There is no doubt about it; breastfeeding is tough. It can take a huge toll on all aspects of your life, from your physical health right through to your mental and emotional wellbeing and even your relationship.
At times, it can seem like all you do with your day is breastfeed ALL. THE.TIME. And it's a task that can't be shared, even if your baby does take the occasional bottle. It's no wonder really that the idea of self care while breastfeeding can seem basically impossible.
But the thing is; you can't pour from an empty cup. And breastfeeding has the power to drain not only your boobs, but a big chunk of your life force. We get it. As breastfeeding mamas ourselves, we've been there. And we're here to tell you that there are ways to take care of your babies' mama (AKA you) even when you're boobin' round the clock.
There is a common misconception that 'self-care' is about spa days and champagne, face masks and facials. And while all those things are wonderful, self-care isn't just about pampering. At its core, self-care is about doing something for your own wellbeing. Knowing that even the smallest steps towards a healthier, happier mama can take a lot of pressure off. Booking that appointment to see a women's physio for a post-natal check up? That's self care. Leaving that load of washing, strapping baby into their carrier and going for a walk outside in the sunshine? Self-care. Taking the time to make yourself a hot drink in your favourite mug and sitting down to drink it hot/taking advantage of your baby sleeping in their pram and ordering a coffee to drink in store as opposed to your usual take-away on the run? Self-care baby. Trying to find small (sometimes minuscule) opportunities where you prioritise your happiness in every day can go a long way in filling up your cup, no fancy facial required!
As a breastfeeding mum, life can sometimes seem, well, limited. There sometimes seems to be a really long list of things you 'can't' do and yes, it's easy to become frustrated (no judgement, we've been there!) Leaving your little one for long periods of time may not be possible right now but sometimes, with a bit of thought and organisation, you can still do a bunch of things that fill up your cup. If enjoying a delicious dinner with friends lights you up, can you find a way to schedule the meal in a time when bub would usually be asleep for a couple of hours? Or, could you find a restaurant where you're ok to take baby along in their carrier or capsule? Prior to baby you may have caught up with friends over a long lunch or mani-pedi, can you switch things around to a walk and coffee at a time when baby will usually be snoozing in the carrier or pram? Ok, full transparency, there are some things (weekends away spring to mind) that are going to be tricky and may possibly be off the table (for now) but there is a whole world of newness to be discovered now that you're permanently plus one. It can just take a little bit of adjustment to find your groove.
I remember very vividly, the evening I realised it was ok for me to listen to a podcast and paint my nails while my toddler son was in the bath. Every night up until then I would diligently sit at the side of the tub while he splashed around, absolutely oblivious to me even being there. Obviously he still required constant supervision but I realised that he wouldn't be bothered in the slightest if I popped an earbud in or played a podcast on low. He was far too busy with his Thomas the Tank bath toys to have any clue what I was up to. And so it became our nightly ritual. He'd bath, I'd get half an episode of something I enjoyed in. Heck, sometimes I'd paint my nails or do a face mask. It was such a small thing but it made me realise that he didn't need my undivided attention every single minute of the day (this was also good practice for when my second and third child came along and undivided attention was basically impossible) and that it was more than ok to actually do something for me. I then started finding other ways I could integrate a bit of what I enjoyed into our days. Whether it was choosing my own music when I was cooking or preparing something delicious for lunch that I would eat ALONE without sharing while he napped, it wasn't selfish to prioritise some of the stuff that I enjoyed while still being a mum.
Many, many a breastfeeding mum has had weeks when they look back and realise that they've barely eaten a proper meal, struggled to drink enough water and prioritised everything else rather than rest. The world keeps spinning, even with a newborn, and finding a new routine, even as baby gets older, isn't easy. I am fairly certain that the first few months of my first child's life were fuelled purely by adrenaline, caffeine and chocolate Up N Go, none of which were ideal. I became rundown very quickly and while there were other factors in play as to why I developed PND, I believe that my utter lack of self-care when it came to the basics probably didn't help! Self-care in this instance isn't about the big stuff. It's about setting a goal to drink enough water and eat 3 meals in a day. Leaving the clean up and watching Netflix on the couch while baby sleeps on you (the perfect excuse!). We can tell you, with the value of hindsight, that you will never, ever get this time back, especially when it's your first. The fourth trimester is a sacred time and the better you look after yourself, the better your experience will be. This is also where we tell you what you've probably heard a million times; if you're struggling, reach out for help. You were never meant to do this alone mama and post baby isolation can be really tough. If there is something you can outsource, someone you can talk to, do it and take the opportunity. Your future self will thank you.
Whether its a mums and bubs pilates class or time alone binge watching something on Netflix, finding something that brings you joy and trying to ensure if happens regularly can make a big difference to your health and happiness levels. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it's something that helps you to decompress and feel like yourself, it's a good thing. For me, it was finding a gym with childminding so that I could spend 45 min exercising without a child attached to me. I'd then follow up (and still do with my 3.5 year old) with a hot coffee at the cafe around the corner from my gym and something yummy from the independent grocer next door. It wasn't a big thing but it got me out of the house, gave me some time alone and refilled my cup (and caffeine levels). It also helped form one of the pillars of my new routine/new life that I started to build. Start small and work from there. Most importantly, prioritise whatever it is you choose and don't feel guilty about it. You matter to mama, and don't ever forget it!
There's not much more exciting than packing your hospital bag.Your hospital and how long you're staying will determine what you need to pack in your hospital bag to some extent BUT there's still a list of essentials that can make even the shortest stay that little bit more comfortable.