August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, dedicated to advancing advocacy, protection and promotion of breastfeeding to ensure that all families have the opportunity and education to breastfeed. But the mental load (all those things to do, fleeting thoughts, worries and anxieties that cross a mother’s mind, on top of everything else there is to do) is almighty - regardless of how mother’s choose to feed their babies. So keep reading to find tips on supporting the maternal mental load, whether it’s for yourself, your partner or as a friend of.
When we think about newborns, all tiny and cute, we might forget that beyond that little bundle of joy - and joy it certainly does bring - is a huge mental load to carry, no matter how new you are to the experience. And it’s often one carried by the primary caregiver.
The primary caregiver in a baby’s life is the one who meets most of their needs, supports them, feeds, shelters, and protects the baby. It doesn’t mean that only mother’s can take this role, but often it’s usually the case and especially for breastfed babies. Daddy ain’t getting the milk ready (well, not from there anyway).
Breastfeeding mother’s are constantly in demand, whether that’s with baby for their dinner, cuddles and naps, or to feed and take care of themselves - not to mention the rest of the family's needs. This mental load can look different for anyone, but it can take a huge toll on the mental health of a mother. However, it’s usually invisible to outsiders, others in the family, friends and even other parents.
There’s a lot to think about as a parent, especially those new to the game, it can often feel completely overwhelming - especially when we throw in a lack of sleep, difficulty maintaining personal care, and other people’s opinions (which by the way, we encourage you to keep to yourself). On top of this, a breastfeeding mother’s mental load might look like; feeling tired from waking for night feeds, being the only one to feed, worrying if baby is getting enough to eat, having to pump, label and store milk, considering her diet, alcohol and caffeine consumption, leaking milk, blocked ducts and mastitis, staying hydrated and feeding themselves, having limited wardrobe options, people’s opinions about their choices, and the feeling of being constantly touched.
It’s a lot, and it can feel like a lonely journey, especially at the beginning while you’re finding your feet and settling into a new routine. Which can often make it harder to ask for help, another thing to think about! So we’re encouraging friends, family, colleagues to offer their support to a mum-friend to help lighten their mental load.
How can we support mother’s we know in finding some relief?
Help them delegate and ask for help
Asking for help is hard, even when you need it, so rather than waiting to be asked, why not offer? Offer to help delegate house chores or jobs to other family members or friends who could help with the food shop, the laundry, or walking the dog. Encourage them to ask friends and family to help make time for themselves - even if it’s only half an hour to jump in the shower and dry their hair, or a short but sweet nap, or if they’re really keen, get them to change a nappy or two. While they’re giving all their care and support away to baby, offer or help find someone (or some people) who can give the care and support to them.
Search for local classes or support groups together
Whether it’s a breastfeeding class where you can get expert advice and help in your feeding journey, meet other mothers with similar challenges, to keep the baby entertained and socialise, or to find new friends to help them muddle through. Joining a group or class can help us with specific challenges and find others with similar challenges. They can provide support and comfort, as well as entertainment and fun but they can be hard to look for or even find alone, so help your momma friends out if you can!
Encourage them to take time for themselves
This isn’t always easy in the beginning when mum’s might feel like baby has to be attached like a limpet at all times. But it’s important to try to find some time alone, to wash your face and brush your teeth, to sip a hot coffee, to read a single page of a book before falling into a light slumber or being called for a feed. Offer your time or help to find small moments alone to take a moment for mum, some deep breaths, to organise thoughts, or process some feelings.
Talk about their experience
Ask about their experience and get them chatting about how they are managing and finding their feet. Encourage them to discuss what’s going on with their partner, a therapist, or even on social media to spread awareness about their journey! It might help them to normalise the experience, inspire others to talk about and experience their journeys, vent or offload, or find relief. Talking about how you’re coping with feeding your baby is helpful to our process feelings that come up, for other’s close to us to understand your feelings and support you best, and to lighten that mental load.
Remind them to be mindful on social media
It can be brilliant for raising awareness, connecting with others, sharing experiences, even for a scroll on the commute (although not those driving of course). But it can also be filled with mixed messages, do’s and don'ts, what celebrities did, and of course those trolls. So remind them to be mindful of their use of social media, of how it’s making them feel and what content they’re looking at. If we’re comparing ourselves against others, trash talking ourselves, or just feeling blue on there, it’s time to jump off and put it away.
However a mother’s feeding experience has gone, goes or might go in the future, it’s important to remember that it’s mother’s and baby’s journey to figure out and however each of us do that, is ok. There’s no one way, best way, must-do way. It’s up to them. Be kind about this journey, it is hard work, there is a lot to think about and there’s a lot of codswallop to wade through. And that only adds to a maternal mental load.
Baby it’s cold outside: (But we’re not talking about Christmas here) Breastfeeding in public has been criticised for years, and while we’ve made huge leaps to normalise it and not discriminate, we need to continue being kind and carefree of what others are doing and where they are doing it. This Breastfeeding Awareness Month, hype up a new mum, offer your help to a parent you know, smile at a stranger feeding their baby in the park, pay it forward with a coffee for a tired-eyed parent behind you at your local coffee shop.