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Physical activity

When you’re feeling tired, being more active or taking more exercise may seem like the last thing you need. But activity can relax you, help your body recover after childbirth, keep you fit or improve your fitness, and makes you feel better.

  • Keep up the postnatal exercises you were taught. Stick at them. They’ll strengthen vital muscles and improve your shape.

  • Join a postnatal exercise class If you’ve recently had a baby. Company may help. Find out if your local maternity unit has a class run by an obstetric physiotherapist, or ask your health visitor about other local classes. 

  • If it isn’t a special postnatal class be sure to tell the person running the class if you’ve had a baby in the last few months. You’ll need to take special care of your back and avoid exercises that could damage it.

  • Push the pram or buggy briskly, remembering to keep your back straight. Get out for walks as much as you can.

  • Play energetic games with older children. Make yourself run about as well as them. Find outdoor space if there’s no space at home.

  • Run upstairs. You probably find yourself going up and down a hundred times a day in any case. Try to look on it as good exercise!
  • Squat down to pick things up from the floor, holding heavy weights close to your body. This is also something you’re likely to be doing a lot. If you squat rather than stoop, bending your knees and keeping your back straight, you’ll improve your thigh muscles. You’ll also avoid damaging your back.
  • Join an exercise class. There may be one locally that welcomes children or has a crèche. Ask your health visitor.
  • Swimming is good, relaxing exercise. If you take your child with you, try to have someone else there too, so that you get a chance to swim.
  • Borrow or buy an exercise video. Do a workout at home, perhaps with a friend. Get the children to join in.

Quit smoking

Many people smoke because they believe that smoking calms their nerves, but it doesn’t. It just calms the craving for nicotine that cigarettes create. So here are some useful steps to stop smoking.

  • Know why you want to stop. It is handy to keep a checklist of your reasons to stop smoking.
  • Change your habits. Smoking is strongly linked to some situations – the first cigarette of the day, the cigarette with tea or coffee, when the phone rings. Try to break the link by changing your habits. For example drink orange juice instead of coffee for a while.
  • Be ready to stop. Choose a day and stop completely on that day. The day before get rid of cigarettes, ashtrays and lighters.
  • Get support. Tell family and friends you have decided to stop and ask them for their support. For example, ask them not to offer you a cigarette.
  • Anticipate problems. Which situations will be difficult? Don’t just wait for them to happen. Plan how to deal with them.
  • Take one day at a time. At the beginning of each day, congratulate yourself on having made it so far, but make your goal to get through today without smoking. Never mind tomorrow.
  • If you need to put something in your mouth, try sugar-free chewing gum or something healthy and non-fattening. If you need to do something with your hands, find something to fiddle with – a pencil, coin – anything but a cigarette.

Good reasons to stop smoking

  • Your children’s health will improve.

  • Your health will improve.
  • You’ll have money to spend on other things.

For help

Contact Quitline. Their counsellors will give you help, advice or just encouragement. Their lines are open 24 hours a day and they can also give you details of your nearest quit smoking group.

In Northern Ireland, contact the Ulster Cancer Foundation.

Sleep

  • Most of the time parents just live with tiredness. But when the tiredness begins to make you feel low, bad-tempered, unable to cope and certainly unable to enjoy things, you’ve got to find ways of getting more sleep or at least more rest. Just one day, one night, one week, could help.

  • Get to bed early, really early, say for a week. If you can’t sleep when you get to bed, do something relaxing for half an hour beforehand, whether it’s exercise, or soaking in a bath, or watching television.
  • Deep relaxation can refresh you after only five or ten minutes. So it’s worth learning a relaxation technique. You may find books, tapes or videos about this at your library.
  • Sleep when your baby sleeps. Rest when (if) your child has a daytime rest, or is at playgroup or nursery school. Arrange for a relative or friend to take your child for a while, not so that you can get the jobs done, but so you can sleep. Take turns with other parents to give yourself time to rest. Set an alarm if you’re worried about sleeping too long.
  • If you can, share getting up in the night with your partner. Take alternate nights or weeks. If you’re on your own, a friend or relative may be prepared to have your children overnight occasionally.
  • Do something about any stress. Tiredness often comes from stress (see below). If you can do something about the stress, you may be able to cope better, even without more sleep.

Coping with stress

Small children ask a lot of you, and there’s a limit to what you can ask of them. But perhaps the greatest stress comes from coping with the rest of life at the same time as coping with a baby or small child. You can spend a whole day trying to get one job done, but never managing to fit it in. Just as you start on it, your baby wakes up, or a nappy needs changing, or your child wants attention.

Sometimes you can feel as though life is completely out of control. And if you’re not the sort of person who can take things as they come and not mind about what is or isn’t done, you can get to feel very tense and frustrated.

Stress also comes from worry and unhappiness: maybe to do with the place you live, money, relationships or just a lot of small, but important things. You may not be able to change the way your children are or the life you lead. But you may be able to do something about the stress. It’s a matter of finding solutions that are right for you.

  • You may find that you can relax just by doing something that you enjoy for half an hour in the evening when you can put other things out of your mind for a while. A bath, maybe, or time to look at a magazine or the television. Do whatever will wind you down. Borrow a book or tape from the library about relaxation. Make yourself do it.
  • See other people – it does take the pressure off. Try a mother and baby or parent and toddler group. Ask your health visitor or other parents about local groups. Or, if you’re not keen on organised groups, get together with people you meet at the clinic, playgroup or nursery school.
  • Relationships can go wrong when you’re tense and tired and never seem to see each other, so make time to be with your partner, even if only to fall asleep together in front of the television.
  • Talking about the stress you’re feeling can help to get rid of it, at least for a while. If you and your partner can understand how each other is feeling, then take time to talk about how best to support each other. Sometimes it’s better to talk with people outside the family.
  • Make the very most of all the help you can find. And give up a bit. You can’t do everything. Try to believe it really doesn’t matter.
  • There are no prizes for being a supermum or superdad. Compromise if you’re a perfectionist.

Feeling depressed

Most of us feel low occasionally and lack of sleep, stress, and maybe the strain of balancing paid work and parenting, and money problems, all contribute to making the early stages of parenthood a difficult, as well as a rewarding, time. Sometimes feeling low takes over completely and becomes depression.

Depression is more than feeling unhappy. It’s feeling hopeless about yourself and all that’s happening to you. The hopelessness can make you angry. But often you feel too tired even for anger. It can seem as though there’s no answer and no end to the way you’re feeling. You may feel all, or some, of these things:

  • tired, but can’t sleep
  • no appetite or are overeating
  • no interest in yourself
  • no interest in your baby
  • the smallest chores are almost impossible to manage
  • you never stop crying.

This kind of depression is like an illness. Nothing seems worth doing, so doing anything as demanding as caring for a baby or child becomes a real struggle. Both for yourself and for the family, it’s important to get help.

See your GP or health visitor, or both. Take someone with you if this would help. Make it clear that you’re not talking about just feeling low but something more worrying than that.

You may find that you’re too low even to make the first step. If this is the case it’s important to talk to someone – your partner, a friend or your mother, and ask them to talk to your GP or health visitor on your behalf and arrange an appointment for you.

Alcohol may appear to help you relax and unwind. In fact it’s a depressant, affecting moods, judgement, self-control, and co-ordination. If you’re tired and run down, it affects these even more. So watch how much and when you drink. Never mix alcohol with anti-depressants or tranquillisers.

Talking it through

It does help to talk, but it may be very hard to do so.

  • You may want to say things that you’re afraid of admitting to the people you love.
  • You may feel guilty about your feelings.
  • You may believe that you’ll be judged as a bad mother for admitting to your feelings.

For all these reasons it’s often best to talk to someone who isn’t close to you, someone with whom you can be honest without being afraid of shocking them.

You may find that it’s enough to talk to your GP or health visitor, or they may be able to refer you to someone else. If you can talk about how you feel you’ll almost certainly find that the things you fear are not as bad as you thought they were.

Medical treatment

If you’re feeling totally lost in depression, your doctor may prescribe anti-depressant drugs. They may be enough to give you the lift you need to start coping again, and then to find a way out of your depression, though they can take time to work. Anti-depressants are not habit-forming. You should not be concerned about them if they are prescribed for you by your GP. Tranquillisers may also be offered. They are different. They don’t help depression and can be habit-forming, so they’re best avoided.


We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.