Self-care has become a “thing” recently in our culture. Hooray!
Personally, I find it encouraging to witness people prioritizing their physical, mental, and emotional health in order to be their best selves. In my opinion, self-care is especially vital for mothers. It’s so easy to constantly put ourselves last all day every day. Truth be told, yes, there are days where you’re simply in the trenches of motherhood and the goal is honestly just survival. Been there! The thing is though, if your cup is consistently empty for days, weeks, months, or years, eventually you will be burnt out. You won’t be the best version of yourself physically, mentally, or emotionally and in turn you won’t be the best mother that you can be.
What’s tricky though, is that in this season of early motherhood, our babies’ needs genuinely do need to be prioritized.
If you have a hungry newborn who needs to be fed now, for example, you really do need to stop all else and feed the baby. You know? This is especially true for breastfeeding mothers considering they are the only ones who can do the breastfeeding! So, how can you prioritize self-care even amidst nursing a newborn?
In my opinion, the only downside of the current self-care movement is that sometimes self-care gets portrayed as something that’s unattainable for so many of us—especially as nursing mothers. We hop on social media and see women at expensive spas with their girlfriends for the day with the hashtag “self-care” captioning their photo. We overhear women chatting about the weekend-long wedding they attended, or the late-night date night they scored with their partner. Not to mention we’re sent the message that we should be “bouncing back” after birth. We should be “back” in every sense including being back at our rat race of a pre-baby routine. This type of thing is all well and good and certainly can be self-care (I’d totally take a weekend at the spa!) but self-care doesn’t need to be luxurious, expensive, and time consuming to be self-care and to be worthwhile. Lastly, you can absolutely give yourself care and attention even if you’ve chosen to feed your baby at the breast and therefore can’t necessarily (and/or don’t want to!) just pass your baby off to a caregiver and pick up life as you knew it before baby.
First-time breastfeeding moms will quickly discover that because our culture normalizes bottle and formula feeding, there are so often subtle messages being sent from [often well-intentioned] family, friends, and healthcare providers that give women the idea that they cannot breastfeed on cue and simultaneously care for themselves. Maybe your mother-in-law comments “if you could just give him a bottle then he could stay with me, and you could get out once in a while.” Maybe your friend rolls her eyes and says, “you know if you’d just fill her up with some formula maybe you’d finally get some sleep” (um, a myth!). Maybe a healthcare provider suggests “maybe he’d be happier if you topped him up once in a while…it’d give you a little break!” Maybe your childless friend from college groans saying, “can’t you make it on the girl’s weekend?! Just leave the baby home with your husband!” Sometimes, people are projecting their own (either conscious or unconscious) feelings around breastfeeding onto you when they make these kinds of comments. Other times, they’re just under-educated about breastfeeding, don’t have children of their own, or trying to be helpful (even if their advice is unsolicited). All in all, it can feel really stressful and overwhelming for a mother who wants to breastfeed. Women can start to question themselves, question their choices, and feel unconfident and unhappy because they aren’t meeting society’s requirement of bouncing back and because sometimes people are actually disguising this judgment as concern that women aren’t practicing self-care.
So, what are some ways that a breastfeeding mom can practice self-care? It depends of course, on the individual. However, it really involves finding small spaces in your day; small rituals, moments of mindfulness, etc., that feel helpful to you in taking care of your needs and in making you feel good. The small, everyday snippets of attention given to yourself wind up adding up and being more meaningful than the big fancy things anyway.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
In the early days and weeks of breastfeeding self-care may look like this:
- coffee or tea while it’s hot
- hot shower or bath while a partner, family member, friend, doula, etc., is with your baby
- sleep…sneaking in naps when you can get help, going to bed early (whenever baby goes to bed) a few nights a week, etc.
- small moments away from the baby after he’s been nursed…a drive or a walk around the block, an errand or two
- a phone call with a good friend
- watching Netflix, reading, or listening to a podcast while holding a sleeping baby
- intimacy with your partner (this doesn’t need to mean sex!)
- checking in with your breath or listening to a brief meditation, your favorite music, etc.…this can happen while rocking/swaying/bouncing/feeding your baby
- cozy clothes, a warm robe, fuzzy socks
- things in your home that make you feel good…candles, fresh flowers, open windows, etc.
- outsourcing any household tasks that you can
- setting boundaries…in terms of your time, space, and energy and saying “no” when you need to instead of taking on tasks/roles just because you’re uncomfortable saying no
- asking for help
- comforting, nourishing food
- sitting outside in the sunshine
It won’t be long before your baby is cluster feeding less, feeds are becoming faster and more efficient, your body is healing from birth, and your milk supply is regulating. Things will start to feel easier. You might be feeling like you’re coming up for air and maybe as your baby is getting older there’s more space in your life for new forms of self-care.
Maybe now you’re…
- treating yourself to a manicure, pedicure, or haircut
- getting coffee with a friend
- having a date with your partner (Doesn’t have to be lengthy, expensive, or late at night to be meaningful. Breakfast, lunch, a walk, a coffee at a cute café, drinks and appetizers, a movie, etc., are all great easy ways to get out.)
- going shopping by yourself
- picking up a new hobby
- making an appointment with a therapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, etc.
There are endless ways to practice small moments of self-care and to fill up your own cup.
While breastfeeding can feel all consuming (and it often is, in the early days and weeks) it is a season and it does not mean that you cannot or should not prioritize your own health as well. You don’t have to be a martyr to breastfeed and you also don’t have to switch to formula (unless you want to) in order to be healthy and happy. Even if all you do is get a quick shower, pause to drink a cup of coffee with your favorite creamer in it, or relish a gooey chocolate chip cookie, these moments of mindfulness and pleasure can be so meaningful in terms of your overall perspective, attitude and mental health. Every mother is on her own journey and self-care does not need to be a competition. We’re all in different seasons and phases and we all have different goals, and different children. What one mom IS doing is not a reflection of what another is NOT doing. What fills one mom’s cup is not what fills another mom’s cup. Keep focusing on you and your family and what fuels YOU.