Look in the mirror. Tempted to scream at the horror staring back? Yep, the exhaustion of new motherhood has turned you into a Mombie. And, although it’s the latest US buzzword, it’s happening to the best of us just across the pond, too.
Permanently exhausted, feeding off caffeine and sloping around in the dead of night grunting for Dairy Milk?
It’ll be no surprise to learn that you’ve been officially ‘mombiefied’. But you can escape the curse of extreme tiredness – and lose the hollow eyes you’ve been freaking out the neighbours with since the birth. I did.
I felt exhausted before my baby boy even arrived. Excitement mixed with anxiety (plus his nocturnal womb aerobics) meant I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep for three months prior to his grand entrance. But the true meaning of sleep deprivation only became clear in my third week of new motherhood, when I realised I’d become a vile individual with the hygiene habits of a student. I gave my husband the death stare if he dared to creak a floorboard, growled at my reflection every morning and my skin had taken on a greenish-grey pallor. Put it this way, I didn’t have to buy a costume on 31 October.
Getting your groove back
I decided to embrace those early months away from the social norms of shaven legs and stain-free clothing, but my ogre-ishness started to get me down. So, with advice from some mum mates, I started sleeping while my son slept, showering every day while he sat in his vibrating chair in the doorway and wearing one thing a day
that made me feel pretty, be it mascara, a bold necklace or a non-maternity top.
But the most important change was my diet. I moved away from the Haribo, Diet Coke and binge-eating at 3am, and started limiting caffeine, drinking more water and snacking on protein. My go-to boosters were almonds, dried apricots and frozen yoghurt. Zoe Hellman, nutritionist and head of public health at WeightWatchers, agrees that eating right is key to de-zombification. ‘Focus on foods that will nourish you, and give you lots of sustainable energy and a good complexion,’ she says. ‘Whizz up fruit and vegetables into smoothies and soups and store them in the fridge for simple, healthy snacks. Low-fat yoghurt, couscous and eggs are your nutritious friends.’
I decided to embrace those early months away from the social norms of shaven legs and stain-free clothing, but my ogre-ishness started to get me down.
Another key tip I learned was…
If you find yourself snacking between naps and feeding time, adjust your eating to five smaller meals over the day. And don’t feel you have to stick rigidly to your old patterns in those early months if you find a different routine easier. After a few weeks of my new rules and eating habits, I felt (almost) back to my old self.
But it’s not only eating badly that means many new mums end up resembling the walking dead. Jade, 30, who’s mum to Jeb, three, and Jillian, one, quickly realised her monster moods came from a lack of TLC, and she needed regular free time to feel human again. ‘I organise monthly GNOs (girls’ nights out), where my friends and I drink wine, complain about our kids and vent our frustrations about our partners,’ she says. ‘I also take regular trips to the hair salon, mainly for quality alone time.’
Relaxation specialist Ashley Clowes deals with frazzled mums on a weekly basis – something she understands herself since having Edie 14 months ago. ‘Mums shouldn’t neglect themselves while settling into their new role,’ she says. ‘I recommend deep-tissue massage, as it releases tension and allows you more room to breathe, relax and de-stress.’
No one should underestimate the effect sleep deprivation can have on your body and mind. It’s the aspect of new motherhood that Debbie, 40, who’s mum to 18-month-old twins, found the most difficult. ‘Going out in the fresh air every day helped counter the feeling of exhaustion,’ she says. ‘And, as crazy as it sounds, enthusiastically singing nursery rhymes helped me feel more in control when the screaming got intense.’
Not crazy at all, says clinical psychologist Mia Scotland, because singing – especially out loud – can boost your mood and reduce stress. ‘It’s a way of regulating your breathing, because you can’t sing loudly without taking long breaths out,’ she says. ‘We know that deep out breaths automatically cause a drop in stress levels by reducing adrenalin.’
Finding your mojo
Mum-of-three Debbie, 32, found sorting out her slovenly mummy appearance
gave her a mental lift. ‘After I gave birth to my son, I was adamant I’d be back in my old clothes immediately. But, after a few weeks of frumping about in my maternity gear and several failed attempts to wiggle into my pre-pregnancy wardrobe, I gave in and bought clothes in a size up that suited my new shape,’ she says. ‘What a difference it made having a pair of jeans that actually fitted my deflated bump and rounded hips.’
Family finance guru Sarah Willingham, founder of letssavesomemoney.com, managed to squeeze four kids into five years and, like Debbie, found staying stylish was the boost she needed. ‘The good thing about being a working mum was my time in baggy tracksuit bottoms was limited. I needed to be presentable, so I felt justified in getting my hair and nails done,’ she says. ‘Having a new baby is wonderful, but it’s not easy – everyone is different. For me, it was about relishing the time with them, but also making sure I stayed human by allowing my life to continue.’
I’m expecting again, and now feel much better equipped to deal with adding to my family – even if I do succumb to a zombie state for the first few months. After that, I’ll be snacking healthily, sorting myself out with properly-fitting clothes, taking time for a bit of personal hygiene and singing loudly (even if I’m out of tune). The only downside? I’ll have to get myself a proper Halloween outfit this year.
Pretty easy pick-me-ups
- Keep an Evian facial mister and a citrus-scented body spray to hand at all times. A few spritzes can make the world of difference.
- Turn on your favourite teenage tunes and dance together – instead of pacing the floor anxiously cradling a grizzly baby. You’ll relax, and so will she.
- Paint your nails You may feel wretched inside, but you’ll look lovely on the outside.
- Perfect the art of the fast hairdo Think the messy top knot. Even if you don’t have time to wash and blow-dry your hair, you can whip one up in a flash for an easy, on-trend look.
- Stay in contact with the outside world. Take a few minutes each day to call a friend, read a magazine or window-shop online. Zombies don’t care about such things, but you’re in the land of the living, remember?