I see you, stressed parents. Your stress, your fear, your overwhelm, your feelings of not being good enough. I see it all. And I’m here to tell you that you are good enough.
Born to Be Stressed Parents
So many of us lived childhoods full of unpredictable emotions exhibited by our parents. We learned how to overreact to the smallest things. Then we learned how to blame others for it, and inflict our anger on everyone around us. Children learn by example. How could we not learn these behaviors when our parents showed these uncontrollable emotions? Previous generations, just like ours, were still learning. They didn’t understand the effect of their behavior on their children’s mental processes. Emotional intelligence was for hippies. They dismissed it as “woo”. After all that, even the most enlightened among us can still struggle to fight these unconscious patterns that were taught to us.
Do Stressed Parents Always Have Stressed Kids?
No! Just because we learned those unhealthy patterns from our own stressed parents parents doesn’t mean we have to teach them to our children. Even when we struggle, and feel like we’re failing, we can teach them how not to take on our stress. Those less-than-savory outbursts of ours can become educational moments to teach them how to handle their emotions in healthier ways than we have. By including them in our healing journey, we can help foster increased emotional intelligence and support them in learning healthier ways to process their emotions.
How Can We Teach Them Better?
This starts by learning how to recognize these moments, and acknowledging them. When we acknowledge them, we can explain to our children what was wrong about our behavior and why. Then, we can tell them what we could have done better, and what we will try to do next time instead. They will learn healthier ways to handle their emotions, and we will learn increased accountability for our own. When they have their own struggles with their emotions, they’ll start to model the same process, and begin to come up with their own solutions of how to handle their stress. Over time, they may even start to help us recognize and correct our own reactions. Healing ourselves while teaching them will help them to learn even faster, and really cement the lessons we are teaching them.
But How Can You Heal?
Healing isn’t necessarily a destination, but a journey. For many people, it may not be possible to ever consider themselves fully “healed”. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. Working with a trained therapist can help you to explore your childhood and the effects it may have on your behavior and parenting. They can help form a plan to heal any trauma and retrain your brain to create new, healthier patterns. A coach can also help you to discover ways to rewire your brain and create those healthier patterns.
The most important step, however, is examining your own behavior and recognizing its effects on others. Once you’ve done this, you can start to puzzle out which behaviors you need to eliminate from your subconscious. Understanding the reasons behind those behaviors can help to make the changes needed, and make them more likely to stick. But, even if you are unable to figure out why you react the way you do, you can still train yourself to make healthier choices and model healthier behavior for your children. If you need help learning what healthier choices are, I highly recommend consulting a therapist or coach that can help you find the approriate solutions for your unique situation.
Want More Support?
Visit nami.org to find a trained mental health professional serving your area if you’d like to speak with a therapist regarding your struggles. If you don’t feel that your situation warrants a mental health professional, you can book a discovery session with me to explore what your goals are and how we can reach them. I can help you identify what changes need to be made, as well as formulate a plan for how to make them. Click here to schedule your session now.
You’ll see a lot of different opinions about breastfeeding if you look on social media. Some people will tell you that it’s easy and everyone can do it without putting in any effort. Others will tell you breastfeeding is hard and they don’t know why anyone would even try. The reality is often somewhere in the middle, and the ease of it will vary over time. Here are a few things you can do to make it feel easier and less overwhelming during the challenging times.
Feed Early and Often
We’ve all been there. The baby is crying so hard, you can’t even get them to latch on, even though you know they’re hungry. You’ve been trying to get them to just take the nipple for nearly half an hour, but they’re just so angry, they refuse. Every time you think they’ve got it, they push away again and swing their fists like a tiny boxer. You’re at your wits end at this point, begging them to just calm down. In the end, you have to wait for them to tire themself out to the point they’re half-asleep before you can get them to nurse.
It’s okay. It happens. But it shouldn’t happen on a regular basis. This should describe a once-in-a-while event. If this is happening regularly, chances are that you’re missing your baby’s early hunger cues. Feeding your baby when they first start to show signs of hunger makes it much easier to get into a good position with a proper latch. If you wait until baby is crying before offering the breast, they’ll become so upset that they can’t control themselves, and may rage themself halfway to sleep before accepting any kind of comfort.
If this happens in between scheduled feedings, you may want to evaluate why you’re feeding on a schedule and consider feeding on demand instead. There may be some very rare instances when strict scheduled feedings may be part of a medical treatment plan, but in most cases, there’s no reason to deny feeding a baby when they’re hungry. If you’ve been instructed by a medical professional to follow a strict schedule, and baby is getting this hungry between feedings, let them know. Ask if the schedule can be adjusted to make baby (and you!) more comfortable. Get a second (and third and fourth!) opinion if necessary.
Learn to Recognize the Cues
Here are some hunger cues that you can use to recognize when your baby is getting hungry before they start crying. I’ve organized them in order from early to late.
Licking their lips and making smacking or sucking sounds
Opening and closing their mouth
Sticking their tongue out
Sucking on anything nearby
Rooting – digging their face into any nearby skin or fabric and moving it around
Turning their head and opening their mouth
Bringing their hand to their mouth
Fidgeting or squirming
Trying to get in position for nursing
Hitting you repeatedly
Making frantic, agitated movements
Crying and turning red — too late!
Create Helpful Habits
When I nursed my babies, I offered them the breast any time they fussed. Eventually, I got in the habit of offering it any time they moved while I was holding or wearing them. This became sort of an automatic reaction that I performed without even thinking about it.
It also created a funny story that my best friend and I like to retell our daughters who were born only a few months apart: I was visiting my friend for the day. She had asked me to hold her baby for a few minutes while she got dinner started. My daughter had already nursed herself to sleep and was taking a nap. Not long after my friend walked away, her baby started to wiggle and, without thinking, I started to unsnap my nursing tank. I caught myself quickly, but not before my friend saw and began laughing hysterically. Then I told her how I had almost done the same with with the new puppy we had just gotten a few weeks before. She nearly died laughing!
Beyond providing you with some much-needed laughter, my point is that, by paying attention to my baby’s cues and making a habit of feeding at the first sign of hunger, I was able to relax more. It alleviated the stress of trying to calm my baby when she had gotten too hungry to nurse, or wondering if her cries were from hunger. This made breastfeeding so much easier for me.
Make a Plan
When you’re out of the house, be sure to watch baby for these hunger cues, then decide where you’re going to nurse, and get there before the hunger gets too overwhelming for them. If you’re comfortable nursing anywhere, anytime, go ahead and offer the breast right away.
Make sure to always wear a top that provides quick and easy access. There are a plethora of cute nursing tops these days. But you don’t have to spend a fortune on special clothes to wear just for nursing. Many tank tops are stretchy enough to simply pull your breast out of the top without harming the fabric. If you prefer more coverage, you can wear another shirt over it, and just pull it above your breast while nursing. Once I got comfortable with nursing in public, I just pulled T-shirts and blouses up from the bottom. My baby blocked the view of nearly all of my exposed skin. You could also carry a small blanket with you to use to cover any areas you don’t want seen.
For long car trips, make sure to plan to stop an average of every two hours or so, according to your baby’s usual feeding times. Allow for enough time to feed and change baby at each stop. Being in a rush only creates extra unnecessary stress, which also interferes with your body’s oxytocin production, and can make feedings take longer due to delayed let-down.
Don’t Stress Over Time
You may have heard some people say things like “breastfeeding is hard because it takes too much time.” The truth is that bottle feeding takes much more time when done properly. The bottles need to be sterilized, as does the water used to prepare formula. Then it needs time to cool to body temperature. After all this has been done, you then have to hold the bottle and ensure that baby isn’t drinking too fast, and take frequent breaks for burping.
Breastfeeding doesn’t have to take all of your time. You don’t have to boil your boobs and then let them cool (I’m wincing just at the thought of that!), and babies don’t need to stop to burp as often during feedings directly from the breast. Not using bottles does mean that you are the only one that can feed baby, though. You could pump and allow someone else to bottle-feed baby if you want, but if you’d rather not, then there are ways to get things done while nursing, too.
Babywearing has become increasingly popular over the last couple of decades, and for good reason. It frees up your hands and allows you to get things done without needing someone else to care for baby. With a front-carry in a wrap, sling, or other carrier, you can nurse hands-free. This gives you the mobility and freedom to do dishes, laundry, care for your other children, or write that book you’ve been working on.
Get More Rest
Okay, so you can get the housework done, but what about sleeping? Good news! The Lullaby Trust has some excellent guidelines for how you can safely co-sleep with your baby. This can allow you to get more sleep at night. This way, you don’t have to get out of bed when you hear baby crying. Remember, crying is too late, and this can make it take longer to feed baby. You can respond to cues much sooner when baby is in bed with you. If you sleep with your breasts exposed, you might even find baby helping themself without even waking you!
With side-lying or laid-back breastfeeding, you can even get in a nap while nursing. Follow the safe co-sleeping guidelines even for naps, or anytime you feel so tired that you think you might fall asleep while nursing. Sometimes our bodies will produce hormones that make us fall asleep during nursing sessions. Normally, this is meant to help us fall asleep after feeding, but when we are already sleep-deprived, our bodies may ramp up production of it too soon. I fell asleep during every nursing session throughout the first week with my oldest. It’s important to listen to your body. If this is happening to you, go with the flow (no pun intended!) and just allow yourself to nap while nursing. It can be helpful to keep this in mind when scheduling your day whenever possible.
Seek Out Solutions
How many times have you heard of someone that simply said “breastfeeding is hard!” and then gave up sooner than they had wanted to? I’m betting a lot. Many of them probably tried to ignore issues they either didn’t realize were common but solvable, or didn’t know where to look for help. Some probably tried to ask for help once or twice but didn’t receive the help they needed. Most of them probably didn’t even know anyone who had breastfed their babies.
If you’re experiencing pain…
If you’re experiencing pain while breastfeeding, you may have thrush, clogged ducts, or mastitis, or your baby might have lip and/or tongue ties. It could also just be from bad positioning or a bad latch. A little pain is normal at first, especially if you have large breasts, as your baby’s tiny mouth is still learning how to navigate feedings. But if it goes on for more than a few days, or gets to be too much to bear, you should get advice from a qualified professional. This could be a lactation consultant, pediatric dentist, speech therapist, or ear, nose, and throat specialist. You might even want to consult all of them. A second (or third or fourth!) opinion never hurts, either. You don’t have to suffer in silence.
Listen to your intuition…
I was surrounded by birth professionals and consulted multiple specialists with my second daughter. All of them told me that her latch was fine. This was not my first baby. I knew this pain was not normal. My mothers’ intuition told me that she had ties. After doing my own research, I was convinced she had both tongue and lip ties. Thankfully, I didn’t let them talk me out of seeking help. I eventually consulted a pediatric dentist that was highly recommended in my state. He was able to diagnose and treat her ties. Imagine how much harder my journey would have been if I hadn’t persisted until I found a provider willing to listen. I may have just given up and regretted it for the rest of my life.
If baby isn’t gaining enough weight…
If your baby is not gaining weight, or isn’t gaining quickly enough, don’t immediately resort to formula. There is always a reason. That reason is only very rarely because you are medically incapable of producing enough milk. It’s almost never that your breastmilk is inadequate in comparison to formula, unless you are severely malnourished yourself. Supplementing with formula can sabotage your own milk supply, as well, leading to more difficulty. If the issue has nothing to do with feeding, formula won’t make a difference, either.
Your baby could have tongue and/or lip ties, and be unable to physically suck enough milk from your breasts without expending too much energy. In this case, even bottle feeding, done properly, could still be insufficient for baby to gain weight any faster. Remember that story about my second daughter’s ties? Unfortunately, it took until she was six weeks old before we were able to get her ties revised. During that time, I suffered through the pain of feeding her as often as possible, while also giving her pumped milk using a spoon and then a fingertip feeder, since she was unable to take in enough milk from my breast or a bottle. If I had just given up and formula fed her, it still wouldn’t have solved her issue. Then she would have had even more troubles, including later in life.
Baby also just might not be getting enough milk due to scheduled or too-short feedings. Our bodies are made to respond to our babies’ needs. When we interfere in that process, their needs may not be adequately met. Remember that nothing about babies is one-size-fits all. Breastfeeding is hard enough without trying to fit it into a neat and tidy box.
Don’t Try to Fulfill the Expectations of Others
Chances are, nearly everyone is going to have an opinion about your breastfeeding journey. You’ll hear lots of well-meaning advice, as well as not-so-well-meaning marketing from formula companies. A lot of it may discourage you and make you feel like you’re “doing it wrong”. But that isn’t necessarily true. Our society is very focused on image. If it doesn’t get likes on social media, people don’t want to talk about it. This can make you feel like you’re the only one struggling. It gives the impression that completely normal situations are rare instead of common. Trying to live up to these impossible ideals is enough to make anyone feel inadequate. So stop putting that pressure on yourself.
When you let go of the expectations of others, you’ll feel a lot less stress. You will be free to find your own way. Every breastfeeding journey is unique. Maybe your baby wants to nurse every hour for twenty minutes during the evenings when you get home from work, but refuses bottles while you’re gone. Or maybe they prefer to nurse for over half an hour every four hours around the clock. What works for one baby won’t work for all babies. You are the only one who can decide what works for you and yours. And you are the only one that should.
Accept That There Will be Times When Breastfeeding is Hard
I know I make it sound easy. It really is, a majority of the time. But even the easiest breastfeeding journey has challenges. You need to accept their existence. You’ll only frustrate yourself if you expect it to be sunshine and rainbows all the time. There will be ups and downs, just like any journey. Celebrate the good times. And hold onto them during the bad ones. Believe in yourself. Know that you will get through them. Breastfeeding is only a season of our lives. It will be over before you know it. Learning more about the history of why we think breastfeeding is so hard might help.
Build Your Support Network
You can overcome any obstacle in your path if you seek help when you need it. Don’t ever suffer in silence. And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you should. Talk about your troubles. Keeping it bottled up inside will only make it worse. Asking for help is not shameful. Everyone needs help now and then. It takes a village, after all!
The clue here is that she was working hard. She was “doing” too much. Throughout the story, she mentioned how her baby was still too high, and wouldn’t come down. She felt him hitting her pubic bone, unable to get past it. And she kept trying to force him down. She never mentioned trying to help him go back UP to readjust. The thirty minute ride to the hospital, she spent upside down with her face pushed into the gurney. All her baby needed was the space to come back up and readjust himself, which she gave him on the ride to the hospital. Because she did that, he was finally able to come out on his own, without any help, or her “doing” anything.
This is a lesson I learned with my first birth. I “did” too much. I tried too hard to “help” her come out, only causing her more distress, and making my body stop labor every time it became productive. Sometimes, we need to just let go. We need to stop “doing” and just relax. This mom became anxious and panicked when her labor stopped itself.
A Better Way
With my second birth, I stopped “doing” after I realized how silly it was to try to pressure my baby with homeopathics, essential oils, exercises, etc. This time, I didn’t want to stress myself and my baby out. I wanted to have a relaxed birth. By the end, I had practically forgotten I was pregnant.
At 42 weeks and 3 days, I had spent the day as though this were simply how my life had always been and would always be. Then, just as I was about to go to bed, labor began. I didn’t panic or worry or get anxious. Instead, I just thought “huh, I think I’m in labor… cool.” My husband prepared the birth pool while I went to the bathroom to allow my body to “clear out”. I spent a couple of hours laboring on the toilet (they call it the porcelain birthing stool for good reason!), which eased the pressure of the contractions. Then I got in the birth pool, leaned over the edge, and slept between contractions. I had my husband put on a couple of albums that facilitated my sense of inner peace and connection with myself.
I didn’t try to rush anything. Nor did I do anything to try to “speed up” the contractions. I simply relaxed, rested in between contractions, and waited for my body to do its thing.
Another Mama’s Experience
Another mama I know didn’t push at all during one of her births. She labored in a cast iron tub and just relaxed and gave herself over to the process. Her body pushed her baby out without any effort from her (this is called the fetal ejection reflex, and it’s how babies can be born even when the mama is in a coma). She knew that birth happens, and it didn’t need any help from her.
This is How Birth Should Be
It doesn’t need to be a big production. It is life at its most basic. Relaxed birth is the most connected a person can be with the universe. When you relax and let it happen, it is the most beautiful thing you’ll ever experience.
How Can You Relax in a Society Filled with Fear?
1. Turn off the TV.
The news is full of tragedy and heartbreak. So-called “reality” shows only show you what’s dramatic, what will give you an adrenaline spike through fear or anger. The same goes for social media when your feed is full of panic-ridden taglines. Studies have shown that too much screen time can increase the risk of depression. It can also cause a lack of sleep and increase of anxiety, particularly during pregnancy.
2. Get more sleep.
As shown in the study above, getting more sleep can help decrease anxiety levels. It also gives your body more energy for growing that precious life inside you. Not to mention the boost your immune system gets, which helps you to avoid getting sick, and recover faster when you do get sick.
3. Avoid scary stories.
I know I have a habit of speaking out against the “good vibes only” mentality, but during pregnancy is the one exception. Many people, myself included, find that their intuition calls them to avoid negativity during pregnancy. And it’s for very good reason! Constantly hearing stories about what could go wrong, or what has gone wrong for others, during pregnancy can increase fear and anxiety. It sows seeds of doubt in ourselves and our bodies’ abilities. Therefore, protecting your mental health is just as important as protecting your physical health, and helps you to achieve that goal as well.
4. Surround yourself with positivity.
Read positive birth stories. Listen to podcasts that share positive birth stories. Ask your friends to share their positive stories of their own births. Envision yourself having a beautiful relaxed birth. Picture how you want the environment to look and feel. Listen to music that makes you feel happy and relaxed. Draw or print out affirmations and pictures to hang up around you that make you feel confident that you will have a relaxed birth.
5. Educate yourself.
I chose the name Baby Led Enlightenment in part because enlightening (educating) ourselves on topics that arise during pregnancy and beyond is one of our duties as parents. Not only that, but knowledge is the best cure for fear. If you find yourself afraid of any specific situation, research how to handle it. For instance, once you’ve learned how to treat an illness or condition, resolve a shoulder dystocia, or stop a hemorrhage, you’ll feel a lot more confident in your ability to move past these issues with ease instead of panic. It’s a lot easier to relax when you’re confident that you can handle anything that comes your way.
What if I don’t Want a Relaxed Birth?
That’s okay, too. Some mamas prefer to have a powerful birth experience. They want to feel like they could wrestle a bear while they’re in labor. And that’s totally cool! What’s important is that you align your process with your goal. If you want a relaxed birth, you have to learn to trust the process and let go. If you would rather have a powerful birth, take charge and go for it! We are actually simultaneously at our most powerful and most vulnerable during birth. Both experiences are beautiful in their own way.
Everyone seems to be under so much more stress these days, or at least they believe they are. This has brought the concept of self care out into the spotlight and made it a major buzzword. There are entire communities built around it. It is a booming market for many retailers, with whole stores built upon the idea of self care. There are many voices extolling the virtues of selfcare, and a quick scroll through any social media can show you many examples of people doing various things in the name of self care. But what is it, really? Read on to learn more about it!
Why is it Important?
Self care is the concept of taking care of yourself, in order to have the strength, energy, and motivation to take care of others. Any flight attendant could tell you that it’s important to take care of yourself first before taking care of those that depend on you. If you burn out, how will you be able to take care of anyone else? As a Mother, it’s easy to overlook your own needs while attending to those of your family, but when you have tiny lives depending on you, you have to be sure you keep enough fuel in your tank to keep going.
What is it NOT?
It is not finding excuses to avoid responsibility. It is not drinking a bottle of wine for breakfast because you’re overwhelmed by constantly being needed in today’s shut-in lifestyle world. It is not sleeping halfway through the day because you stayed up all night playing video games or binge-watching a new show. It is not spending everything in your savings account on bath and beauty products. These things are called excuses, rationalizations, laziness, and in some cases even addiction. Indulging yourself a little once in a while is fine. Finding a “reason” to do it every day is not. Engaging in unhealthy, unwise, and at times unsafe behavior is NOT taking care of yourself, and it does NOT fill up your tank.
How Can You Practice REAL Self Care?
Keep yourself healthy — inside and out. Eat well. Participate in healthy activities that keep your brain and body moving. Set up a routine that fits your needs and schedule. Take regular, short breaks from anything you do that takes a long time. Have someone to talk to when you need to vent. Don’t hold it all in.
Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself for mistakes while also learning from them and using them to make better plans in the future. Don’t wallow in sadness or guilt for things that haven’t gone the way you had hoped. If you snap at your kids because you’re under so much pressure that the fifteenth “Mommy” you’ve heard in two minutes pushes you over the edge, remember that you’re only Human.
Hold yourself accountable. If you make a commitment, don’t allow yourself to make excuses for skipping out on it. Make plans with friends, family, and/or coworkers and keep them. Set goals for yourself and keep yourself on the path to achieving them.
Set healthy boundaries. If there is someone in your life that is asking too much of you, it’s okay to tell them no. That includes your Partner and your Children. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so make sure not to pour all of yours out into someone else’s.
Ask for help. If something is too much for you, or you’ve otherwise found yourself with a heavier metaphorical load than you can safely carry on your own, stop. Set it all down. Take a moment and think about the many things you are carrying. Do YOU need to be the one carrying all of them? Is there something that you can relinquish a little bit of control over in order to allow someone else to help you with it? Find ways that you can stop doing everything yourself and get help from others.
Seek professional advice. If you feel that you are struggling and nothing you’ve tried seems to be helping, don’t hesitate to hire a professional to help you. This could be a life coach, therapist, fitness guru, doctor, yoga instructor, naturopath, or even just a professional cuddler (yes, it’s a thing). You may even be lucky enough to know someone who could be your mentor without requiring payment. My first mentor was my school librarian in elementary school, whom I lived next door to for a time and spent many afternoons with. My second one was the leader of my local birth network; she took me under her wing and shared all kinds of life wisdom with me until she, sadly, moved across the country and we stopped connecting as often. My third, I hired; she runs a business empire based upon helping people get motivated to get doing. All of them have had a profound impact on my life and helped to shape who I am today as a person. I would not be where I am today without any of them. There is no shame in admitting you don’t know how to help yourself and asking someone else to guide you to find your own answers.
Where Can You Get More Inspiration on Ways to Practice Self Care?
You can search #selfcare on your favorite social media platform or just search the internet for self care ideas. Lately, I’ve been enjoying posts from:
For free resources when you need someone to talk to, you can dial 211 for the United Way (within the US), which can connect you with local free or low-cost mental health resources or even just for someone to listen to you.
If you or someone you know show signs of suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) from within the US, or visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Even if you don’t feel that you are at immediate risk of suicide, they can also help connect you to local free or low-cost mental health resources.
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