You've probably heard that babies are takers! As newborns they take from you SIGNIFICANTLY more than they give back. As they grow up, babies and kids start to give back, and parenting becomes more rewarding in and of itself. When your baby stops nursing to smile up at you, or crawls into your lap just to give you a hug: that's the payoff. It builds you up to want to give more back to your little one.
You can't stop your baby from being needy. Nor can you expect to be a perfect parent and have endless wells of patience. There will be times with your baby, and periodically throughout your child's life, when your cup is constantly being emptied by parenting and nurturing and you feel overwhelmed by their intense needs. The best thing you can do during those times is to make sure your cup is getting filled up in other ways so you can continue to have more to give. Here are some ways to do that.
1. Take care of yourself. I mean, this one is obvious, but you need to be reminded. As they say on the airplane, if you are traveling with a baby or a child, put your own oxygen mask on FIRST, before assisting the other person. You absolutely cannot take care of others unless you take care of yourself. So, fill your cup by eating plenty of nutritious food, staying hydrated, sleeping when the baby sleeps, getting fresh air and sunshine, etc. And prevent your cup from being emptied by unnecessary responsibilities: jettison anything that drains you but doesn't HAVE to be done (now or by you) like housework or errands or too much exercise. And this leads right into the next point...
2. GET HELP. If you can get your mom or sister or aunt or that nice lady in the grocery store or seriously anyone helpful to come and stay with you for a few weeks or longer after the baby is born, DO IT. If friends or neighbors offer to help, take them up on it. If you need to pay someone to come clean your house for you to feel sane, it's worth it. Outsource absolutely everything you can aside from caring for the baby. Let other people take care of YOU so that your energy is freed up for caring for the baby. If someone can come stay with you, let them cook and bring you food and snacks and water to your nursing station. Let them do the laundry and the dishes. And don't feel guilty about it!
3. Get what YOU need. What one thing that you're not doing or getting would make your life immeasurably better? Figure it out and make sure you do or get it. Find a way. Negotiate with the other adult caregivers in your baby's life to make it happen, whether it's more sleep or time alone, or time to work out. A little can go a long way. Even an hour at the gym, or coffee shop with your book can fill your cup enough to get through a few more days.
4. Change your Mommy Mantras. Recognize that you are creating your experience with your thoughts. At 3 am when you're awoken from a deep sleep by a jarring cry, and you find yourself pacing the dark halls of your house, humming and patting, you probably automatically start thinking, "This sucks. I hate this. I am so tired. I don't want to do this. I can't do this another night!" You might find yourself resenting your partner, who didn't even stir when the baby cried: "It's unfair that he's still sleeping and I'm going to let him have it in the morning!" You might even start preparing your speech about all the things that are overwhelming you. None of these thoughts are helpful! And you DO have the power to turn them off. If you find yourself repeating these negative things over and over in your head, stop. Find something positive to replace them. Like sometimes I like to sing You Are My Sunshine because it makes me feel more loving towards the baby - "you'll never know, dear, how much I love you!"
5. Think of your future self. This is another great way to stop yourself from repeating negative mommy mantras over and over, but it deserves its own point. Imagine yourself 5 or 10 years from now, looking back at your cherished baby's infancy. You're gonna miss this. You're going to look back and think fondly of the sweet snuggles and the way your baby felt sleeping in your arms in the small hours of the night when it's just you and her in the quiet house. Also, you most likely won't remember much of the frustrations or struggles - or at least they won't seem so significant.
6. Don't pay so much attention. If you are keeping track, you're going to get frustrated. I can all but guarantee it! For example, don't count the number of times you're nursing or for how long, especially at night! It doesn't matter. Don't watch the clock. In fact, if you have a clock near your bed or nursing station, get rid of it! When you're keeping time and counting, you'll start to get overwhelmed and think negative thoughts. So just don't pay attention. I have barely a clue how many times I'm nursing these days because I really don't pay attention and I'm definitely more relaxed than when I was looking at the clock and thinking "she JUST nursed for 45 minutes and now she wants to nurse AGAIN and it's the FIFTH time today and it's only NOON!".
7. This too shall pass. I said it in the last post, but I'm repeating it here. If you don't like something about how your baby is behaving, just wait a couple weeks and it will change! This is really true during the first year! If your baby is fussing all the time, in a couple weeks she will probably be different. Yes you will invest a LOT in the beginning, but we're talking a few years of intense parenting: such a short season of your life.
You're not going to love every minute of breastfeeding (or parenting). These are some things I use to get through those rough moments.
What do YOU do in those moments when you are feeling overwhelmed?