As much as I loved breastfeeding my babies (and I really did), it wasn't always magical and miraculous. There were times when I felt isolated, alone, and like my body wasn't mine anymore. There were also times when I was completely "touched out" and needed more sleep to function and manage my mental health. Fortunately, I learned there are ways to maintain your independence when you're exclusively breastfeeding, because yes, it is much easier said than done.
If you feel isolated, or like you can't seem to find time to yourself. while breastfeeding, please know that you're not alone. According to researchers at Oxford University, breastfeeding moms report feeling a wide spectrum of emotions while breastfeeding, including a loss of independence and a desire to get their bodies back. Neonatal intensive care nurse, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Jody Segrave-Daly, RN, MS advises her patients to find ways to get enough sleep and to try to split parenting duties with a partner, friend, or family member to maintain their mental health and take care of themselves first, so they can take care of their babies. Social Worker Abby Theuring agrees. On the website Breastfeeding Basics, she encourages breastfeeding moms to find time for self-care, even if it means handing your baby to someone else and taking a break when you need one.
Exclusive breastfeeding can be a wonderful way to feed your baby, but not if it's not working for both you and your baby. Remember: you are still you, and deserve to feel good and not lose yourself to motherhood. There are things you can do to maintain your independence and sense of self as a breastfeeding mom that are totally worth trying, including the following:
According to Abby Theuring, Master of Social Work (MSW), the key to maintaining your sanity and independence while breastfeeding is self-care, which Theuring admits is easier said than done. In an article for Breastfeeding Basics, Theuring suggests that finding time for little things like showering, napping, and having a glass of wine can go a long way towards feeling like yourself again.
According to researchers at Oxford University, many breastfeeding moms value the support and friendship of other moms who've been in their position, especially through feeding support groups and networking with other breastfeeding moms. The U.S. Office on Women's Health recommends that breastfeeding moms find ways to connect with others to avoid feelings of isolation.
The good news is that social media gives us plenty of options for connecting with other parents around the globe, which can make life seem a little less isolating. Yes, even when you are literally trapped under a feeding baby.
Get Some Sleep
Neonatal intensive care nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Jody Segrave-Daly, RN, MS, tells Romper via email that sleep is the most important way to maintain your mental health while breastfeeding, and that sometimes that means letting your partner take over.
"This is a very common conversation I have with mothers, and I find if they get a five hour block of sleep, while their partner feeds the baby, her perspective and tolerance feels much different and getting sleep is a restorative necessity for mental health."
Segrave-Daly adds, "I also educate my parents about 'hitting the wall' in my breastfeeding classes so they are not blind-sided when it happens. The sleep deprived state is a frightening feeling and if mothers know about it they typically do not panic, will reach out for help, and can find solutions to breastfeed, if they still want to."
Just because you are feeding a baby doesn't mean you can't do other things you enjoy to pass the time. The U.S. Office on Women's Health suggests using nursing time to do something you enjoy, like read a book or article, or listen to an audiobook. I, myself, used this time to catch up on Netflix and enjoy some quiet time.
As Abby Theuring, MSW, writes for Breastfeeding Basics, sometimes the best way to maintain independence is to get outside. Theuring recommends finding a way to get outside every day, even if it's just to go for a walk or sit on the porch.
Share The Love
Segrave-Daly tells Romper via email that getting help and support while breastfeeding is imperative:
"I ask a breastfeeding mom to think about what she could do to help cope with feeling used up or hitting the breaking point. I find some moms cannot say they want a break from the sole responsibility of having to feed the baby because they feel ashamed. I always tell them their needs come first and I will support them in creating a feeding plan that is optimal for thriving mother and baby."
The website Postpartum Progress agrees, and adds that sharing duties with your partner doesn't necessarily mean an end to exclusive breastfeeding. They write:
"Just because the mom is the one who breastfeeds, doesn’t mean she needs to be on nighttime baby duty. The dad could sleep in the same room as the baby (e.g. sleeping on a mattress in on the floor in the baby’s room) while the mom sleeps alone in the parents’ bed with ear plugs or a white noise machine. Instead of the mom having to be “on alert” for a waking baby, dad is “on alert” and mom can sleep soundly. The dad would be responsible for diaper changes, rocking the baby, re-settling the baby, etc. and for bringing the baby to the mom to breastfeed around once every three to four hours."
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