Updated: Dec 22, 2021
It was around 4:00am this morning when my beautiful boy finally fell asleep after a 2 hour stint awake...not particularly unusual behaviour for my tiny sleep thief. He’s always been a wakeful soul, but teething and illness make him even more so and his molars are proving to be especially troublesome. It must have been around 3:30am when I started to think that I might be sick with exhaustion. He had been attached to my bosom almost all night, seeking relief from his painful gums. Whilst breastfeeding allows us both to get as much rest as possible, it is also physically demanding in ways that I never anticipated before my son’s birth. When my alarm clock went off at 7:00am, I recognized the dry, sore eyes & foggy head as a familiar, if unwelcome, friend. I asked myself, “How am I going to get through the day ahead of me?” Depleted before the day had even begun, I cast my mind back to 12 months ago, when I would have gotten up begrudgingly & carried around the weight of sheer exhaustion all day, like it was a bad penny. That tactic hadn’t worked out so well for me then & since that time I have learned so much. As I crept out of bed like a ninja, hoping not to disturb my finally-sleeping-tot, I asked myself what, if anything I would change about the way I had responded to his pained cries in the wee hours? The answer? Not a thing. Whilst I have no control over how often my little man wakes up, I do have a choice in the way that I respond to him when he does & how I look after myself too. With that in mind, I drew upon my experiences as a yoga and meditation teacher and my studies in psychology to make a practical, realistic, evidence-based plan for taking care of myself as I take care of my son.
1. Hydrate as soon as you wake up – yes even before that precious first coffee! Being properly hydrated isn’t just important for protecting your milk supply – it also helps to lift your mood (Pross et al. 2014). Make it easier to do by placing a large glass or bottle of water beside your bed each night.
2. Have a cold shower, or if like me you’re not quite brave enough to commit fully, have a quick, hot one which ends with a long, cold blast of water. Cold showers are scientifically proven to improve your immunity (Bujize et al. 2016), boost your mood & even improve the symptoms of depression (Shevchuck 2007). They always make me feel more awake & can help to ease the symptoms of clogged ducts and engorged breasts too.
3. Find time in the day for a brisk, 15 minute walk outside. Take your little one with you if possible and try to walk somewhere that is green or within nature. Doing so will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you to feel calmer and more at ease. If you cannot get outside, you can reap benefits such as fewer negative emotions by simply viewing natural imagery (Golding et al 2018).
4. Nap if you can. Whether you are at home or at work, find a time when you can lie down and relax, even if it is just for 20 minutes on your lunch break or as your baby naps. Take this time to be still without a hint of guilt. Hopefully you will drift off for a refreshing power nap. Alternatively, go to bed at the same time as your babe. Be honest with yourself about what will serve you best tonight – another episode of that series on Netflix, or an extra hour in bed? Whatever the answer, do just that!
5. Use voice notes to communicate with the people you love. If you are a new mom, you may find it near impossible to find time in the day to catch up with some of your nearest and dearest friends and family. Voice notes give you the flexibility of sending a message when you can and listening to the response at a time that suits you too. They are more personal than text messages, but less time-sensitive than a phone call – ideal if your newborn’s 'routine' is less routine than you ever imagined.
6. Finally, accept that for this season is your parenthood, life may look considerably different to the way that you expected it to look. The media rarely depicts the realities of motherhood, let alone those of breastfeeding and you are not alone if you were shocked at just how demanding it is to do. Remind yourself that if want to wean your child off the breast, you can do that at any time. Equally, if you want to continue, you should be supported to do so on your own terms. Avoid comparing your experience to others; comparison is the thief of joy and when the going gets tough, share how you are feeling with the people you love and trust in the knowledge that you deserve as much care and support as anyone else.
These tips were adapted from the forthcoming book: Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition – subscribe for updates. References:
1) Pross, N., Demazières, A., Girard, N., Barnouin, R., Metzger, D., Klein, A., Perrier, E., & Guelinckx, I. (2014). Effects of changes in water intake on mood of high and low drinkers. PloS one, 9(4), e94754. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0094754
2) Buijze GA, Sierevelt IN, van der Heijden BC, Dijkgraaf MG, Frings-Dresen MH. The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial [published correction appears in PLoS One. 2018 Aug 2;13(8):e0201978]. PLoS One. 2016;11(9):e0161749. Published 2016 Sep 15. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0161749
3) Nikolai A. Shevchuk, Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression, Medical Hypotheses, Volume 70, Issue 5, 2008, Pages 995-1001,ISSN 0306-9877, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2007.04.052.
4) Golding SE, Gatersleben B, Cropley M. 2018. An Experimental Exploration of the Effects of Exposure to Images of Nature on Rumination. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 15(2)