You know the irony of not needing something, yet having a plethora of it? And then scrounging around for what you do need and it’s nowhere to be found? Well, so it goes with postpartum brain cells.
THEY’RE JUST GONE. I don’t know what to tell you, except that it’s as if your child siphons all the brain cells from you while you’re pregnant, and then once they leave your womb, you never get them back.
They call it “baby brain” - especially in the newborn stage - when words come slower, thoughts escape quicker, and you generally just have to work harder to make your brain function as it used to. It makes sense when you think about it, since your postpartum body is subject to hormone surges and withdrawals, new stressors and pressures of parenthood, not to mention the sleep deprivation!
And maybe the most ironic part of this scenario is that you’ve never needed those brain cells more! There’s a certain mental load that comes along with being a parent, and that’s something all moms will carry throughout our parenthood. Newborn “baby brain” might dissipate, but the mental load of motherhood is persistent and can often feel like an imaginary burden that takes a significant emotional toll on us.
When it comes to breastfeeding moms, there is another element to this load, an extra weight we carry.
What time did I start the last feeding? How long should she be nursing for? Which side did she eat from first? Should I pump now or later? Do I have enough breastmilk in storage? Will I be able to make the time to pump when I go back to work? Is he full or just sleepy? Has he gained any ounces since our last doctor’s appointment? How will I nurse in this dress?! Is my supply decreasing? Could this be mastitis that I’m feeling? Why won’t she latch? Will he wake up to nurse tonight? When is the right time to begin weaning?
It’s a constant news ticker of worries and questions and reminders scrolling through any nursing mom’s brain. And it’s exhausting.
Know this: the mental load of breastfeeding does ease off; it will lighten and lessen and occupy less and less of your brain. You'll learn to manage it better. But in the meantime, there are things you can start implementing from the beginning to unload some of this burden:
Support, support, support.
A heavy mental load wears on you emotionally. When you wonder how you’ll ever summon the energy to keep nursing through the night, or when you feel overwhelmed by the huge responsibility of providing for your baby who refuses a bottle, you have to have emotional support. Maybe that’s your spouse, a best friend, a postpartum doula, or a lactation consultant, but regardless you need someone who’s tuned in to your struggles. Sharing about our burdens is one of the most effective methods we have for lessening our mental and emotional load.
Lists and Logs
Sometimes I find that simply writing something down helps ease the weight of it. Think of it as downloading your brain on to the page so you can move on to the next task. It not only clears your mind but keeps all the information readily accessible. Create a list or log for things like timing of feedings, general schedule, a reminder to pump at noon, etc.
If writing things down doesn’t work great for you, try an app on your phone! There are tons of different apps that allow you to log (& time) breastfeeding sessions, mark wet and dirty diapers throughout the day, and even remember which side you last nursed from! You don’t have to try and keep all the numbers and times straight in your head (thankfully, because it’s impossible) -- use the resources that are available to you.
Systems & Routines
Building systems into your daily life is an enormous help in life with kids in general, even from the beginning. It’s basically a way you can just function on auto-pilot without having to allocate any additional brain space to certain tasks that need to be done repetitively.
For example, if you pump every morning after your baby’s first nursing session, create a system around that: after dinner wash all breast pump parts and set out to dry. Before bed, hook everything up to the pump and have it ready to go at your pumping station, along with a bottle of water and a snack. Systems should be fairly simple and easy and I PROMISE will make your life easier. By automating tasks, you free up a huge amount of brain space.
Once your baby is coming out of the newborn stage, you’ll also be able to implement some routines for your baby so you both know what to expect throughout the day. These routines do not need to be strict - they are just guidelines so you can move through your day with less guesswork and mental exertion (& maybe a have a happier baby too!)
No, I’m not suggesting you take a daily nap or get in the bed by 9pm every night. Although that would be amazing! Rest is simply how you reset your mind and body, and it might look different for you than it does for me. First, decide what sounds restful for you. Maybe it’s a quiet bath after the kids are in bed. Or a ten minute window of solitude after your husband gets home from work. Or maybe it’s just a solo walk to the mailbox during your kid’s naptime. You have to intentionally build in these moments (however brief) throughout your day to give your brain a break.
Mama, if you hear nothing else from me let it be this: You have to give yourself grace. The load you carry is heavy and at times, overwhelming. Don’t be too hard on yourself. The truth is that you can have support and make lists and routines and use all the apps -- but you’ll still feel the effects of the mental load you carry if you aren't kind to yourself when you need it the most.
Remember, stress is an enemy of successful, long-term breastfeeding. A heavy mental load could compromise your ability to breastfeed as you intend, so it's important to find ways to redistribute and unload that invisible weight.
You are doing an incredible job, mama! We're so proud of you. You should be too.
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