Updated: Dec 22, 2022
If you have ever felt like you might snap at any moment, keep reading…
Mom burnout is so common that I am yet to meet or speak to a mother who does not feel like she is struggling under the weight of expectation and the sheer volume of stuff that there is to do all the time. Throw breastfeeding into the mix and it can feel like it is impossible to ever truly relax. The thing is, no-one benefits if you keep going until you break. Trust me, I did just that and I don’t recommend it. I used to pride myself on my work-myself-into-the-ground work ethic until I became a mom & one day my body screamed a resounding, “Hell no!” I collapsed with exhaustion as I attempted to do a weekly food shop. I needed help.
If any of the following symptoms sound familiar to you, you need to re-evaluate how you are taking care of yourself:
• Feeling touched out
• Feeling irritated and snappy
• Feelings of rage or helplessness
• Nursing aversion or DMER (negative thoughts or emotions when you nurse)
• A sudden reduction in your milk supply
• A slowed or absent let down reflex
All of the above may be signs that your body and your mind are not getting the down time that they need to maintain your current levels of energy and care for others. We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” but how often is our own bone dry? How often do we shake those cups upside down just to make sure that every last drop of sustenance is well and truly gone? If you are not in the habit of prioritizing your needs as a breastfeeding mother, let’s change that now. I learned the lessons below that hard way and I know that if you are in need, they will help you to look after yourself too (without necessarily stopping nursing).
1) Get Some Me-Time Every Day
It may not be possible for you to spend a few hours a day every day, pampering yourself at a spa or spending hours at the gym. What is possible though is 20-30 minutes that are entirely yours each and every day to do something - anything - that helps you feel like a human being outside of parenthood. Whether it is first thing in the morning before your little one’s wake up (unlikely!), whilst they nap during the daytime, or once they are asleep at night, make it happen.
2) Make It Count
I know that the moment my son falls asleep at night, I am likely to fall into a vortex of empty scrolling on social media unless I make a conscious choice not to do so. Whilst the dopamine hit that I get from watching 15 - second reels about celebrity gossip may feel good at the time, down-time is so precious as a mama, that I owe it to myself to make it count. Personally, 15 minutes of meditation whilst lying on my acupressure mat serves my body and my mind so much more than TikTok. Audiobooks, listening to music, dance, yoga and a relaxing bedtime routine are other simple but powerful ways to help you wind down too.
3) What About Housework?
It is all well and good for me to recommend that you use any spare time relaxing, but if you do that, when will any housework get done? My recommendation is that you firstly accept that keeping your home tidy with young children is almost impossible. Instead, focus on keeping it clean(ish) in a way that works for your family. Perhaps you will have a permanent pile of laundry that never gets folded, but maybe that suits you just fine as long as you have clean dishes. Wherever possible, do housework with your little one(s), wearing them if you can or getting them to help out in their own small way. My top tip for washing dishes is to set up a mini washing station for my son on the kitchen floor. All it takes is a piece of Tupperware and a new sponge and he can ‘wash’ alongside me.
4) Ask for Help
When was the last time that you asked for help? If you are struggling to remember, then something needs to change. We were never meant to mother alone and trying to do so will leave you fraught and exhausted. If you have a partner, talk to them about the division of household chores and childcare. Whether you are in paid employment or not, you should not have to be on duty with your child(ren) 24/7. It is not sustainable and it is not even remotely fair. If you are a single parent, reach out to childcare providers, grandparents and other friends and relatives who you know and love. Even an hour or two a week of babysitting could mean the difference between you feeling frazzled and feeling fine. So ask for help without fear or guilt, in the knowledge that you deserve it.
5) Nourish and Hydrate
The power of being adequately fueled nutritionally cannot be overstated. Similarly, dehydration impacts our bodies and our minds on a profound level. Headaches, nausea, fatigue, poor concentration and moodiness are all symptoms of not drinking enough fluid, but something as simple as the right flask of drinking bottle could change all that. Once I bought myself an insulated cup that I could open and close with one hand, my hydration levels improved and so did my mental state. There’s no denying that convenience foods can be lifesavers at times. Rather than feeling bad about eating them if and when you do, simply add fresh fruit and vegetables to them to give yourself a boost. I would never advocate denying yourself those double chocolate chip cookies with a breastfeeder’s appetite(!), but maybe have a banana or a handful of raisins too. Your body will thank you, I promise.
6) What About Breastfeeding?
Often if you admit that you are struggling to cope with any aspect of parenting, those around you may be quick to suggest that you stop breastfeeding. If you want to stop nursing your little one, then you should do just that, on the knowledge that doing so is the right choice for your family. If however, you want to keep nursing, take the opportunity to nurse your little one as a chance to relax too. Nursing lying down may even help you to drift off and nap too thanks to the release of feel-good hormones that comes with each letdown. For me, daytime naps only became a reality when I allowed myself to switch off and truly be present. If you struggle to find stillness even in quiet moments with your babe, try focusing on your breath as you nurse. Soften your jaw, close your eyes and listen to your babe(s) breath too.
7) Permission to Wean
The world and their dog are likely to have an opinion on when you should wean you child(ren) from nursing. However, the only way to know if and when you might be ready to do so, is to be in tune with yourself and your wants and needs. Doing this in a world that is full of unsolicited advice can be hard, but it is easier to do if you track your thoughts in a journal. It need not be a lengthy or time-consuming process, but it must be honest. If you are thinking about weaning your babe(s), spend a week writing a minute journal each day just to unpick whether or not it is a decision that is truly yours and that you are unlikely to regret. Give yourself permission to make the right choices for yourself, in the knowledge that that is the choice that is best for your family. Follow the steps that I took to stop breastfeeding on demand, gently & with love, here: www.thebreastfeedingmentor.com/weaning
These tips are adapted from my debut book: ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition (50 Practical Evidence-Based Tips for Nursing Moms)‘ and it is available here, now: www.thebreastfeedingmentor.com/book