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I remember the first moment when I broke down as a new mum. My son Zach was a few weeks old and my mother-in-law walked in the door to spend time with her grandson and help me out.

As she walked in the door, I could no longer hold myself together. Sleep deprived and overwhelmed, I collapsed into heavy, loud sobs and declared: “I just can’t do this!”
It took me 10 whole minutes to get out that single sentence in between the wailing and heavy sobbing.

My mother-in-law gave me a hug and then told me to go out for a coffee and enjoy having some time to myself.

I wiped the tears, breathed and went out for that coffee, saw a friend and did some shopping. I came back with a clear head. I felt like a million bucks — smiling even.

I needed a break and to look after myself too, not only my baby. Thank goodness for a helpful mother-in-law.

I wish back then I also had Dr Natalie Flynn’s book Smart Mothering: What Science says about Caring for Your Baby and Yourself.

Years ago when I was a new mum there were mostly overseas guides. Anyone remember the Baby Wise book? Yeah, I had my first kid on a three-hour feeding window like clockwork — robot-like. Poor kid!

Kiwi mum-of-three Flynn has examined the research around mothering. She’s looked at clinical psychology, theory and of course has her own experience to draw from.

She’s penned 17 chapters, including 500 pages, on smart mothering. She gives practical and science-backed advice to help empower mums.

She looks at all the weighty topics like attachment parenting or not. Routines or not to routine. Immunisation. Baby blues. Sleeping. Breastfeeding to bottle-feeding. Navigating nannies and daycare too — if you are a working mum.

The book is useful and I like all the real-life case studies to relate to. One of my favourite chapters is ‘Looking After Yourself’.

“You need a good sense of wellbeing in order to look after your baby effectively,” writes Flynn.

Here are her top tips on how new mums can take care of their own emotional health:
1. Bring happiness into your day via three ‘circuitries for happiness’, according to psychiatrist Tony Fernando. These brain circuitries are: The excitement pleasure circuit (eg. coffee, surfing the internet, etc), the calm and contentment circuit (eg. bath, walk, using mindfulness, etc), and the connection compassion circuit (practise compassion, connect with others and have awareness how this feels in the moment eg, smile at another mum and “enjoy her smile in return”, says Flynn).
2. Tune into the positive and write a gratitude diary.
3. Be aware that potential positive events can “turn to custard”, ie if you are snubbed by a mum you try to talk to. “Just back yourself to be resilient.”
4. Take time to do things you value, ie if you value intelligence and learning then learn something new ie listen to a quick TED Talk for example.
5. Embrace self-compassion. “This isn’t pseudo-science and it’s not self-indulgent.”

Article originally published in The New Zealand Herald