When I first decided to breastfeed my then-unborn son, I envisioned us lounging together, skin-to-skin inside of my comfiest robe. I pictured myself a lovely, motherly angel and him, a little cherub. I definitely didn't picture having sore boobs or being ravenously hungry. However, when you're exclusively breastfeeding you need to either let your baby latch, or pump to provide food for a later meal (as often as twelve times a day). Knowing that I couldn't keep going otherwise, there were certain things I did for myself everyday while breastfeeding exclusively, because it's important to take care of yourself when you’re doing that much for another person.
Breastfeeding is great and entirely feasible for most folks, but it can also be tough to be the only show in town, food-wise, for the recommended six months (that experts think is best) before introducing complementary solid foods. So it's really important for moms to get the food, rest, and other self-care we need when we're exclusively breastfeeding our babies on demand. To make that possible, my partner took on a few of the chores that were normally on my list (oh, darn!) so that I could either breastfeed or rest, while simultaneously paying extra attention to my health, well-being, and comfort so I'd be able to replenish what my son was demanding from me. (It's that whole "secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others" thing that I've been trying, with varying levels of success, ever since getting pregnant.)
For me, paying attention to my health and well-being means eating my favorite foods, getting as much sleep as possible, drinking enough water, and staying as physically comfortable and socially supported as possible. While exercise is usually a quintessential part of my "healthiest, happiest self" routine, I didn't make it a huge priority when my son was exclusively breastfeeding, especially if it would have cut into any opportunities to rest. Even though I'd try to get out for a walk around the neighborhood every day, I just didn't always have the energy to spare for a full workout, so I didn't sweat it.
In the end, it all worked out. We made it through our first six months, with him happy, healthy and thriving, and me feeling good enough to keep going — though gradually less and less as solid food became a bigger focus — right up to now, still nursing at sleepy times, just days away from his second birthday. That's only possible because I made sure to do the following for myself everyday:
I Ate Well
Breastfeeding uses around 30% of a mother's resting energy. That makes it a really high-energy endeavor; burning up to an extra 600 calories a day, all of which have to come from somewhere. That's what some of those pregnancy fat stores are for, but a mom's body needs plenty of good nutrition to heal from pregnancy and birth and make milk, too. So I made sure to eat lots of good food all day to rise to the task of making lots of good food all day.
I Drank A Ton Of Water
Breastfeeding is thirsty work. I made sure to always have a one-liter bottle of water with me, and drank at least three if not four of them a day. Getting dehydrated — and lightheaded, and all that — is no fun under any circumstances, least of all when you're tired and keeping up with a baby.
I Got As Much Rest As Possible
For me, getting enough rest meant breastsleeping so I could stay asleep for most of the night, instead of getting up out of bed every couple of hours to feed him. I also napped whenever I could, and didn't push myself to exercise a ton if I didn't feel like it.
I Wore Bras That Actually Fit
Once my milk came in, I went to my local breastfeeding center and got a proper bra fitting, then bought quality bras in my new(ly enormous) size. When your boobs are sore and working hard, it's so not the time to try to squeeze them into a poorly-fitting or poorly-made bra. I didn't buy tons of expensive nursing wear; regular button-down shirts and tank tops were fine by me. But good nursing bras definitely made a difference for me.
I Wore Comfy, Supportive Clothes
Soft, cozy clothes that I could easily whip a boob out of were my 24/7 uniform while exclusively breastfeeding. Cause if you can't prioritize your own comfort while nursing on demand, when can you?
Oh yeah. Pregnancy. Basically, I stuck to my fashion rules from pregnancy. #ComfortOverEverything
I Ate Some More
Hey, if I'm burning an extra 600 calories a day, I'm not going to sweat a craving or two here and there. #SecondsPlease
I Took Extra Care Of My Breasts
My partner and a friend both got me some nursing essentials — boob-shaped gel packs that I could freeze (awesome for sore nipples) or heat (perfect when battling soreness, or much-dreaded plugged ducts) as needed, and nipple butter — that I relied on to keep my breasts feeling great between feedings.
I Surrounded Myself With Supportive People
I talked to my "breast friends" — mamas from my online breastfeeding support groups and my local chapter of La Leche League — on a daily basis, even if only to exchange breastfeeding memes and jokes, as well as to share breastfeeding milestones and advice. Support from mamas who've been there and done that is everything.
I Supported Other Nursing Moms
Helping other moms felt as good (or better) as getting help myself. Connecting with other nursing moms made nursing a lot more fun and rewarding, so I made sure to talk to other nursing moms every day.
I Read A Lot About Breastfeeding
In addition to the books I picked up during pregnancy, following Facebook groups, sites, and blogs about breastfeeding helped me stay up to date on everything from the latest research on breastfeeding to lifestyle hacks that make breastfeeding easier.
I Did A Lot Of Stretching
Especially as your baby gets a bit bigger, breastfeeding comfortably in a variety of places can mean getting into a variety of positions, some of which your body might not be so familiar with. For me, stretching to keep my neck, shoulders, back, and arms feeling good was a must.
I Ate Even More
My husband quickly got in the habit of giving me the biggest piece of meat every time he cooked, and doing "mama math" every time he calculated portions from a recipe (whatever it calls for, add a little extra, and make sure there's enough for one person's worth of seconds). He's a keeper.