Self-Care for the Breastfeeding Mother

Tips for Nutrition, Weight Loss, Exercise, Breast Care, and Emotional Health

New mother breastfeeds baby in living room of home
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Breastfeeding mothers tend to forget that they need to care for themselves as well as the baby. There's so much to think about with remembering when the baby's last feeding was, making sure the baby's positioning and latch are correct, and counting dirty diapers, that you can easily leave your own well-being at the doorstep.

However, it's essential to take care of your needs as well as your child's. Here are some guidelines for self-care—including nutrition, weight loss, exercise, hygiene, and emotional health—for breastfeeding moms.

Nutrition

There are so many myths and old wives' tales that circulate about what breastfeeding mothers should not eat, but you can pretty much ignore all of them. It's OK to eat broccoli, garlic, onions, spicy food, citrus, and even chocolate as long as you don't overdo it. What's most important is getting the nutrients that your body needs while you're breastfeeding. Make sure you fuel your body.  

If your diet is lacking nutritionally, you will sacrifice the nutrients from your own body. Your body will take what it needs to make healthy breast milk for your baby first, leaving you with what is left over, which can leave you feeling depleted and exhausted.

By eating a variety of foods and making nutritious food and snack choices, you can keep your body healthy and strong while you're making breast milk. You should also be sure to eat foods you enjoy. For those foods that are less healthy, just enjoy it in moderation along with your balanced diet. 

Weight Loss

Breastfeeding may help you to lose weight, but postpartum weight loss will depend on your body and your diet. Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy weight while you're breastfeeding. 

If you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you should lose weight gradually while breastfeeding. In general, it's healthiest to lose weight slowly. The safe limit is typically considered to be no more than 1 pound a week. If you feel that you need to lose more, be sure to discuss it with your doctor and wait until your child is at least two months old.

By two months, your milk supply has time to become established, and more significant weight loss won't be such a shock to your body. 

Keep in mind that what you eat can affect your ability to lose weight. Your body requires more calories while breastfeeding, but just as when you are not breastfeeding, if you regularly consume more calories than your body needs, you will gain weight.

Focus on fueling your body with nutritious foods and keeping healthy, satisfying snacks within arm's reach of where you most often breastfeed. Adding exercise to healthy eating also can help with weight loss. Talk to your doctor about starting some light to moderate exercise.

While losing weight you gained during pregnancy is a healthy goal for many new moms, it's just as important to guard against losing too much weight too quickly. Quickly losing lots of weight can cause a decrease in your milk supply. For your health and your baby's, avoid strict calorie-reducing diets and any weight loss products, pills, and supplements.

If you do decide to begin a weight loss program, make sure you're getting enough calories each day and that your doctor is following your progress. 

All women are different. While it's normal to want to lose the weight you gained during pregnancy after you have your baby, it's important to be patient and give yourself time.

Physical Exercise

After you have your baby, it may feel like it will be years before you can hit the gym again. But exercise is important to your well-being as a breastfeeding mother. Of course, with exhaustion levels reaching a new high, running a 5K is probably out of the question. You can, however, make it a goal to take a nice, brisk walk every day.

Rather than pushing yourself to meet lofty fitness goals, focus on finding doable, sustainable exercise that you enjoy and that makes you feel good. Here are some of the guidelines to follow for exercising as a breastfeeding mom: 

  • Breastfeed your baby (or pump) before you start to exercise. Your workout will be more comfortable if you're breasts aren't too full of breast milk. 
  • Wear the right bra. You want support, but you don't want the bra to be too tight or have an underwire. Anything too restrictive that puts excessive pressure on your breast tissue can cause plugged milk ducts or mastitis.
  • Stay well hydrated, especially in hot weather. Remember to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. And, if you're sweating a great deal during your exercise routine, drink even more. 
  • Wash up after working out. Take a shower or wash your breasts after you exercise and before you breastfeed to remove the sweat from your breasts and nipples. Sweat is salty, and some babies are turned off by the taste.
  • Enjoy your workout and your "you time." Take in every moment. And while you're doing so, the mood-boosting chemical, serotonin, will be released into your body. So, even if this is the only outing you get on a particular day, you can still feel like a million bucks.

Caring for Your Breasts

There isn't much you have to do to care for your breasts when you're breastfeeding, but there are a few things you can do to try to stay comfortable and prevent breast issues. 

It's important to practice good hygiene while you're breastfeeding, which includes taking a shower or bath every day and cleaning your breasts. For years, nursing mothers were told not to wash their breasts with soap because it would dry out the nipple area. But, if you use a mild, moisturizing soap and rinse it off thoroughly, this shouldn't be an issue. 

When you're breastfeeding, natural oils secreted by the Montgomery glands—the little bumps visible on your areola—clean and moisturize the nipples. They also help prevent bacteria from breeding. You don't want to disrupt these glands from doing their work, so just be careful to wash the breasts lightly.

It's also beneficial to rub some of your expressed breast milk into your nipples and let it air dry since breast milk has anti-infective properties.

Wear a fresh, clean nursing bra every day, and change it during the day if it gets soiled or wet. And, if you wear breast pads to soak up leaking breast milk, be sure to change them often, as well.

A wet bra or damp breast pads laying on your breasts can cause skin breakdown. Plus, the warm, moist, sugary environment is the perfect place for bacteria or yeast to grow. If you develop painful breast issues such as sore nipples or plugged milk ducts, treat them right away to prevent them from getting worse or interfering with breastfeeding.  

Emotional and Mental Health

New moms can go from happy to sad and back to happy in a matter of minutes. From changing hormones to exhaustion to holding your little bundle of joy, there can be a lot of unexpected emotions. It's certainly normal to experience a range of feelings. Here are some tips to care for your emotional and mental health while you're breastfeeding.  

Build a Support System

Breastfeeding can be incredibly rewarding, but it can also be full of challenges, worry, and setbacks. Think about the people in your life you can turn to for helpful advice and support. It may be your partner, your mom, your sister, your therapist, or a good friend.

If you don't have a strong support system, consider joining a local or online breastfeeding group. You never know when a breastfeeding issue will pop up and you need a little support to get you through.

Get Help

Breastfeeding may be natural, but moms and babies often need help getting started. You both need to learn this important new skill. If you're having trouble getting your baby to latch or you have a very sleepy baby, it can be frustrating and bring up feelings of guilt or failure.

Asking for help from the beginning can help get breastfeeding off to a good start. And seeking assistance when you need it can give you confidence and put you and your baby on the path to breastfeeding success.

Rest When You Can

There's so much to do when you're a mom. Your daily tasks can be overwhelming, and it's worse when you're exhausted. It may not easy to get enough rest, but you can try. If you sleep when your baby is sleeping and take every opportunity you can to put your feet up and close your eyes, you're sure to feel better and more ready to take on your responsibilities. 

Talk About Your Feelings

You don't have to keep everything bottled up inside. It's OK to feel the way you feel, and talking about it can make you feel better. If can't talk to your partner, family, or friends or you don't feel comfortable talking to them, you can speak to a professional. Your doctor is a great resource and can connect you to the right person. 

Take Time for Yourself

Too often, moms think they have to do it all. But, you don't have to do everything for everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Taking time for yourself is OK. Have your partner, a family member, or a friend stay with the baby for a little while and go for a walk, get a manicure, have lunch with a friend, or just nap.

Taking time for yourself to do something you enjoy will allow you to return to your responsibilities feeling refreshed, and that's good for you and your baby. 

Prepare for Weaning

You may not be expecting a wave of sadness when it's time to wean your baby. But, the end of the breastfeeding relationship can be surprisingly difficult, even if you were planning for it or looking forward to it.

By recognizing and acknowledging the loss and transition, you can help prepare yourself for leaving that part of your life with your little one behind and begin looking toward the new adventures you will experience together as your child grows. 

Signs of Postpartum Depression

Breastfeeding moms may experience a wide range of normal emotions. But extreme sadness, guilt, or anxiety can be a sign of something more serious. Talk to your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms of postpartum depression:

  • Crying often
  • Excessive worry or anxiety about parenthood and your baby
  • Feeling that you want to harm yourself or your baby
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Not sleeping well

A Word From Verywell

It's easy to forget or put off caring for yourself when you're a busy and tired new mom. But it's not selfish to set aside some time each day to care for your physical and emotional health. It may actually be the best thing you can do for your family.

When you take care of your own needs by eating well, getting some rest, having some time to take a shower, and spending time with a friend, it can help you feel healthier and happier. And, when you feel good, you'll be ready and able to better care for your baby and your family.

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