You can do hard things. You know you can. I’ve done them; you’ve done them. Breastfeeding is one of those hard things.
But those hard things you did in the past, didn’t you just grit your teeth and bare it? Push through? Keep your eyes on the finish line? You couldn’t wait until it was over and done with and then when it was done and you had succeeded, it felt amazing.
Breastfeeding is one of those hard things you can do, but there is a little problem with this type of “hard thing.” This isn’t the thing you want to hurry up and get it over with. It isn’t something you hope to forget the work involved and instead just remember the feeling of success.
Breastfeeding and new parenthood is quite possibly the hardest thing you will ever do and you will want nothing more than for time to stand still.
It is the longest shortest time of your life.
It may feel like the most important point in your life to date.
May I suggest you approach this hard thing a little differently?
The hard work of breastfeeding comes in cycles or chunks. Every two to three hours, it’s time to go to work. Around the clock.
The work cycle may last 30 minutes to three hours and include various tasks including breastfeeding, pumping, bottle feeding, changing a diaper, getting thrown up on, breastfeeding more, then walking the baby around.
The work cycle of breastfeeding is not just heavy on tasks; it is heavy on self-talk, both good and bad.
With 10 minutes to two-and-a-half hours of break time between feeding/self-talk cycles, your ability to cope is highly limited.
The breaks you take and how you take them are critical.
I drew this in my idea journal a few months ago as a way to help new moms in crisis.
I have had it pinned on my office wall for some time and I recently realized that this is what I use to help me thrive through my work cycles.
In my opinion, the key to taking the right breaks during a difficult work cycle is to listen to your body and notice when things feel hard and when they feel easy.
We will start with the easy.
When it feels easy:
Notice it. When the baby just latches on. When you notice the pain is subsiding. When you feel certain baby got enough. When you scored four hours of uninterrupted sleep.
For me, when things feel easy, I stop, I focus, I breathe in (I breathe it in!), I remember: I am enough. I take this moment as proof that I am, in fact, enough.
I let myself really feel what “doing a good job” feels like in my heart.
And then, sometimes it feels hard.
When it feels hard:
Acknowledge it as a simple fact. “This feels hard right now.” You’re losing your patience; you are feeling defeated. You are in pain. The baby is crying. “This feels hard right now.”
For me, when things feel hard, I breathe, and I HALT. (If you haven’t read this blog, you must read it when you are done here.) When I feel out of control, I ask myself, “Am I Hungry? Am I Angry? Am I Lonely? Am I Tired?”
This helps me prioritize what I need in that moment. This is incredibly helpful when I have mere moments to take a break. I ask myself, “What will help me most in this moment?” Then, I listen. Yes, I listen to the voice inside my head. (The quiet one who always answers first, then gets over powered by the obnoxious judgey bitch).
Listening to her needs, I give what I can to myself right now, in this moment, for the next five minutes. (A few deep breaths, a snack, a text conversation with a friend, a stretch, a step outside).
When you are in the really hard work cycles of breastfeeding, you can almost never actually give yourself what you need. But you can give yourself a quick fix. You need a yummy hot meal, but you will shove three cheese sticks and six crackers in your mouth and wash it down with 16 ounces of water in the meantime.
Don’t forget about that hot meal you need, though. My last step for when it feels hard is to make a plan for more self care later. In this example, that would mean telling someone who loves me I really need a hot meal and asking them to cook it for me and help me eat it while it is still hot.
In my example of a work cycle, I may find I need support by texting a friend in the moment, but I acknowledge my need for more connection and community and I plan a date to get together in person.
Having a plan for more later gives you something to look forward to and it schedules time to really take a proper break and fill your cup.
What really makes all the difference this time, though, is not only the really important breaks in the work cycles, but also how you move through the work itself.
I have a few suggestions:
Be kind to yourself and one another. Everyone is learning. You will be spending a lot of time with the voice in your head. I hope she speaks to you as nicely as you speak to your baby.
Laugh. You will make a lot of messy mistakes as new parents. Try to laugh.
Cry or shout if you need to.
Reach out for help. You do not have to endure every minute of these hard moments by yourself.