a big whiff. Then another. Listen to the sounds of family and friends around you. Slowly bring your fork to your mouth, indulging in that first bite. Revel in the sensation on your tongue. and indulge in every last bite of those sweet potatoes.
Feel Free to Take a Break: I realize I began this post lamenting my inability to take full advantage of a room full of relatives happy to help with childcare, but I also realize that for some of us, that very room full might be a bit much to manage. You may find that all you want to do is be with your baby—just you two, or perhaps you two and your partner (if you are partnered). If you find yourself overwhelmed by a barrage of questions about how your baby is eating/[not] sleeping/pooping/peeing/smiling/crying etc., then high-tail it away from the dinner table for a while. Grab the stroller or the infant carrier and go for a brisk walk. (It’s amazing what a little fresh air can do to recalibrate your sense of calm.) Can’t get out of the house? Go to the bedroom. Go to the bathroom! Remove yourself from your current surroundings. When you have found a quiet and solitary space, take a few moments to just be in your own company and regroup. If you have ever watched your baby breathe when he or she is sleeping, you will notice his or her little belly goes gently up and down, gracefully. Babies breathe differently than adults. Because we accumulate stress in our bodies, they tend to be constricted. This constriction can inhibit the belly breathing babies seem to do so effortlessly, and instead force shorter, more shallow breathing from the chest. This exercise, courtesy of psychotherapist, author, meditation practitioner, and husband extraordinaire (I can say that because he is mine) Jason Kurtz, MA, LCSW-R can help you revert back to being a better breather, bringing your stress back down to baby-size.
Sit comfortably with your back straight, either in a chair or the floor. Place your hands on your belly. Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air to enter into the abdomen so you feel it inflate. Breathe out through the mouth. Keep your focus on the feeling of the belly expanding under the hand. Concentrate on the physical sensation as much as you can. The aim is to stay in your body, rather than in your mind. When you notice your mind wandering (which it will, repeatedly) just bring it back to the physical sensation you are experiencing. Try this for five minutes, and build up more time if you find it works for you.
Take Advantage of Others’ Time Off: If you are knee-deep in no-sleep, the Thanksgiving holiday could be just the thing you need to catch-up on some much-needed rest. We all know that chronic sleep deprivation can have deleterious health effects, impacting everything from your ability to focus and regulate your emotions, to increasing your risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancers. Yikes! Many people are off for not only the Thursday of Thanksgiving, but also Black Friday and the subsequent weekend. Ask your nearest and dearest if they would be willing to pencil in a block of time to care for your baby while you get some Zzzzs back. If you can plan ahead (pump in advance or pack formula, and stock the diaper bag with all the essentials—plus extras) you may find yourself with an opportunity to steal away to dreamland. Now that’s a real holiday!
Dayna is a leading authority on the subject of women transitioning to motherhood and serves as Director of the Anna Keefe Women's Center at the Training Institute for Mental Health in Manhattan. She is a licensed social worker and NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Certified Personal Trainer with an additional certification in training the pre and postnatal client. Dayna is the author of the upcoming "Mother Matters: A Practical Guide to Raising a Happy, Healthy Mom" (Familius Press, Spring 2018) and an as-yet untitled book on women's health from the reproductive through post-menopausal years (Rodale, 2018). Dayna also serves as a "Real Answers" expert on TheBump.com. She has written or been consulted on articles for the websites of PopSugar, The Today Show, Pregnancy & Newborn, Big City Moms, Pregnancy Corner, WAGmagazine among others, and writes the "Mother Matters" blog on the Huffington Post. A sought-after speaker, Dayna regularly presents on the subject of mothercare.
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1. Hart, J. (2014). Healthy behaviors linked to practice of mindful eating. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 20(6), 317-319. doi:10.1089/act.2014.20605
2. Excerpted from my forthcoming book on women’s health and wellness, Rodale Press, April, 2018.
3. Laura Schocker, December 3, 2015, Here’s A Horrifying Picture Of What Sleep Loss Will Do To You, The Huffington Post, Retrieved at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/08/sleep-deprivation_n_4557142.html