Reasonably setting goals after giving birth can be difficult to navigate, especially with other children or commitments to juggle, so try these tips for making new goals!
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Setting Goals after Giving Birth
With any new phase in life it is important to have goals to work towards so that we do not begin to stagnate. Postpartum can be a difficult time for this as we have so much physical recovery to do, as well as simply adjusting to taking care of a new tiny person. But the demands of this new role mean that growth and progress is more necessary than ever, and setting reasonable goals is the best way to be successful in that.
The types of goals we want to set will vary depending on other elements of our lifestyle, like if we work or stay at home, if we have other kids or this is our first, if we have a quick recovery or a slow one, and if we have a reliable support system or not.
No matter what sort of lifestyle you live, you will need to reflect on it a little bit to make sure that it is working for you or what you may have to change to support you and your new baby, and to support the progress and goals you wish to achieve.
Recovery Takes Time
In setting our goals the way to make sure that they are reasonable is first to remember that recovery after childbirth takes time. Rushing to “recover faster” can often have the opposite effect and cause our recovery to take longer. We all have some desire to return to “normal” as quickly as we can, to feel healthy and capable, and often to stop relying on the help of others for our daily necessities. And while those are normal inclinations, they do have to be put on hold a little bit to give ourselves the time and space to recover from giving birth.
The recovery necessary after giving birth is primarily physical, but there is a lot of mental and emotional adjustment needed, especially as our hormones shift back to non-pregnant status, and we deal with the lack of sleep we need to function well. If you had a difficult or traumatic labor or birth, these mental and emotional healing needs may take even longer and involve more work on your part than expected.
It is just helpful to remember that in the same way our bodies do not simply “bounce back” after having a baby, we also shouldn’t expect our emotions, thoughts, and routines to bounce back to what they were before.
Choosing Categories of Goals
While recovery does take time, one motivational way to spend time during recovery is to make a plan for what our goals will be once we’re feeling ready to tackle them.
Separating our goals into categories is the first place to begin. This will help us to compartmentalize and be realistic in our goals and to not feel overwhelmed by trying to force too many goals to exist together.
The categories of your goals will once again depend on you and your lifestyle, but here are some examples that may work for you.
Examples: physical and health goals, mental and emotional goals, spiritual goals, lifestyle goals, work goals, parenting goals, relationship goals
Once you have these goal categories in place, you can begin to fill them in, and there are a couple of ways to do that. You can set time-based goals (ie, in 3 months, in 6 months, in 12 months) or you can set achievement-based goals (ie, accomplish x).
Reasonable Goal Setting
The key to setting reasonable goals is that you can do them. Not “so and so did xyz after she had a baby” – because what somebody else living a different context has nothing at all to do with what you can achieve in your life.
We can use the concept of “S.M.A.R.T.” goals here. SMART is an acronym for “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely.”
Specific means that you don’t leave room for ambiguity.
Try this: Eat three healthy meals and drink 32 oz of water daily.
Not this: Get healthy
Measurable means that you set a certain degree in order to be considered successful.
Try this: walk 5 miles per week
Not this: walk more often
Achievable means that you can reasonably expect the goal to be in your scope of ability.
Try this: lose 3-5lb this first month
Not this: fit back in my pre-pregnancy jeans in 2 weeks
Realistic means that practically speaking it is something you can expect yourself to do.
Try this: use “couch to 5k” to work my way up to running a 5k
Not this: run a marathon next month
Timely means that you give yourself a realistic time frame to achieve your goals in, rather than leaving that part unplanned.
Try this: return to work part time in 8 weeks, and full time in 10 weeks
Not this: go back to work
Using these five parameters for setting your goals will help you to gauge if they’re reasonable for you to accomplish. If one of these elements is missing from one of your goals, see how you can re-evaluate it or get more specific so that the goal makes more practical sense.
Goal Setting Details
You don’t have to write out your goals in any particular way to be sure they hit all these parameters, but you can if you want to, and it may help you to stay visually organized, at least at the beginning.
Again, these goals will look different for almost everybody, but here are some more specific and detailed examples of goals with each of the 5 parameters addressed, and some questions you may need to ask yourself for each one. You can also download a printable worksheet for planning out these goals yourself!
Goal: Spend more focused time with my older kids during the day, even just 30 minutes to “play” or read with them.
Category: Family Goals
S: specifically time with my toddlers to help them connect with me like we did before baby was born
M: measurable amount of time to spend doing a particular activity
A: achievable amount of time to try to spend on quality time with them
R: realistic because it is something we can reasonably do on a regular basis without too much difficulty
T: timely because it sets it as a daily goal but also specifies approximately how much time to put towards this goal each time it is attempted
Make sense? How’s this one?
Goal: make healthy meals each day that will help me to lose weight while eating enough calories for nursing
Category: Physical/Health Goals
S: specifies how to make moves towards losing weight while setting parameters for continuing to nurse
M: measurable outcome based on both losing weight and being able to nurse
A: achievable because it’s broken into a daily task
R: realistic because it is specific and takes the process one day at a time so it is doable
T: timely because it specifies that it is a daily task of cooking meals to promote weight loss/nursing
The breakdown of the SMART acronym simply acts as a check to be sure each goal has set parameters that keep it achievable and realistic. If one or more of these cannot be answered from your goal statement, it may help to revise the original statement in order to check the boxes. It was helpful to me to print out a sheet with my goals on it and little check boxes that allowed me to go through and make sure I’d hit all five requirements. You can download the page I made if it would help you too!
Keeping Goals Manageable
It can also be helpful to break each goal down into a smaller chunk to begin forming the habits that will help you to accomplish your goals. So for the first example, maybe your goal is 30 minutes with your other kids, but you start with just 10 minutes per day for a week, and gradually build up to 30 minutes per day. Or for the meals for weight loss, maybe you spend one day making a healthy breakfast, and put portions away for each day of the week. So the effort is one instance of effort but consuming healthy food daily becomes a habit with minimal effort.
More about Habits for Setting Goals After Giving Birth, or anything else…
If you are interested in learning about how habits, specifically tiny habits, can support your big goals, I would recommend reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. I listened to this book as an audiobook last year and it changed how I think about everything. I need to reread it again for a refresher as I try to build new habits for this new phase in life that includes kids 3 under 3. I am confident that the tools for that process are in the pages of Clear’s book!