Updated: Oct 2, 2022
Being a mom is exhausting. We all heard the warnings when we were expecting…” Enjoy going out while you still can,” and, “Sleep before it’s a distant memory!” but the realities of motherhood in a society that doesn’t value mothers is more challenging than many of us (me included) anticipated. Traditional depictions of motherhood in the media portray babies sleeping peacefully in their buggies and car seats as their moms flit from coffee dates to baby sensory classes…I am yet to see a Netflix documentary which depicts the realities of trying to get out of the house with a colicky newborn who has reflux and who vomits the moment that they are laid flat. Throw breastfeeding into the mix - a completely natural but unfortunately, uncommon practice in most Westernized societies and the lack of support and resources for new mamas is astounding.
If, like me, you found yourself in a blur of misinformation, sleep deprivation and postpartum anxiety in the fourth trimester, you are not alone. With 8 out of 10 British mothers stopping breastfeeding before they want to, citing a lack of support as the main reason, we can see that there is a gaping hole in postpartum care. This absence of guidance and support forces moms to stop nourishing their little ones in the way that they want to and in a way that has a multitude of benefits for them and they babes. There are, thankfully now many men and women fighting for greater support and protection for new moms. Campaigns for paid parental leave in the US and the right to flexible working for all parents in the UK are well under way and are gathering momentum by the day. Until such reforms actually take place though, what can you do right now to help yourself feel human without stopping breastfeeding?
As I write, I have been breastfeeding my son for exactly two and a half years. When I think about the blood, sweat and tears that has gone into our nursing journey, it makes me feel incredibly grateful. I could not have breastfed on my own terms for so long without support and I have learned a good few tricks along the way which have helped to keep me sane and have enabled me to nurture my son in the way that I choose for so long. Adapted from my debut book, ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition’ (available to preorder now!), here are my top 5 tips on carving out some me-time as a nursing mama:
1. Call on your village. Whether your circle of support is dozens strong or just two or three people, drawing on them is essential if you are going to get some much-needed downtime. It will take time for you and your babe to feel comfortable being separated from one another initially, so start small. Take a nap, give yourself a manicure, or meditate while your partner, mom or father-in-law or plays with your child/children in another room. Arrange this at a time when your little one(s) are fed and not due a nap, so that you can completely relax in the knowledge that they will be ok in your absence. Leave snacks & a bottle of expressed milk, if your babe will drink from one, as extra backup. The more often that you expose your child(ren) to loving caregivers, the more confident you will all be that they will ok without you.
2. Utilize screen time effectively. Before my son was born, my fiancé and I determined that he would not have any screen time whatsoever before he was 5 (cue hysterical laughter from seasoned parents). Whilst he barely watched anything before he was around 18 months old, we’re pretty certain that he has made up for lost time now! While I am not advocating for parking your little one(s) in front of a TV 12 hours a day, 20 minutes of well-timed screen time may be the difference between you having a chance to shower or not each day. Try this: ensure that your babe is fed and has a fresh nappy on. Take them with you as you run a bath and set up your baby monitor screen in the bathroom. Then put them in a safe environment like a play pen or in a room that is baby/toddler safe and set up the other half of your monitor. Top tip: place it out of reach so that your little one can’t get to it if they are mobile. Put your fresh clothes and body lotion, etc. in the same room as your babe too, for afterwards. Lay out their favourite toys & switch on something that you approve of on a device. The free YouTube kids app is a great option, because it is child-friendly and there are less annoying adverts. By this time your bath should be run and you may well have bought yourself at least enough time to let out a huge, loud sigh of relief as you soak.
3. Maximize on nap times. Even if your little one will only contact nap, buy yourself some me-time by preparing to do so in advance. If you are able to put your babe down to sleep, do not under any circumstances use this time to do household chores. They can either be done when your baby is awake, or by someone else. The washing up will still be there at the end of the day, but if you do not take care of yourself, your sanity & patience may not! If you are nap-trapped on a daily basis, before you settle down to get your little one to sleep, grab: your phone, a charger, the remote control, some headphones & some snacks. These five items can transform a frustrated hour or two into precious time to catch up with messages, calls & that TV show that everyone is raving about. If you have older children, plan your days so that at least once a day, they have quiet time, a story or screen time, as your baby naps, to give yourself a chance to be still.
4. If you live with a partner or family, delegate at least half of the household chores to someone else. Because of my own upbringing and outdated but persistent societal norms, I believed that housework & cooking were my responsibility simply because I was the parent who was at home for most of the time. The moment my son fell asleep, if he let me place him down at all, I would rush around like a maniac trying to be the perfect domestic goddess. The result? Our home was almost as tidy as it had been pre-baby, but my energy and happiness levels were worryingly low. Nowadays, I embrace the mess. As a family we work together to prioritize having simple, easy meals to eat & clean(ish!) clothes to wear. Consequently, we have more time to enjoy one another and to look after ourselves too.
5. Maximize on sleep. Oh sleep, that wonderful, distant memory…if like me your babe is more wakeful than you knew was humanly possible(!), doing everything that you can to maximize on your own sleep will give you a new lease of life. People commonly advise new parents to, “Sleep when baby sleeps,” but you may not be able to if you have older children or if you struggle to fall asleep in the middle of the day. Instead, try going to bed at night at the same time as your child(ren). This may mean that you don’t get to put the washing machine on, or cuddle with your partner on the sofa, but if it gives you an extra few hours of sleep overnight, it may well be worthwhile.
These tips are adapted from my debut book,' Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition (50 Practical, Evidence-Based Tips for Nursing Moms),' available here, now: www.thebreastfeedingmentor.com/book