The short and long-term physical and emotional biological responses of breastfeeding for both mom and baby are undeniable, so it’s exciting and important that breastfeeding rates are on the rise. However, while our bodies and babies are hardwired to breastfeed, most new moms will encounter common challenges that may come along with it.
The term “self-care” is nothing new. Though the ability to practice self-care while taking care of a newborn can seem like an impossible feat, our well-being (mentally, emotionally and physically), is of utmost importance as a new mom. Here are some ways you can make sure to take care of yourself and reclaim a little bit of sanity with these helpful breastfeeding tips.
Breastfeeding is a physically demanding job, just as much of new motherhood is. Breastfeeding moms should consume at least 1800 calories a day in order to provide the energy needed for the body to produce milk. Milk is made from our blood and the components in our blood and while our bodies do a great job at ensuring the milk we produce has what our baby needs, it is important that we eat a balanced diet rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals for baby and for your nutritional needs. While it is not necessary, many breastfeeding moms may choose to continue taking a daily or prenatal vitamin to make sure they’re getting sufficient nutrition postpartum. As for fluids, aim to stay hydrated but don’t worry about consuming excessive amounts of water.
Often as new moms who are sleep deprived, things like eating and drinking water can easily slip our minds. Keep nutritious snacks like fruit, nuts, or granola easily accessible and keep a water bottle nearby as a helpful reminder.
Ensuring you receive some rest will not only help you heal more quickly, but it will also help keep you emotionally balanced throughout the hormone-fueled first few weeks.
Lastly, don’t forget nourishment includes rest. The first few days and weeks of mothering a newborn are exhausting and can be quite uncomfortable or painful, depending on your birth experience. Ensuring you receive some rest will not only help you heal more quickly, but it will also help keep you emotionally balanced throughout the hormone-fueled first few weeks. Some helpful tips to getting more rest in these first few weeks: limit visitors, de-prioritize anything that’s not critical (it is perfectly acceptable if all you do in a day is eat, sleep and nurse your baby), and sleep when the baby sleeps (we know, we know, you’ve heard this one before. But remember, nothing else needs to get done and it’s okay to ease back into life after baby). Also, try to take a few minutes each day to yourself. Whether this is drinking a hot cup of coffee in the morning in peace, taking a shower after a long day, going for a walk around the block – this “you” time every day can help you feel grounded and connected with yourself. It is normal to feel a shift in identity as you become a new mom and assume a new role in life, so spending this time reconnecting with yourself can help ease you into this transition.
The first few days of breastfeeding can be downright uncomfortable. Your nipples will be adjusting to life with baby latched on and it’s very common to experience some soreness during this transition when you and baby are learning how to breastfeed. Any discomfort you experience should subside within the first few weeks and not extend to any type of pain. If you find breastfeeding painful, seek assistance early on from a lactation consultant – breastfeeding should not be painful.
Taking care of your nipples and breasts while breastfeeding, (especially in the early days and weeks) is so important to making sure you’re comfortable. To care for your nipples and breasts, use a nipple salve or balm to soothe and protect your nipples, invest in a good bra, (nursing or otherwise) that will provide the support you need for your extra-heavy breasts (ideally one without underwire to avoid pressure on your breasts), and keep some products like hydrogels, warm/cool compresses and a hand pump on stand-by in the event that you need to remedy issues like engorgement or plugged ducts. The more you’re able to pre-empt and the sooner you’re able to resolve challenges, the better, so keep your toolbox stocked and accessible.
Disappointment, frustration or guilt occur when our expectations are misaligned with reality. Research shows us that misaligned expectations can increase our risk for postpartum depression especially when our intentions to breastfeed get interrupted by these misaligned expectations.
We often hear from new moms that breastfeeding is not as they expected and that they weren’t aware of the challenges or the normalcy of certain newborn behaviors, like the fact that newborns typically spend 7 hours a day eating, regardless of bottle or breast and that it is biologically normal for babies to wake at least every 2-3 hours to nurse. By setting our expectations as close to reality as possible, we can minimize those moments of frustration and self-doubt.
Disappointment, frustration or guilt occur when our expectations are misaligned with reality.
So how do we adjust our expectations? We can prepare prenatally by taking a breastfeeding class, reading books, attending breastfeeding support meetings such as your local La Leche League or new mom hospital meeting or discussing breastfeeding with trusted friends or family (though, remember, anecdotal stories are not the same as evidence-based information). Many moms also find it helpful to adopt a flexible approach to those early days and weeks, toss out your schedules and expectations, follow baby’s cues and give yourself time to get into a rhythm. Take it day by day.
Establishing a support system is one of the most important things you can do to set yourself up for success in breastfeeding and new motherhood. When you create your support system, you’re creating meaningful connections with other people who will encourage you, care for you, validate you, and hear you. Sometimes, we just need to know that we’re not alone (you are not alone) and that there are other mothers going through the exact same thing at the exact same time (promise!). Together, we are stronger.
Check into your local mom groups through the hospital, La Leche League or even Facebook to connect with moms in your area.
In addition to finding support in other moms, you may want to consider building your support system out to include people like a therapist, postpartum doula and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Motherhood was never meant to be a solo task – it truly takes a village. When we create a trusted team of people around us who inform us, encourage us and nurture us, we feel taken care of, which makes it much easier for us to take care of others.
Breastfeeding can be one of the most joyful, fulfilling experiences of motherhood, but, as we’ve mentioned, it can bring along with it many other feelings. We believe in prioritizing joy. Prioritize the bonding moments, the suckles and snuggles and the things that fill you up. Sometimes this is easier said than done – this is when our village and support system can be especially important. Postpartum depression can creep in slowly, so if ever you’re struggling to find joy, talk to someone. You don’t have to go through it alone.
Cristina Toff is a heymama member and mama to one in Hoboken, NJ. She co-founded milksource, an online and in-person breastfeeding education service and is a CLEC, doula, La Leche League Leader and is working toward an IBCLC and other certifications to support women and babies through pregnancy & postpartum. Photo credit: Evian Granitz.