As a mom, you're probably not used to putting yourself first in life. But your mental health shouldn't lose its priority simply because you've had a baby, especially if you're breastfeeding. There are some easy things every mom can do for their mental health while breastfeeding and I promise you, they are totally worth it.
There is some correlation between being a nursing mom and advocating for mental health. According to Breastfeeding Today from La Leche League International, breastfeeding used to be discouraged by doctors in order to provide better mental health care for moms. The consensus was that formula feeding your baby could give you more sleep and make you feel less depressed and/or stressed about breastfeeding issues.
Although more information has been shared over the past few years about the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby, there is still the risk of becoming overwhelmed by nursing. Because the truth is breastfeeding can be really hard. It can affect your sex life, your relationship, and sometimes it's just too much to realize that you are the only nourishment your child gets. How can you escape to Target for more than an hour if you're the sole source of food for your baby? How can you sleep for a solid six hours? How can you reconnect with yourself amidst the chaos of motherhood if you're having to pump to keep your breast milk supply up?
It's hard, but you can do all of it, mama. There are several easy things every mom can do for their mental health while breastfeeding and when I say easy, I mean easy. You don't have to try to fit 18 more hours in the day or train your baby to give you some space. Just try one, or all, of these 13 things and you'll be putting your mental health back on your priority list.
1. Eat & Drink Well
You know what will keep you energized throughout the day and feel better long term? Eating and drinking well. Obviously, don't pass up a cupcake if you want a cupcake, but making sure you're taking care of yourself by eating good food and staying hydrated is imperative. According to the Harvard Medical School Health Blog, a diet in high refined sugars can impair your brain function and worsen symptoms of mood disorders like depression. But who has time to whip up veggies and fresh fruit when a sugar-packed granola bar is right there? Take the time each week to prep your snacks. Cut up carrots and bell peppers, put them in individual containers, and grab you some hummus. Simple tasks like that can make it easier for you to grab something healthy to eat despite the numerous nursing sessions each day.
2. See An IBCLC
Seriously, a relationship with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) can be your greatest asset when you're breastfeeding and attempting to take care of your mental health. Stressed about low milk supply? An IBCLC can help. Trying to figure out if your pain is caused by your baby's latch? An IBCLC can assess your little one and figure out your problem. They are professionals and they are there to help; there's no reason to get stressed or panicked over breastfeeding when you have an IBCLC nearby.
3. Get Some Sleep
I know, I know. Sleep when the baby sleeps sounds like the most ridiculous thing ever. How will the laundry get done? How will you make dinner? But listen, sleep is important. Harvard Medical School noted that a lack of sleep or chronic sleep issues can increase your risk of developing mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. You have to get more sleep, even if you are breastfeeding. You can try breastsleeping, which is a way to nurse your baby throughout the night while still getting more sleep, or talk to your doctor about safe co-sleeping guidelines so you don't have to spend so much time awake at night. You can also follow that old guideline — when baby is napping, put down your phone and nap, too. Your emails can wait.
4. Educate Yourself On Breastfeeding
There is so much misinformation on the internet about breastfeeding that it's really hard to swim through all of it to find some actual information. If you can't see or contact an IBCLC right away, educate yourself as best you can on breastfeeding and what it really means to have a low milk supply, a bad latch, or an infection like mastitis. Often, moms stress themselves out thinking that if they aren't pumping five to six ounces in one session, then they are losing their supply. They assume that if baby is fussy at the breast, he's not getting the milk, and they panic over every piece of food they eat because it might cause their baby gas. Look for legitimate resources like La Leche League International and Kelly Mom to find information you can trust to help you relax.
5. Don't Fall Into The Comparison Trap
Seriously, the comparison trap is so easy to fall into when you're a mom. Whether you're comparing your baby's growth to your bestie's little one or you're panicking about going back to work versus staying home, it's not hard to let your insecurities pick up and run the show. But you already know how bad that is for your mental health. So don't let yourself get overwhelmed with how much milk your sister can pump when you can only get an ounce. Every mom has a different breastfeeding journey and you will greatly improve your mental health if you make sure you know what's right for you and your baby, not everyone around you.
6. Ask Your SO To Help
Believe it or not, even though you're breastfeeding, your partner can still help you. You don't have to do it all, super mom. Instead of feeling anxious about the things that aren't getting done when your baby is cluster feeding, ask your partner to step in and fix dinner, do the dishes, or play with your older children. Seriously, they are your partner. That means you two are a team and they can seriously step in to help you out.
7. Don't Worry About A Freezer Stash
IBCLC Leigh Anne O'Connor tells Romper that you don't have to worry about a freezer stash if there's no reason to have one. Even if you're going back to work, you can pump each day to feed your baby the next day, so don't overwhelm yourself trying to make some great freezer stash of breast milk. Not only does it stress you out, but constantly pumping can be exhausting as well as frustrating.
8. Don't Entertain Negative Remarks About Breastfeeding
Just don't. Your mental health will be so much better if you ignore your mother-in-law's comments about how you're breastfeeding your baby too much or your friend's remarks that your little one should be night weaned by now. Ignore them.
9. Do What Makes You Comfortable
If breastfeeding in public makes you uncomfortable, you don't have to do it. Judging others for breastfeeding in public isn't OK, but nobody's saying you have to ignore your cover and nurse your baby openly and freely if you don't want to. Do what makes you comfortable.
10. Appreciate Yourself & Your Hard Work
You're nourishing a baby with your own body. That deserves a pat on the back. Whether you're pumping at work, skipping lunch breaks to nurse, or waking up every two hours with a baby and then parenting a toddler during the day, you deserve all the kudos. Remind yourself daily how amazing you are and how much hard work you're putting in for your baby.
11. Join A Breastfeeding Support Group
According to Kelly Mom, there are both online support groups and local support groups you can go to for help with breastfeeding. It's incredibly beneficial to have people around you who understand how hard it is and who are willing to help you in any way you can. When you feel like you're going at something alone, it can really affect your mental health.
12. Wear A Nursing Sling
Not only do slings help you get your two hands back and make it possible for you to do other things around the house while nursing your baby (which is sure to reduce stress), Kelly Mom noted that it can also decrease baby's crying and colic. Um, hello. What else do you need to promote mental health?
13. Keep Breastfeeding
Sounds weird, right? If breastfeeding is so overwhelming and stressful, how can it help your mental health? It's easy. Although there is some correlation between breastfeeding and postpartum depression (PPD), a 2012 study in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine found that moms who breastfeed reduce their risk of developing postpartum depression. If you think you're struggling with postpartum depression, it's absolutely a must that you speak to your doctor, but also talk to your IBCLC about breastfeeding and the relationship between it and PPD for your own well-being.