How to take care of your mental well-being while breastfeeding

We often talk about the physical side of breastfeeding: the pain caused by the wrong latch, the different positions, the hours stuck on the couch, the exhaustion… But for many women who choose to breastfeed, the mental toll can feel like something you’re totally unprepared.

“Many new parents start breastfeeding completely exhausted, physically and emotionally, after a long labor and delivery,” says Alison Lovett, founder of breastfeeding support service, The Latch (thelatch.co.uk). “My clients often tell me that their prenatal classes did not adequately warn them about the marathon that breastfeeding can be.”

the mental toll

It certainly is a marathon: Lovett estimates that newborns feed between eight and 24 times a day (depending on the size of the baby and the storage capacity of the mother’s breasts), for 10 to 60 minutes at a time. “Babies may also need extra drinks and periods of comfort at the breast, especially when it’s hot or they’re not feeling well,” she says.

Group feeding (many short feedings for a few hours or sometimes constantly) is common at any time during the first three or four months. It can all be really overwhelming, especially if you don’t expect it to be that intense. Also, there is no telling exactly when it will become less frequent or take less time, and psychologically this can be difficult to manage.

“Many women feel overwhelmed by the demands of their baby, especially if they are also short on sleep,” suggests BACP Registered Counselor Cate Campbell. “[Feeling] they are being taken; that his body is no longer his. They may feel guilty about the resentment they are experiencing, which does not help them to relax and enjoy the experience, nor does it allow them to realize that their feelings are natural.

Lovett says that new moms need real “emotional and physical resilience” during the first six weeks after birth (the generally accepted time for breastfeeding to become established). “It can come as a big surprise and is certainly one of the main reasons new moms don’t get to breastfeed for as long as they hoped and planned: they just don’t have the energy and motivation to keep going. ”

So if you want to breastfeed, how do you make sure you have enough emotional stamina?

preparing

Preparing during pregnancy, particularly in first pregnancies, can often be spent primarily thinking about childbirth, and understandably, it can be daunting, but thinking about how you’re going to feed and learning what to do can take a bit of a second flat. .

“New moms are encouraged to spend time during their pregnancy identifying sources of help and support, which they may need if they experience breastfeeding difficulties later on,” says Lovett.

Besides reading and watching tutorials, your best source of knowledge may be friends who have recently breastfed. While everyone’s experience is different, it might help you get a realistic picture of what lies ahead and how you might best deal with it.

Avoiding difficulties can help avoid some of the “mental stress and burnout” that is so often experienced, Lovett suggests.


systems support

A support system will be of great help. Says Lovett, “The support network is an important factor in successful breastfeeding, and I think this is something that is sorely lacking in the Western world, where there is a lot of socializing through social media and sharing is the practice. impression that ‘everything in the garden is lovely’, whereas in reality, a new mum may be struggling, feeling very isolated and in need of support.

It is notable, she says, that in cultures where breastfeeding rates are high, “it is often customary for new mothers to be supported by other friends and relatives, who mentor the new mother to pass on their skills and experiences during breastfeeding.” first few weeks after delivery. .

“Couples must also understand the important role they play in providing encouragement and practical help, making sure the new mother eats and drinks well, is able to sleep when diets allow, has the opportunity to go for a walk or swim. ”

try not to be hard on yourself

“Trust yourself and your body,” emphasizes Campbell, and remember to be kind to yourself, regardless of how things go.

“Even before you have the baby, it can be helpful to make a short video or write a note to remind yourself that everyone is different and that it’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions about breastfeeding. Talk about how you’re feeling with someone who seems to understand, whether it’s a friend, partner, relative, or health care professional.”

You may feel guilty if you can’t breastfeed as often or for as long as recommended, but Lovett says, “An important message is that any breastfeeding you’ve been able to provide is better than none.”

professional resources

Several services (such as The Latch) offer one-on-one video support for the first few weeks, there are local council breastfeeding support groups, and organizations such as NCT (nct.org.uk) and La Leche League (laleche.org.uk). ) have help lines.

Lovett recommends writing down everything you learn and saving it for later: “In a crisis, because when you’re completely exhausted from a crying baby, your hormones are out of whack, and you’re overwhelmed, it’s surprisingly hard to concentrate.” to find a source of help.

Stop

Many women find the decision to stop breastfeeding, whatever the age of their baby, a very emotional time, often fraught with complex and sometimes conflicting emotions.

“This is made worse because our bodies produce less of the hormone oxytocin, a hormone that makes us feel happy and good,” explains GP and mental health coach Dr. Hana Patel (drhanapatel.com).

Oxytocin “decreases with weaning, which means that women can feel a sense of loss and sadness. The symptoms should go away within a few weeks, but if you are still feeling emotionally low, speak to a GP or GP.”

Adds Campbell: “Hopefully, mother and baby will stop breastfeeding when the time is right for them, and not because someone else tells them it is time. Even so, it can be difficult to contemplate the last feeding. It may be helpful to gradually introduce an alternative behavior to replace that comforting/emotional element of breastfeeding: [such as] listening to a story at night with a hug.

“Similarly, parents shouldn’t feel bad if they can’t wait to stop. We are all different.

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