How to Care for Yourself to Make Quality Breastmilk
Last week, I had a mom (Let’s call her Sarah, for privacy’s sake) in to see me with a beautiful baby girl, only 2 months old. The baby is my patient (let’s call her Emily), and Emily has been seeing me because she is not sleeping well and is spitting up all over the place. After a few adjustments, Emily’s overall condition has improved and I asked Sarah if there was anything else going on with this sweetheart of a baby.
“Well, yes,” she replied. “My medical doctor is concerned with my milk quality.”
We spent the next few minutes going over how to make quality breastmilk, and Sarah was amazed that she has never heard about what I was sharing. So, I thought that this would be a great discussion for this blog post. Quality breastmilk is very important, and it can determine how long you breastfeed your baby. If you know the basics on how to make a better quality breastmilk, you increase your likelihood of exclusively breastfeeding your baby.
Let’s take a look at Sarah’s life with her baby:
- Emily is baby number three – she has two brothers, one is 2 and the other is 4. Sarah is quite frazzled from looking after two very active small boys along with recovering from birth and caring for a newborn.
- Sarah is not getting enough rest. Not nearly enough. Everyone needs her and she is doing her best to be there for her partner and all of her children.
- Sarah is also not eating enough. She doesn’t have time. She doesn’t make time.
The trick to making quality breastmilk is to help your nervous system work for you
You actually have 2 nervous systems in your body. One keeps you safe from danger, one helps you rest and rejuvenate your body.
If, for example, you are hiking in the mountains and you happen to meet a bear, your body instantly creates a fight or flight or freeze response by:
- Releasing adrenaline from the adrenal glands
- Shunting blood to your extremities so that you can run faster and fight harder
- Initiates shallow breathing
- Keeps you alert
This part of your nervous system (called the sympathetic nervous system) keeps you safe from danger; however, it is only supposed to work for short periods of time. The difficulty for all of us is that all stressors in our lives are the equivalent of a bear in the woods: deadlines, traffic, life stress, financial stress, relationship stress, you get the idea.
In the case of Sarah, a third time breastfeeding mom, her life stress decreases her ability to breastfeed her baby. Her blood flow remains in her extremities and she doesn’t digest her food well. She doesn’t rest well.
When you are well rested and experience low stress, you feel safe. The rest and digest part of your nervous system (the parasympathetic nervous system) takes over.
The rest and digest nervous system helps your bodies to relax, rejuvenate and digest your food by:
- Bringing the blood flow from your extremities to your abdomen. The result is extra blood flow to your intestines so that you can absorb nutrients from your food more efficiently
- Allows deeper breathing, which promotes a better feeling of relaxation
- Helps you become more drowsy and able to sleep
So back to the breastmilk quality issue at hand. If you are a breastfeeding mom, here are a few ideas for you to reduce stress in your life:
Rest as much as possible
If breastmilk quality is an issue for you, down times are for resting, period. Resting is actually doing something, and many women feel guilty for taking care of themselves.
I don’t know why women feel like they have to have perfect homes and perfect bodies just after having a baby. They scurry around and expend all of their energy cleaning their floors and going to the gym way too early to get their perfect bodies back. They stretch themselves farther than they ever should to make themselves and their surroundings as perfect as they can get them right after birth, many times at the expense of breastfeeding their babies.
Sometimes, especially in the first few months of learning to care for your newborn, feeding your baby and caring for yourself is enough. If you take the time to build up your energy reserves, you will have a better chance of exclusively breastfeeding your baby. The housework can wait, I promise you.
Learn to breastfeed lying down
If you breastfeed lying down, then you can rest at the same time as you feed your baby. If you have toddlers and/or younger children, when your partner is home or when you have company, have them supervise your older children so that you can get extra rest in your day.
Leave food all around your house
Place snacking food in easy to grab places to help you get extra nutrition if you aren’t taking proper time to eat. Store protein bars, washed fruit and bottles of water close to where you breastfeed so that you can eat when your baby does. Grab a handful of nuts on the go. Boil eggs and leave them in your fridge for an instant protein snack. Cut up a plate of veggies and dip that you can pull out of the fridge for an instant food break.
Make your supper in the morning when you have more energy
Making supper with a fussy baby is incredibly stressful. If you do meal prep during mornings, when everyone is happy, you’ll conserve energy and decrease your stress levels when you are more vulnerable to losing it. You will also eat more healthy meals, which gives you better nutrition. A stressed out mom in a time crunch usually does something quick, but not that healthy. If you take time in the morning, you’ll have a better quality supper, which translates to better quality breastmilk.
Take your prenatal vitamins for as long as you breastfeed
Your baby is taking nutrients from your body that make up your breastmilk. By continuing to take your prenatal vitamins, you care for your own body as well as your baby’s.
Pay someone to clean your house for you
This is a suggestion that only works if you have some extra cash lying around. I get that babies are expensive. If you can manage it financially, give the heavy lifting to someone else while you care for your baby.
Avoid negative people in your life as much as possible
We all have stressful family members and friends in our lives. Some we love, some we tolerate. When you are vulnerable in your life and your energy stores are out of balance, you may want to limit your time with the stress inducing people in your life. Just saying….
Choose an activity just for you and do it once a week
We all have something that we love to do: baths, reading, crafts, coffee with friends, etc. If you can, deliberately do something that you love once your baby is in bed for the night. Many times you’ll be too exhausted to want to do anything except watch TV and zone out. I get it. Been there, done that. What I found, though, is that if I could take just a bit of time for me at the end of the day, I coped better during the week.
My choice was a hot bath, straight to bed and reading for at least 30 minutes before lights out. It kept me going. It kept me sane.
As a new breastfeeding mom, just know that breastmilk quality won’t be an issue for your entire first year of motherhood. During the first few months, new babies take a lot of energy, and after birth, new moms don’t have a lot of energy to spare. Take time to care for yourself, and your breastmilk will flow easier. As you become more experienced at being a mom, and your baby learns how to feed and poop, breastfeeding will become much easier for you both.