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Beating New-Mom Stress

Proven Stress-Busters: Try One Right Now!

Are you a little stressed out? These five strategies are guaranteed to make you feel better  -- fast!

Break a sweat: The National Institutes of Health report that exercising 20 minutes a day or more can reduce stress and build confidence. Easy ways to fit exercise (with your doctor's okay, of course) into your schedule include:

* Walking with your husband and baby in the stroller for 10 to 20 minutes in the morning or evening.

* Joining a "Mom and Baby" exercise class (check your local hospital, recreation center, or YMCA for offerings). These make fitness fun and social, and you don't need a sitter.

* Finding a nearby yoga class (many studios offer classes especially for new mothers). Yoga is soothing and impact-free, and those stretchy yoga clothes are a great, comfortable look in and out of class for postpartum figures.

Get out: Plan a regular activity that gets you out of the house. Have your husband, a relative, or a sitter watch your baby (don't forget to pump a bottle of milk if you're nursing), and join a book or cooking club. Swim laps with a friend at the local YMCA or look into activities at religious institutions -- many offer free classes and moms' groups.

Eat: Poor nutrition can sap your energy level and increase stress, says Nancy Murray, a lactation consultant with Duke Children's Primary Care, in Durham, North Carolina. She recommends that Mom or Dad (or Grandma, if she's nearby) spend time each evening loading the fridge with individual servings of nutritious foods and cold drinks so that it's easy for Mom to grab a meal while she's taking care of the baby the next day. Sandwiches are ideal because they can be eaten one-handed while nursing or giving a bottle.

Murray also suggests disposable plates and cups to minimize cleanup. Feel like you can't make it out of the nursery? Plug in a mini-fridge to store snacks as well as pumped breast milk or leftover formula.

Although post-pregnancy weight can be a source of stress, experts urge nursing moms to avoid dieting which can compromise the quality of your breast milk. Eating right and exercising should slim you down, or you can talk to your doctor about ways to cut calories safely.

Pamper yourself: In childbirth rituals around the world, new mothers are celebrated and pampered. Since celebrations in this country mainly revolve around the baby, you need to pamper yourself. Get someone to watch the baby, and schedule a manicure or facial, or for a low-cost alternative, hit your favorite makeup counter at the local department store where sales reps are usually happy to give you a free makeover.

When you can't get away, create your own at-home "spa." Shut the door to the bedroom and the door to the bathroom, and take a long, steamy shower. Pick up some soothing, scented bath and body products to complete your home spa treatment. Some fragrances, like lavender and chamomile, are thought to soothe nerves.

Enjoy date night at home: Sure it's more fun to go out to a nice restaurant or movie with your husband, but sometimes it doesn't work out. Instead, commit to one "date" a week, whether you leave the house or not. If you rent a movie, choose a comedy -- a 2003 study found that laughter reduces stress and can boost the immune system.

Get help: If you feel overwhelmed by stress, you can and should seek professional counseling. Women sometimes don't seek support because they're afraid that it makes them a horrible mother to feel stressed or depressed after childbirth, says Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, M.D., medical director for the National Center for Children and Families, in Bethesda, Maryland. Instead, think of it as getting the help you need to be an effective parent.

The National Mental Health Association has a comprehensive resource list and a 24-hour hotline for those who need immediate help (800-784-2433). Or check out the "therapist locator" at the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy website.