Breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience for mother and child. As breastfeeding moms know, it can also be physically and emotionally exhausting. Integrating self-care practices during this time can help you avoid mom burnout while breastfeeding.
I’ve breastfed four kids for a total of about four years of my life. It’s a time I look back upon fondly as I get close to weaning my youngest, but I also know the challenges a breastfeeding mom can face.
These are the things I wish I’d known starting with my first child—tips on how to take care of you while you’re nourishing your littlest one.
This post contains some affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you use them (at no cost to you). Full disclosure. Tips are based on personal experience and should not be considered medical advice. Full disclaimer.
Why breastfeeding moms need self-care
Feeding a human is a big job! Starting out, the amount of time spent breastfeeding each day can be staggering. If you’ve ever used a breastfeeding tracking app, you know it’s not unreasonable to spend several hours total each day nursing in those early days and weeks.
That’s right, you’ve had another person physically attached to you for a large chunk of your waking hours. And that’s not even counting the times you were holding or caring for your child.
Day in and day out, it’s no wonder the feeling of being overtouched is a real struggle for breastfeeding moms. You may not even realize it until you reach your breaking point. I know I’ve gotten so overtouched that I didn’t even want the dog to come near me!
On top of that, there’s a lot of pressure that comes along with being physically responsible for nourishing your precious baby. There can be so many worries:
Is my baby getting enough?
How do I increase milk supply?
Is my letdown too fast/slow?
Will they have nipple confusion?
Is something I ate giving the baby gas?
How will I fit in pumping time?
…the list goes on.
Being overtouched, overtired, and stressed is a recipe for mom burnout. All the reasons to make sure you’re taking time for self-care.
I’m going to review both physical and mental self-care practices for breastfeeding moms so you can make sure the whole you is getting some TLC.
Self-care practices for breastfeeding moms
Addressing your physical needs
First, let’s cover some basic but important physical needs for the breastfeeding mom, because even these can go by the wayside when moms are focusing on their babies’ needs.
Staying hydrated is important for your health, and breastfeeding moms typically need more liquids per day. Dehydration can lead to low energy, moodiness, constipation, difficulty concentrating, and other symptoms. The bottom line is, you’re not going to feel your best if you’re not meeting your basic needs.
Get yourself a special mom’s insulated cup to keep at your side. Have older kids? Mine love helping out by getting mom water.
Heading back to the office after maternity leave really derailed my ability to stay hydrated. I get so absorbed in my work or attending meetings that hours pass before I realize how very thirsty I am. I have to make a conscious effort to stay hydrated. Don’t let this happen to you!
If you get tired of regular water, treat yourself with some flavored tea, make your own infused water, or have another favorite beverage. My favorite is decaf peach iced tea, and I also keep a few low-sugar Gatorades on hand for when I need a boost.
2. Feed yourself
Breastfeeding women need more calories. Yet it can be hard to feed yourself when you’ve got another human latched to you so often. Make sure you’re not depriving yourself of those much-needed calories.
Many breastfeeding moms have mastered the art of one-handed eating. Have some ready-made snacks available at a minimum, and don’t be afraid to speak up and ask a helper to bring you some food or hold the baby while you eat. Take care of you—a hangry mama won’t help anyone!
3. Get some sleep
Easier said than done, right? If you’re doing all the night waking for feedings, you’re bound to be drained. Get help whenever you can, and take even small opportunities to get a bit of the rest you need. The laundry can wait.
Chronic sleep deprivation can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health. I remember when my littlest finally started sleeping for 4 to 6 hour stretches at night. I felt like a whole new person! Listen to your body and speak up for your needs.
4. Ensure good physical support
I’ve given myself a painful neck strain from breastfeeding. Make sure you have a good setup and are properly supporting you and the baby so you’re not arching awkwardly.
Please also invest in some decently fitting nursing bras. Don’t try to cram into whatever bras you already have. Your size may change multiple times during your breastfeeding journey. You want to be supported but not pinching. Don’t risk getting a clogged duct from an improperly fitting nursing bra (ouch).
Make sure you’re getting relief from sore nipples in the early weeks. I keep a tube of lanolin in every bag and in a breastfeeding basket at each of my nursing chairs. You can also put a burp cloth, Haakaa, nursing pads, snacks, and anything else that’s helpful to have at arm’s reach.
5. Seek professional help as needed
Seek help from a lactation consultant if you have pain while breastfeeding or any concerns about the baby’s latch or breastfeeding mechanics. Get these addressed early.
See these remedies for a clogged duct, and be sure to get medical help right away if you suspect mastitis.
Addressing your mental health
Now the more challenging part—taking care of your mental health as a breastfeeding mom.
1. Be kinder to yourself
The pressure of being your baby’s primary source of nutrition can be immense. You can start to internalize everything that isn’t going well as a personal shortcoming. When you love your child so much, of course you want to provide for them.
I want you to know that there is no perfect way to feed your child. You may have heard the saying “fed is best,” and it’s absolutely true.
Breastfeeding is hard. There are so many reasons things may not go as expected, and it’s perfectly fine to adjust course and do whatever is needed for the health of you and your baby.
This is coming from someone who has cried over the need to supplement and who’s felt guilty for being ready to stop breastfeeding. I get it. It’s hard not to take it personally when things don’t go the way you originally had in mind.
There are so many emotions wrapped up with breastfeeding. It can be even worse if others in your life are adding their opinions (don’t let them—it’s not their body).
As someone who’s been there, I implore you to go easier on yourself throughout your breastfeeding journey. There may be twists and turns, but your breastfeeding success is not a reflection on you as a mother.
If breastfeeding isn’t turning out the way you thought, there’s no need to forgive yourself, because you’ve done nothing wrong.
Stop comparing yourself to Sally down the street who exclusively breastfed her child until they went to Harvard and has the freezer stash the size of a dwarf planet. Everyone’s breastfeeding journey is different, and that’s OK.
If the voice in your head isn’t convinced yet, it may seem silly, but practice saying it out loud:
“I’m a good mother.”
“I’m doing my best.”
“I’m caring for my baby.”
“My baby is healthy and growing.”
2. Get some time away
The #1 drain on me as a breastfeeding mom is the feeling I mentioned earlier of being “touched out.” It took me a while to even realize this phenomenon so I was so relieved to hear that others experienced this as well.
If you’re feeling on edge and recoiling at your partner (or anyone’s) touch, you may be feeling overtouched. Regardless, a little time alone is going to do any breastfeeding mom some good.
As an introverted mom, I recognize the rejuvenating power of alone time. For breastfeeding moms who are on a clock they don’t control 24/7, constantly feeling needed, even a small break can do a world of good.
If you can get out for a short while by yourself, I think leaving the house and simply feeling like the normal you again for a bit can be so restorative. Go to a coffee shop and just sit. Or enjoy a nice little quiet drive. Whatever chill activity sounds good to you.
It may feel strange at first, but pretty soon you’ll find your head is clearer and you’re breathing a little easier.
If you can’t make it out of the house, find a spot for some solitude and hunker down for 10 to 15 minutes, letting it be known that you’re having “mommy quiet time” and are not to be bothered.
Make this a regular practice. It’s so simple yet powerful. After my daughter was born, I found myself getting resentful that my husband could still pick up and go out to do whatever he wanted at any time. This showed me how important it is for moms to retain a bit of freedom for their mental health.
3. Be in the moment with your baby
If breastfeeding combined with the stresses of motherhood is getting you down, take a moment to reset and meaningfully connect with your baby. It can give you a recharge of joy that you desperately need.
I’ve been there. The baby is wailing, and you’re thinking “again?!”
Maybe you’re in the midst of a cluster feeding session that has interrupted dinner or you’re handling your second middle-of-the-night wakeup. Maybe you were just making progress on a household task and now need to be strapped to a chair for 30 minutes. Maybe you’re just tired.
When this happens, take a deep breath. Put down your phone or pause the Netflix. Look at that adorable little face snuggled up to you. Look into their eyes and smile. Depending on your baby’s age, you may even get a smile back—I love those mid-nursing smiles.
Touch their soft baby head, their little pink feet. Hear their little gulpy sounds and relish in the comfort and nourishment you’re bringing them. Remind yourself, “yeah, I’m pretty amazing.”
Breathe in their sweet smell.
Take in this full moment with your baby. You’re giving them your all, and they have so much love for you.
Your sweet little one will not be this small forever so enjoy this moment. See if you can reframe your mindset and shed your frustration by pausing and taking in the experience. You’ll be glad you did.
Also get into the habit of having special close time with your baby when you’re not breastfeeding. I know I would get frustrated when everyone else got to hold the baby and have relaxing or fun times, and it seemed like all I ever did was feed.
News flash: it’s your baby, and you can hold them whenever you want! Moms get a free pass on the baby stealing. Fit in some non-nursing snuggle time directed by you.
4. Reduce frustrations
Is there something about breastfeeding that you just don’t like or makes it feel like a tiring chore? See if you can address it.
For me, pumping at work is just so bleh. One thing that makes a huge difference is my husband washes all my pump parts every night and repacks my pump bag so it’s ready for me the next morning. This makes my life so much easier.
Is there something like this that might help you? For example, if being unable to wear dresses really bugs you, find some breastfeeding-friendly ones.
If night feedings are turning you into a monster, do you have a partner who can cover one of the them, even if it’s just once a week to give you a rest?
Sometimes making one simple change can make a big difference in how you feel.
5. Let go of some control
Along with being kinder to yourself, try to relax a little. I know tracking apps can be useful, but after your breastfeeding is established and your baby is growing well, you don’t need to be so meticulous about tracking your feedings. In fact, it might even backfire.
Constantly watching the clock and analyzing the numbers from day to day really isn’t necessary. Your baby will let you know when they’re hungry.
See if ditching the stopwatch helps you relax. Follow you and your baby’s rhythm rather than your smartphone.
Also learn to accept help, especially from your partner. It’s important practice as a parent and should help you feel less frazzled.
6. Celebrate successes
Pause periodically to recognize how awesome you are and how hard you’ve been working! Not only did you create a human, but now you’re using your body to help your baby continue to grow.
Some moms find it helpful to set incremental goals for breastfeeding. This might be something like breastfeeding for 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and so on.
These mini goals can make a larger goal seem more achievable and give you a chance to celebrate milestones. Regardless of whether you had such a system from the beginning, I think it’s worth celebrating your successes along the way.
Recognize your efforts and treat yourself to something enjoyable or relaxing. If you’ve been breastfeeding for a few months and plan to continue, perhaps it’s a good time to invest in a couple of breastfeeding clothing items that will help you feel good and make your life more convenient.
My favorite self-care treat is a massage. I was nervous about getting one while breastfeeding (leaks?!), but my massage therapists made me feel so comfortable and were amazing.
Whatever you might enjoy, try and do something just for you to recognize your hard work.
Take care of you
I hope this list has inspired you to make self-care practices part of your regular routine as a breastfeeding mom. Taking care of yourself can make your breastfeeding and motherhood journey a more positive experience.
Don’t spend this precious early time with your little one feeling stressed to the max and on the verge of mom burnout. Do self check-ins and see how you’re feeling. Though challenging at times, breastfeeding can be rewarding and enjoyable.
And please remember that fed is best, and everyone’s breastfeeding journey is different.
Is there a self-care practice that helps you as a breastfeeding mom? If so, please share in the comments.
Wishing you well!