The Postpartum Coping List: 20 Strategies to Help You De-Stress


A few months ago I wrote about just how vital it is to prioritize your mental health after having a baby. In that post, I talked about the postpartum coping list I create with my patients. This list details coping strategies to use in different situations which involve different amounts of effort.  

The origin of this list started during my first pregnancy and post-postpartum experience. I was caught off guard by how many of the coping strategies I regularly relied on were not accessible to me. For example, I love to run outside to help regulate stress but between hip pain, postpartum recovery time, lack of sleep, and lack of available time, running was not an option for me for months. I found myself in need of new strategies for self-care.

Out of this experience, the postpartum coping list was born. During my second pregnancy, I was prepared with a list of ideas and strategies to help me maintain emotional balance. While there were plenty of stressors that came out of left field and threw me off course, I was better able to ride the waves.

I also learned to be more flexible. While for example, running or going to a yoga class would have been my preferred way to cope, walking or doing yoga at home could work. While a 45-minute luxurious bath would be great, a 10-minute soak could still do wonders. When I work with patients on developing their own postpartum coping list, we keep that type of flexibility in mind and generate a range of strategies that differ in the time or energy they require.

My recommendation is before your baby arrives, come up of a list of coping strategies that you can do when you have a few minutes, half an hour, and some that you can do when by some miracle you find yourself with an hour to spare. I also suggest coming up with a few ideas to use in a pinch if you find yourself feeling very overwhelmed. Keep this list handy- put it on your phone or tape it to your refrigerator. I’d also send it to a partner or friend who can remind you to utilize your tools, or maybe even watch your baby so you can have more space.

If you need some suggestions to start with, keep on reading for a few ideas.

The Postpartum Coping List

5 Ideas When You Have 5-10 Minutes

  1. Take a walk outside. Moving your body while getting a dose of fresh air is a great way to break an anxiety spiral or a negative mood.
  2. Try a mindfulness exercise. Pick something that you do daily, such as brushing your teeth or having a cup of coffee and do it mindfully. Engage all your five senses focusing on touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight.
  3. Do a short-guided meditation. There are several apps including Headspace and Calm which have wonderful options all under 10 minutes.
  4. Wash your face- slowly, mindfully, luxuriously. Take the time to connect with how the water feels on your skin. Rub in face cream and take some time to massage your temples, focusing on the sense of touch and smell.
  5. Stretch! Notice if you are holding tension anywhere in your body and focus your stretching on those areas. Try to relax any clenching in your body.

5 Ideas when you have 10-30 minutes.

  1. Do some yoga at home. Depending on how you are feeling, you could engage in a more active vinyasa style practice or simply do a few heart or hip openers. Another great option is to take a restorative yoga pose. The psychologist and yoga teacher Bo Forbes has some great recommendations for yoga poses that are designed to reduce anxiety and balance your emotions.
  2. Connect with a friend. Schedule a phone date, meet a friend for coffee, hop on face time with a long-distance pal. The emotional connection achieved through good social support is a tried and true way to manage anxiety and stress.
  3. Take a long shower or bath. This is such a great place to practice mindfulness. Connect with your five senses, tune out other noises, and soothe a stressed-out mind and body.
  4. Try progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). PMR is a practice known to reduce stress and anxiety by getting the body to quiet and relax. With PMR you systematically tense and then release various muscle groups in your body. It can be helpful to inhale as you tense the muscle and exhale when you release. Most people start at one end of the body and then work their way up or down. There are many free guided PMR scripts online.
  5. Get lost in a good book. Take a break from books related to your baby and take some time to read for pleasure.

5 Ideas when you have 45 minutes or more

  1. Get out of your house- without your baby. Take a long walk, meet a friend for lunch, read in a café. Take some time and space for yourself.
  2. Go to an exercise class. Listen to your body and be open to how it is feeling. If it feels OK for your body, consider going back to a class led by a teacher you enjoyed before pregnancy and see how it feels to be back. Or try something new that may be more appealing to how your body is feeling postpartum. Remember to be flexible with yourself.
  3. Try a guided body scan. Body scans are a wonderful meditative practice which helps to connect you with your body, release tension, and relax. I would recommend doing a guided body scan (you can find plenty of free options online).
  4. Schedule some body work. A massage or acupuncture session is a great way to relieve stress. There are ways to do this at a lower cost including going to a community acupuncture office such as City Acupuncture Circle or getting a massage at massage therapy school. You could also ask for a scalp massage at a salon.
  5. Try Therapy. Therapy is such a helpful tool to help you navigate the transition to parenthood, manage anxiety, or address mood concerns. Therapy can be short-term and more goal focused, or long term and exploratory. We are lucky in DC to have many options for mental health support and many therapists who specialize in working with postpartum women.

5 Ideas For When You Are Feeling VERY Overwhelmed

  1. Take your shoes off, put your bare feet on the floor and focus on feeling the weight of your feet against the floor. Stay grounded in the sensation in your feet
  2. Splash cold water on your face.
  3. Rub some lotion in a scent that you like on your hands and focus on the sense of smell.
  4. Try “Square Breathing.” Inhale for a count of four, hold for four, exhale for four, hold for four. Continue with this pattern until you start to feel your breathing slow down.
  5. Try a grounding exercise. Grounding exercises are designed to help you feel more present and less anxious. Name 5 things you can hear, see, taste, or touch in the room. Or perhaps pick a color and name everything you can see that is that color.

I hope this list gives you some ideas to run with as you create your own postpartum coping list.