I am of the generation that looked up to Geri Halliwell & Destiny’s Child. An independent woman with her own mind, her own money & her own goddam life, I was a survivor who had lived through baby loss & divorce before I had even turned 30. So, at 4 months pregnant when tickets for The Spice Girls went on sale for the following summer, I knew that I would be there - even though I would be approximately six weeks postpartum…Cue laughter from veteran mothers everywhere. Needless to say, I never made it to the concert. In fact, I spent the majority of the day asleep because my tiny newborn son had been cluster-feeding all night. I felt broken. I wasn’t even up for getting dressed, let alone being driven an hour and a half away to Wembley Stadium, wincing at every speed-bump as my c-section scar was jolted…
Like many moms, I was taken aback by the constraints that the fourth trimester, motherhood and breastfeeding brought. In the pre-natal classes, we had been told that breastfed babies nursed every three hours, not around the clock - day and night. Was this why so few of my fellows mamas had breastfed? Had the felt strangled by the weight of being (quite literally) attached to their babies 24/7 too? I felt suffocated by the four walls of our home and - although I would never have admitted it at the time - by the needs of my rainbow baby boy. I needed to get out. Not necessarily to a bar or a club as I had in my twenties, just out. In public, with other people, eating, drinking and conversations about something other than nappies and wake-windows. But how? It felt impossible to time feeds and naps so that I could leave the house guilt-free with my son, let alone without him. He hated his pushchair and his car seat and so going anywhere felt like a mammoth task. I needed practical help and advice to help me function as a human being as well as a nursing mom.
I have learned over time that it is 100% possible to practise self care and even to go out-out as a breastfeeding mom. Here are five tips and tricks that I have learned over the past three years that have helped me to have regular child-free coffee dates and hot dates with my man too:
Timing is Everything
Even now, if I tried to go out for dinner right at a time when my son was overtired, hangry and hankering for a bit of boob, I know that I would setting myself up for failure. I have learned to listen to his cues and I have a sound understanding of his nursing needs throughout the day. This would not have been possible within the first three months of his life, because it felt like he cluster fed constantly. At the time, my perception of biologically normal infant behaviour was skewed and I so was misguided that I expected to be out and about just weeks after giving birth. In fact, I was not physically or emotionally ready to be away from my son for any period of time until at least four to six months postpartum (this is a huge privilege of having paid maternity leave that lasted nine months as a teacher in the UK). Once I was ready to be out and about without my boy, I would time my outings for when he had just woken up and I had just given him a feed. Daytime dates with my fiancé became our favourite time of the month and they also gave other family members an opportunity to get to know our son in our absence.
A Loving Caregiver
It often takes time for parents to learn to relax and trust that their baby is safe with a loving caregiver in the early days. This is especially true for nursing mamas. Questions like, “What if he is hungry/thirsty/scared?” Raced through my mind whenever the prospect of being depart from him arose. Did I want to get out? Hell yes. But was I worried about how my boy would cope without me? More than anything. And so, my fiancé and I started small: dinner and a movie in our living room whilst my mother babysat in the rest of the house. Then, with increasing frequency, my mother-in-law would take our boy out for walks in his sling, leaving me agog when he had fallen asleep in the comfort and safety of her arms. Seeing him happy upon our reunions was the green light that I needed to schedule more, regular me-time in the knowledge that my boy would be just fine without me for an hour or so.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
If your little one is slightly older (around 12 months or more), explain to them clearly and repeatedly what is going to happen in the days leading up to your morning, evening or night out. Be honest and allow them to express any fears of anxieties that they may have whilst you are still present. Practise a short and sweet see-you-later routine when you leave the room, or go to shower, so that your child feels secure about you returning at some point. We got into the habit of saying, “Mama always comes home,” whenever I had to leave my son for work or pleasure. Initially he found it tough - but that was a sign of his secure attachment to me as his mother. Gradually as my words rang true, he learned that I really did always come back and that he had nothing to fear on my absence.
This applies to keeping your little one fed and hydrated, as well as comforting them and helping them to fall asleep. Whilst your little one may not take a bottle of expressed milk or formula in your presence, they may well do in your absence. If they do not, they can be fed milk from an open cup or a teaspoon instead. Alternatively, if your babe is over six months old, they could drink from a sippy cup and eat yoghurt, soft fruits or other foods until you return. Rest assured that babies are incredibly instinctive beings who will not starve themselves in your absence. Tell whoever is looking after your little one what their favourite books, toys and comforters are. What’s the best way to calm your baby down (without the boob) whilst you are away? What works for you and others? Even without these tips, trust that in the arms of a loving caregiver, your child will find comfort and rest with them until you are home.
Give Yourself Permission
This is probably the most difficult and the most vital step. Give yourself permission to truly switch off, to completely relax and to let your hair down whilst you are out. Whether you are brunching with your besties or catching a movie with your bae, allow yourself to be fully present where you are, rather than checking your phone every ten minutes. You really do deserve a break, just as much as we all do and when you get home, trust me when I say that reunion boob is the very best kind.
Adapted from my debut book, ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition’ available now, here: www.thebreastfeedingmentor.com
Wearing the stunning ‘Kim’ dress by Fierce Clothing UK - get 10% off yours with discount code: TBFM10