As a breastfeeding mother you are everything to your baby – food, comfort, and nurturing. Around the clock.
It's a lot of pressure to know you are the sole source of nourishment for your baby, and breastfeeding difficulties can send you into spiral of despair. So how do you beat this pressure and protect your own wellbeing, especially your mental health?
Whether breastfeeding is going well or you are finding it harder than you expected, taking care of you needs to be a priority. Here are 11 ways to protect your mental health while you are breastfeeding.
See an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC)
Breastfeeding problems such as sore nipples and anxiety about milk supply can cause stress, which means it's important that breastfeeding is supported and problems are addressed promptly and appropriately. If you need help to solve breastfeeding problems, see an international board certified lactation consultant. This is the gold standard ion breastfeeding support – she has to have thousands of documented hours helping mothers breastfeed and pass a stringent exam, so chances are she'll be able to help.
According to a Harvard Medical School health blog, a diet high in refined sugar can affect moods and worsen symptoms of depression. On the other hand, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can improve brain function and reduce depressive symptoms, so eat a healthy diet including fresh fruits, vegetables and protein, as well as oily fish (salmon sardines and tuna), which are rich in omega 3 fats.
If you are a vegetarian, you can add flaxseeds to smoothies and cereal.
Also, instead of sweet treats, try snacks that you can eat with one hand such as avocado or hummus on wholegrain toast or crackers.
Get sunshine and exercise
Exercise will dissipate stress hormones and sunshine will boost your serotonin levels, helping you feel happier and healthier. Pop your baby in a wrap, carrier or pram and head out for a walk in the fresh air.
Try 'breast sleeping'
It's not easy to always nap when baby naps, but if you don't yet have other children, you can lie down while baby feeds. As long as you create a safe sleep space – on a firm bed, not a couch or chair – and you aren't a smoker or affected by medication or alcohol that could impair your responsiveness to your baby, then you can relax and doze as baby feeds, day or night. Evena few stolen minutes of rest can make a difference.
Whether you are looking at a fancy mum's flat lays or flat tummy on Instagram, wondering why you can't even find clean clothes or why your baby isn't sleeping, consider the saying 'comparison is the thief of joy.' Comparing your journey to a 'fancy mum' is a downer that can send you into a spiral of anxiety and self-doubt.
Remind yourself you are the best mum for your baby. You are doing an awesome job. Your baby loves you just the way you are.
Your partner isn't a mind reader and if your partner is a man, he will think differently to you (it's science!). For instance, if he walks into a room to pick up his phone, he will pick up his phone – he won't notice the dirty cups that need to be washed. Seething about not getting help isn't good for your mental health, so if you are stuck on the couch cluster feeding and starving or feeling pissed off about the mess, ASK your partner to make dinner, grab the washing, tidy up or whatever.
Ignore negative comments
Try not to let stupid comments about your baby, your boobs or how you are doing this whole mummy job undermine you. It's nobody else's business how often you are feeding your baby or how many times he is waking at night. You are the expert about your baby. If you cop any advice that makes you doubt this, filter it by asking, 'Is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right?' If the answer is yes, forget them.
Join a support group
You need a cheering squad of other mums who are breastfeeding. People who have your back, who can share sensible information, and who can empathise when the going gets tough. You can join an online group (try the Boobie Bikkies facebook page) but a real in-person group such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association or La Leche League is great. As well as support and information, you get the social engagement that is beneficial for your mental health.
Netflix and chill (literally)
Snuggle with your baby and enjoy some skin-to-skin while you relax and watch a movie, especially one that makes you laugh. As you release endorphins (happy hormones) from laughing, snuggling with your baby will release oxytocin, the love hormone that helps you relax as it helps your milk flow. Bonus: you will boost your milk supply and reduce your stress chemicals.
Give yourself credit
You are doing an awesome job! Whether you are stuck on the couch for hours with a newborn, breastfeeding a wriggly toddler, pumping at work, or feeding your little one several times a night, give yourself a big 'high five'! You deserve to feel good about the important job you are doing.
Keep on breastfeeding
It can be a tough gig being everything to your baby, especially in the early days, but you have got this, mama. Breastfeeding is good for your mental health when it is working well.
But remember: although breastfeeding can offer protection against depression, it's not a guarantee. So if you do have symptoms of depression or anxiety, or at any time you feel you aren't managing, please seek help. Let your doctor know you are breastfeeding so they can offer treatment that is compatible with breastfeeding. There are medications that are safe for breastfeeding mums, so you don't need to wean if medication is prescribed (ask for safe meds).
If you do choose to wean, do this gradually if possible, because a sudden withdrawal of breastfeeding hormones can see you spiral into a post-weaning depression.
Pinky McKay is an internationally certified lactation consultant, best selling babycare author and creator of Boobie Bikkies, all natural and organic cookies to support a healthy breast milk supply.
Pinky is offering a FREE webinar, Breastfeeding Made Easy, on March 22. Check it out and register here.