The good mummy bar is set high. It’s all too easy to judge yourself harshly for not being a ‘yummy mummy’ with an impeccable home, contented baby, doting partner and supportive family members – just like in the glossy mags!
The thing is, taking care of a baby is a full time job in itself – well, without the lunch and tea breaks and, most of the day, without a coworker to laugh with or bitch to when the going gets tough. And, did you know that even the most easy going baby takes at least nine hours of ‘hands on’ care each day (and night)?
It’s time to cut yourself some slack and take care of yourself or all your efforts to be a ‘good mummy’ are at risk of being high-jacked by mummy burnout. This is a state of total exhaustion – physical, emotional and spiritual – brought on by unrelenting stress. When we burn out, we feel we have nothing left to give.
Dr Kathleen Kendall Tackett, author of ‘The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood’ describes burnout as a loss of enthusiasm, energy, idealism, perspective and purpose. She says that burning out is like the feeling you get when trying to run a marathon at full speed. Burnout is not a sign that you are failing. Rather, it’s generally a sign that you are caring too much – for everybody except yourself! It is also a warning sign that things need to change.
Nurturing and nourishing a baby (or two) is a huge stress on your body. It also takes up a lot of energy, both physical and mental. So, if you are feeling overwhelmed or burnt out right now, here are some tips to regain your balance:
Have a health check
You need to be in peak health to meet the needs of your little ones as well as the demands of your busy life, so take time to have a health check: thyroid disorders, low iron and vitamin D levels can all make you feel exhausted and also cause symptoms such as anxiety, depression and low immune function. If you haven’t had iron, thyroid and vitamin D levels checked since you had your baby, please see your GP and get a referral – a simple blood test will reveal if you need treatment.
Give yourself a head start in the energy stakes, and maintain your energy levels until the afternoon, by eating a nutritious breakfast; avoid empty calories – sweets and junk food will not sustain your energy and may cause mood changes as your blood sugar levels fluctuate. Opt for healthy snacks, especially during the late afternoon ‘slump’ or ‘three-thirty-it is'. Try fresh fruit or vegetables with hommous dip, avocadoes, boiled eggs, cheese and crackers or try our organic and natural Boobie Bikkies for an energy boost.
Include fish in your diet: deep-sea fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are rich in DHA, a fatty acid important in maintaining the nervous system. Studies show that a mother’s DHA levels become depleted as her body provides for the developing infant during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and low levels of DHA can lead to reduced concentrations of serotonin, which has been linked to depression. If you are vegetarian or don’t eat fish, add flaxseed oil to salads; add Chia seeds or flaxseed meal to your cereal; or take a flaxseed oil supplement. (Note: Boobie Brekkie is vegan friendly and a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids).
A simple walk in the sunshine can boost your mood and your energy. Exercise will help dissipate adrenaline (which can make you feel anxious) and boost serotonin and endorphins (happy hormones). Going for a walk with your baby will probably lull your little one into a deep sleep and if it doesn’t, you are sure to get compliments on your cutie pie that will affirm what a great job you are doing.
Delete, delegate and simplify
As you sit feeding your baby, make a list of the things you do every day (this could take a week to do), then check which things you have to do, what you like or don’t enjoy doing, what can wait, where you can take shortcuts – then delete, delegate or simplify.
Reach out and ask for help. Remember, you aren’t imposing – everyone loves to be involved with a baby. Meals can be simplified, without resorting to takeaway: Make a slow cooker your best friend; batch and freeze; eat more raw foods. Do just one bigger job a day –rather than clean the entire house, just clean or tidy one room or shelf, by the end of the week it will all get done and if it doesn’t, as long as choking hazards are picked up, no small children will suffer because they lived in an untidy house; they certainly won't remember that you took shortcuts - they will most likely enjoy eating a picnic dinner in the bath! It saves time and clean-ups – mess goes down the plughole, you are multi–tasking and everyone has fun!.
Protect your mental energy
Learn your early warning signs that you are entering your ‘overwhelm zone’ – you feel extra tired; you start to say yes when you know you should have said ‘no’; your shoulders are up and tense; you are yelling too much; you are feeling anxious. These are all signs you need to stop and take time out, whatever that is for you and however you can manage this. It might mean sitting in the sun while your toddler plays outside or having an afternoon nap with your baby.
Perhaps you could hire some help or invite a friend over just for one afternoon so you can go to bed while she cuddles the baby or plays with your toddler. Inviting a friend over can be great if your stress is affecting your mothering – it’s like having ‘supervision’ as well as support. You are less likely to have a mummy meltdown if you have company. You can take turns helping each other.
Reduce your negative self-talk, especially about how much you are achieving – or NOT!
If you feel as though you haven’t achieved anything all day/ all week/ all year – whatever, stop this negativity and try looking at your day as though you are making a movie of yourself – follow yourself through your day – and acknowledge everything you have done.
The floors may be scattered with toys, the benches might be piled with junk and you have no idea what you are making for dinner – but you have engaged with your baby, fed him, cuddled him, rocked him, smelt his delicious smell, you have sat outside with your toddler, listened to his chatter, seen the world through his eyes, survived the tantrum about the toast, listened to your mother on the phone as you wiped a toddlers bottom with your other hand… maybe you even managed to have a shower among all of this.
You haven’t achieved NOTHING! You have worked all darn day! So look at all of this as though you are watching a movie – and tell yourself – “I am freaking AMAZING!”
Ditch the guilt
Divide guilt into ‘piles’ – good guilt motivates; bad guilt takes you away from the present. And if we dwell on guilt, that adds to our stress load.Guilt can be a signal that we might need to do things differently, so instead of being overcome, try and work out what happened – why did we lose our temper, perhaps – and how could we do things differently next time?
Do something for YOU!
When you fill your own cup, your energy will be calmer and your baby will sense this. It’s important to nourish your heart, soul and mind with kindness and love: Listen to music you love; take time to read or listen to a podcast or talking book if reading isn’t practical with a wriggly baby; take a bubble bath by candle light (it’s flattering to mummy tummies); create a haven from the chaos by keeping one space tidy to provide a sanctuary when most of the place is in a muddle and take a break – either with your baby (remember breastfeeding makes a baby very portable) or leave him for a little while with a trusted carer and some expressed mama milk.
Pinky McKay is Australia's most recognised and respected Breastfeeding expert. She's an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant, mum of five and best selling baby care author. Pinky is also the creator of Boobie Foods, all natural and organic cookies (Boobie Bikkies) and delicous toasted muesli (Boobie Brekkie) to nourish you as you breastfeed your baby. Download Pinky's FREE ebook 'Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally'.