Sadly, it took far too long for me to realize just how important my mental health is, especially once I became a mother. Granted, I was never really into self-care prior to bringing a human being into the world, which made this realization all the more life-changing. I simply wasn't taking care of myself the way I should have, pre-baby or post-baby. Thankfully, I did do a few things for my mental health, every day, when I was breastfeeding, and it made all the difference during the first few months of my son's life.
I honestly didn't really expect breastfeeding to be as difficult as it ended up being. I mean, people constantly told me it was a "natural" act and something my body was "made" to do, and, sadly, I assumed "natural" meant "this super easy thing that I would just automatically become accustomed to." Yeah, that's not how it works. As a sexual assault survivor, it didn't take me too long to realize that breastfeeding was somewhat of a trigger for me and, as such, required me to care for my mental and physical wellbeing in a way I never really had before. If I was going to sustain my son with my body, I was going to need to pay close attention to my mind.
Enter these super simple, somewhat minuscule but ultimately life-changing acts of mental health care. It didn't take me scheduled a high-priced session with a therapist (although, I did that from time to time, too), it simply took me making the conscious effort to make myself, my health, my feelings, my mind, and my body a constant priority. Just because you're breastfeeding, dear reader, doesn't mean you no longer matter.
I Talked About Any Problems I Had, Without Apology
For a little while in the beginning of this whole "mom thing," I was somewhat afraid to admit that I was having problems breastfeeding (or just mothering, in general). However, I quickly learned that in order to be the best me I could possibly be for my son, I had to be honest about what was ailing me.
Whether it was mastitis or latch issues or supply problems or simply feeling touched out, talking openly and unapologetically about the "down sides" of breastfeeding turns out to be the best "pro-breastfeeding" decision I could have possibly made.
I Zoned Out To Netflix
Well, I mean, duh. How could you not lean on the likes of Orange Is The New Black, The Office, Parks And Recreation, and a slew of other fan-favorites when the going gets tough, right?
While I wanted to pay attention to my son (and, hell, I had to) and really sink into those amazing breastfeeding moments, sometimes the best thing for my mental health was to escape via the characters, and hilarious situations they typically found themselves in, of my favorite television shows.
I Took A Solo-Walk Outside...
I worked from home after my son was born (as in, I turned in a project the day I got back from the hospital) so it was easy to find myself stuck inside for long periods of time. Yeah, that's not conducive to a healthy mental state, my friends.
So, I forced myself to take (even a small) walk outside every single day. Whether that meant leaving my son with my partner or taking him with and breastfeeding in a park, it didn't matter. Fresh air, being around other human beings, and a solid perspective of the "real word" was life-saving.
...Or Took A Long Drive
Driving has always been my go-to escape. I used to drive for hours when I was in high school and needed to get away from my abusive father. I used to drive aimlessly when I was in college and all about procrastinating. Something about an endless road, a favorite CD (yeah, I'm old) and a rolled-down window is soothing.
So, when the going got tough on the breastfeeding front, I simply took the keys, left the kid with someone in my trusted support system, and took a drive for an hour. I would come home feeling refreshed, rejuvenized, and like myself.
I Spoke With Other Breastfeeding Moms
It's easy to feel like whatever you're experiencing when it comes to breastfeeding (or motherhood, in general) is a solo situation. Yeah, that's not the case. However, if you don't really reach out and talk to others who may or may not be going through the same thing you'e going through, you'll never know if your day-to-day is something others can relate to.
So, I took the time to talk to other breastfeeding mothers at least once a day. Whether it was my best friend and a very long, very necessary phone conversation, or an online forum with strangers, simply hearing the stories and voices of other women helped remind me that even when I felt like it, I wasn't alone.
I Took A Long, Uninterrupted Shower
This is heaven, you guys.
OK, I'm not religious so I don't really believe in heaven, but if that place actually exists I am positive it's one long, hot, never-ending shower (except your hands don't get all pruned up and wrinkly, because yuck).
I Pumped So I Didn't Have To Breastfeed Every Single Session
While I was basically my son's main source of nutrition for what turned out to be seven months, that didn't mean I was the only one necessarily responsible for feeding him.
Yes, I hated it. Yes, it's the worst. Yes, it can make you feel like you're wasting precious hours while simultaneously being connected to some god-awful machine, but it also gave my partner the ability to step in and feed our son when I just wasn't into it. Sometimes I really did need a few moments to myself, and having a bottle or two around and ready for those moments gave me the silent permission to take time for myself, guilt-free.
I Read A Book I Wanted To Read, Even If It Was Out Loud To My Son
I love reading. It's, well, a problem.
However, taking the time to read all lazy like when you have a newborn to care for is difficult if not downright impossible. However, I found a way. Even if it was just 30 minutes and I was reading out loud to my newborn (who I can only hope took in the feminist meanderings of my favorite authors) I was able to feel in touch with my pre-baby self with the first love of my life: literature.
I Took Time To Write A Little Something
I'm a writer, so take the following statement with a grain of salt, but: writing saves lives.
It certainly saved mine (in more ways than one and long before I became a mother) and it's always been a outlet for which I can express myself. Whether you write professionally or you're scribbling something down in a journal, I think writing will do wonders for your state of mind while you're doing something as taxing and wonderful and exhausting and fulfilling as breastfeeding.
I Allowed Myself To Feel Whatever I Was Feeling At Any Given Moment
Breastfeeding (like motherhood and everything else that has to do with life) is complicated. There's no one way to feel about it, and you can actually feel juxtaposing feelings simultaneously because human beings are just cool like that.
So, instead of holding myself to some fictitious standard that says, "You're only a good mother if you love absolutely everything there is to be about motherhood, including breastfeeding and even when it's really difficult," I let myself say, "Yeah, well, this kind of sucks." Because, of course, sometimes it does. That doesn't mean everything about breastfeeding is horrible, though. Giving myself that freedom to own my feelings and express them without remorse did wonders for my mental health.