Having a baby during a pandemic is stressful, no question about it. The lack of sleep and the physical recovery from birth are challenging on their own. Add in multiple pandemic-related stressors—from getting the postpartum care you need to managing your anxiety about the news—and it can be overwhelming.
If you're a new mother and you're feeling stressed out right now, know that you are not alone, and that your feelings are natural, understandable and real.
Wondering what impact pandemic stress may have on your milk supply or your ability to breastfeed? Here's how to reap the stress-relieving benefits of breastfeeding, even during the pandemic.
The good news about breastfeeding during a pandemic
If you do choose to breastfeed, the health benefits for you and baby are considerable, even during this stressful time.
Breastfeeding is healthy. Breastfeeding provides your baby with the best possible nutrition, and delivers antibodies to help protect them against disease. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have recommended breastfeeding during the pandemic, for mothers who choose to do so.
Breastfeeding can relieve stress. When breastfeeding, your body releases oxytocin, which helps the body relax. And studies have linked breastfeeding to a reduction in anxiety and negative mood.
Stress isn't likely to affect your milk supply over the long term. That said, it can have a temporary effect on the mechanisms that allow your body to deliver milk to your baby, and very high levels of stress can impact your baby's overall well-being.
How to manage pandemic stress while breastfeeding
Prevent pandemic stress from impacting your breastfeeding experience by taking steps to manage stress before it happens, so you and your baby can reap the health benefits of breastfeeding.
Stay up to date with your health care team.
The sheer number of breastfeeding tips and tricks and hacks floating around on the internet is enough to make anyone's head spin. Work with your OB-GYN, pediatrician and hospital staff to understand what precautions they are taking to protect you and baby. They can also help provide you with information about what precautions you need to take once you and baby are at home. This information will help you put together a plan that is doable and safe.
Build your support team.
While many well-wishers and family members will be eager to meet your little one and offer a helping hand once you bring baby home, right now it's important to set expectations and boundaries about visitors. Put together a small list of friends and family members that understand your needs and concerns. They can help by telling visitors they'll have to wait to see baby or that they'll have to follow specific guidelines. Allowing friends to handle these potentially difficult conversations will allow you to focus on breastfeeding, bonding and recovering with your little one.
It's also important to seek out and connect with a lactation professional. Many are now offering telehealth visits. Having this contact in your phone before issues arise will make it much easier to get support when and if the time comes.
Limit your media intake.
It's easy for all of us to endlessly scroll through news sites and social media—especially now. For new moms, the endless scroll can be particularly tempting when you're up at odd hours for feedings and there's no one around to talk to. However, overloading on media can cause you to tip the balance from being well informed to being overcome by what seems like a nonstop stream of bad news.
Try setting a few short, specific times during the day to check in on news and social media. This will allow you to stay connected and informed without becoming overwhelmed. Following a few 'good news' outlets can also give your social media feed a boost of positivity.
Be kind to yourself.
With all that's going on in the world today, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the constant "what-ifs," "to-dos" and decision fatigue. This can leave you feeling drained and discouraged. Be kind to yourself and remember: you just grew and delivered a brand-new human being! The most important thing you can do right now is focus on your mental health while bonding with your baby.
Self-care needs to be part of everyone's routine, and that is especially true for new moms. Giving birth and breastfeeding are significant physical and emotional accomplishments. Try to incorporate a small self care routine into every day and every week. On a daily basis you can do things like taking a short nap, watching a favorite show or meditating for a few minutes. Each week, try to set aside one day where you take a little time for yourself to go for a walk, sit in the sun or practice a hobby. Everyone is different when it comes to what they find relaxing—just don't let too many days go by without giving yourself some much-deserved attention.
Now more than ever, it's important for moms to develop routines and habits that relieve your stress—for your own well-being and for your baby's. Do your best to live in each moment as you breastfeed and bond with your child, so that you can enjoy this precious time while it lasts.