Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to feed your children, but it can also be extremely hard. Many mums need a lot of help to get the hang of it, and those early stumbles can be physically and emotionally devastating. Even once you get the hang of it, you still have to grapple with chafing, swelling, and the challenges of reduced bodily autonomy. You’ve got a lot on your plate.
It can be difficult to balance taking care of yourself and taking care of everyone else. However, quality self-care is a must during this time. Here are some of the best ways to treat yourself with kindness while breastfeeding.
Create a Breastfeeding-Friendly Environment
The right environment for feeding is crucial, especially early on. Anything in your space that causes stress or distraction is going to make it harder for you and your little one to get the hang of the feeding process. Things are tough enough at the beginning, so you don’t need anything to add to that. Try to feed in a quiet, calming environment while you’re still learning. Remove anything that causes stress, including unnecessary clutter and electronic distractions, and do everything you can to ensure the space has a soothing, positive energy. With time and practice, you and your baby will be able to feed anywhere you’re comfortable doing so, but at the start, a calming space can give you both the comfort you need.
Seek Help If Things Aren’t Working
Many new mums beat themselves up because they’re not getting the hang of breastfeeding, but this is unnecessary. If it’s not clicking, schedule an appointment with a professional to receive lactation support. They can give you the tools you need to succeed, whether that’s positioning, correcting a latch issue, or performing weighted feeds to ensure things are progressing correctly.
A specialist will also be able to diagnose conditions that might prevent you from breastfeeding, or necessitate pumping or supplementing with formula. The news that you can’t feed your child this way can be painful, especially if it was something you held dear in your picture of parenting. However, your mental health is more important to your baby than your breastmilk, and it’s better to give them formula and thrive as a parent than it is to run yourself ragged trying to produce.
Protect Your Skin
In the early days, your odds of getting chapped nipples are ridiculously high. Your body’s not used to breastfeeding, your baby’s latch might be all wacky, and new mums are notoriously dehydrated. Mastitis, an inflammation of the breast tissue, is not uncommon and can be painful. Using ice and/or heat can help with that as well as problems with engorgement, and blocked ducts. Treat those conditions with products specifically designed for nursing mothers to get the maximum benefit of healing and comfort. Keep your skin healthy by using lanolin or, if you’re allergic, petroleum jelly on your nipples after each feeding. A thin layer of these types of moisturizers on your skin can do wonders to prevent cracked and bleeding nipples while you’re getting the hang of things.
Make Time For Yourself
Finally, one of the most important forms of self-care, from the first time you breastfeed to the final stage of weaning, is getting time to yourself. It’s easy to feel permanently attached to your child when you’re literally their source of food. However, you’re still your own person, and you deserve time to yourself.
If you’re comfortable pumping, expressing some milk is a phenomenal way to free up some time as well as allow your partner and loved ones to connect with your child through the feeding process. Ask your pediatrician or lactation consultant about the best time to introduce a bottle. If you’re not interested in expressing, you can still get some time to yourself. Have your partner, a loved one, or a babysitter watch over the little one while you go for a walk, enjoy a calming bath, or any other activity that you love, but can’t do while watching the baby.
These little acts of autonomy might seem inconsequential, but they’re a valuable tool for retaining your identity as a person. It’s easy for that identity to get muddled and lost in parenthood, and this can be a genuinely distressing experience. This, paired with the other forms of self-care, can pave the road for you to joyfully reach your breastfeeding goals.
Written by Janice Russell