Self-care for parents and caregivers

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource aims to help you understand why self-care is essential for parents and caregivers. It also explores what you can do to boost your own wellbeing to help make the most of your time with your baby. It has been developed with the guidance of family members with lived experience, practitioners and researchers.


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

Self-care is important for everyone, especially parents. Having a baby can bring a lot of love, joy and fulfilment to your life. But the changes and responsibilities that come with it may feel endless and overwhelming at times. It’s a big adjustment from having the freedom and time to do the things you enjoy, to feeling like you’re on call 24/7 to meet another little human’s needs!

But in order to provide the best care for your baby, you need to take care of yourself.

Why self-care is essential for parents

Remember, taking care of yourself can help make you a better parent. The small moments you take will help you feel more able to take on all the many and varied demands of parenting, so you and your infant can better enjoy your time together.

Self-care can often be seen by parents as a luxury, but it isn’t all bubble baths and face masks. Self-care is anything you do intentionally to look after your own health and wellbeing. It includes things like eating well, getting sleep when you can and staying active. It also means taking time to relax and recharge – for example, by taking a walk outdoors, catching up with a friend or even just taking five minutes to have a shower alone.

Self-care isn’t always ‘fun’ (for example, getting up early to exercise), but it does always make you feel better after you’ve done it. And research shows that how parents care for and treat themselves impacts on their child’s development.1 Parents who are kind to themselves and take time to unwind are physically and mentally healthier and more confident in their parenting.

Parents who practice self-care are less likely to feel exhausted or burnt out, and tend to have more positive interactions with their children.1 These positive parent-child interactions are key to your baby’s development and future mental health. As you navigate the daily ups and downs of parenting, you might need to call on your partner, friends or family (your ‘village’) to help you find space for these things.

Another important part of self-care for parents is self-compassion. That means being kind to yourself and not criticising or judging yourself too harshly. Remember that while it’s natural to compare yourself to others at times, no parent (or person for that matter!) is perfect. You can learn more about self-compassion on the Raising Children Network.

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Self-care tips for parents

Here are some key strategies that other parents have found helpful for their own self-care:

Take time out for yourself

You might have heard the saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup? It’s harder to help your baby feel calm and settled if you’re not feeling calm yourself.

Having a break from caring helps you be a better carer. Even if you can only take five or 10 minutes, making time to do something that you enjoy will help ‘fill your cup’. It could be going for a walk by yourself, talking with a friend, having a quiet cup of tea or watching funny videos on your phone. As your infant gets older, you may be able to schedule regular ‘me time’, like going to a yoga class or to see a movie.

‘Have something for yourself as well. Whether that’s work, whether that’s friends, whether that’s a date night with your partner… Whatever that may look like, look after yourself and have something for yourself.’

– Amanda, mother, New South Wales

Be kind to yourself

Self-criticism can stop you from moving forward and seeking advice or support if you’re not sure about something you’re doing. Everyone makes mistakes or is unsure how to handle new situations. Remember, it’s common for parents to think they’re not doing a good job if they can’t soothe their baby’s crying, or their newborn is struggling to feed. During these experiences, it’s important to bring compassion to yourself. Find kind words and phrases you can say to yourself that you would say to a friend going through a similar experience.

Take care of your physical health

When you’re exhausted, preparing a nutritious meal or doing exercise can feel impossible! But try to find some time and shortcuts to look after your health. Have some cut up carrot sticks in the fridge or nuts on the kitchen bench to snack on.  Go-to meals that are quick to prepare or can be frozen and reheated on those days when cooking is not an option can be really helpful too. Even a short walk with your baby in the pram or carrier is good for your body and your mind. Ensuring you get some sleep is also vital. It may not always be possible, but when your baby naps during the day, try and get some rest yourself – even a small recharge can make a big difference.

Manage your mental health

As well as the excitement and moments of joy, becoming a parent brings challenges and stresses. If pressures build up, they can affect your mental health. Exercise, mindfulness, yoga and relaxation can help reduce stress, depression and anxiety symptoms in new parents. There are free apps like Smiling Mind that you can use to practice mindfulness or relaxation, even if you only have five or 10 minutes to spare. There are also hundreds of great, free yoga videos on YouTube – just search ‘5’ or ’10 minute yoga’.

Building up your coping skills can help you stay to calm in tough moments. Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA)’s website has some good advice and coping strategies for new parents.

If you have a mental health condition or have had depression or anxiety in the past, it’s important to keep in touch with your GP or health professional and continue treatment if recommended. Your baby needs you to be as well as possible. Get support from your partner, family, friends and other healthcare professionals to reduce the stress of parenting on your mental health.

Get support and advice from family and friends

We all need support from time to time. And caring for a new baby – especially if this is your first – is one of those times! Who are the family members and friends you can turn to when you need help? If you don’t have family or friends nearby, talk to your child health nurse or GP about other sources of support in your community and online. You might find it helpful to join a mothers or parents group to share your experiences and get tips from others who have been or are going through similar things.

But also learn what works for you, and drop unrealistic expectations

Not all the advice you are given will work for you and your baby. Try to drop any pressure to be a ‘perfect’ parent (there’s no such thing) or to meet your own or someone else’s ideas of how your family life should be.

‘Every piece of advice I get given, I just have to process and remember that not every baby is the same. So what has worked for some babies, won’t work for Frankie. Or any advice that I might have might not be applicable to somebody else’s baby.’

– Molly, mother, Victoria

Ask for help

Especially in the early months, new parents need help – both practically and emotionally. Generally, your family and friends want to help, but may not know what to do. Ask for the specific help you need. For example, ask a friend or relative to:

  • pick up some groceries for you
  • come over to hold and try to soothe your infant if they’re particularly unsettled
  • go for a walk with you and your baby to get some fresh air, exercise and adult company
  • care for your infant for a few hours or overnight (if they can bottle feed), to give you a break and some (probably much needed) sleep.

By taking the time to practise self-care, you will be more able to manage the highs and lows of becoming a new parent, as well as enjoy this time getting to know your baby.

More information and self-care tips

The Raising Children Network has advice about taking care of yourself including how to make healthy lifestyle choices, sleep better and maintain your relationship with your partner.

Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) has a number of tips for wellbeing and self-care for new parents.


1. Kienhuis, M., & Avdagic, E. (2021). Parental self-care and self-compassion. Adelaide: Emerging Minds.

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