You would think that having several family and friends geographically close to you would mean that you have a rockin' support system and the world is your oyster, right?! A network of family and friends who you can lean on for practical and emotional needs - you are all set, mama. At least, it's easy to assume you are.
But I know for so many moms breastfeeding older babies & toddlers, this ISN'T the case. Looking a little closer, many extended breastfeeding moms do not feel supported by their support systems.
When you are the first to have breastfed longer than most people you know, it's likely that, at best, your family and friends don't understand WHY you are struggling. (Clingy toddlers and wakeful nights don't resonate.) …and at worst, they blame breastfeeding for all of your struggles and leave you feeling like you have brought them upon yourself (or are fundamentally screwing up your kiddo.)
…that is, of course, if you are fortunate enough to have that network in your life, which many mommas do not.
So what's a momma to do?!
I'm about to break down a super simple solution to start reducing your stress and take care of yourself today (like right now), even if you feel like you have tried "all the things" and have a not-so-supportive support system.
One of the trickiest parts of managing your stress is realizing you are stressed in the first place. It can feel like living on the brink of burnout is just the way it is as a mom to littles.
But often, the realization that you are as stressed out as you are is something you have been avoiding because realizing it feels like it would tip you over into a vortex of despair and hopelessness that you would rather not think about. So you focus on the next thing that has to be done (snack time, nap, bath, etc...), fill your Pinterest board with sensory activities and meal plans, and hope that pushing through will get you through. Here's the trouble, though, sweet mama. The pushing through is the problem. You don't have to start scheduling bubble baths and yoga (although there is nothing wrong with that!). Surprisingly you don't have to add anything else to your day/week at all. The key to managing your stress is how you arrange what you do in your day/week.
Creating Intentional Rhythm
The secret is to create a rhythm for your days and weeks. I first learned about this when studying Waldorf education, but the approach applies to humans everywhere - particularly moms of little kids. The basic concept is that every activity you engage in during your day is either an "in" breath or an "out" breath. "In-breaths" are tasks and activities that refuel you, and "out-breaths" are ones that expend energy. Both are necessary and beautiful in their own way, but when you don't have them arranged properly, you burn out. So often, I see mamas "breathing out" aaaallll day long and trying to "fill up their lungs" again by bingeing Netflix or scrolling Tik Tok after bedtime.
As moms, it's easy to think you have to "earn" in-breath activities, like reading, eating food, taking a leisurely stroll, or catching up on the latest Netflix romantic reality show (Love is Blind, anyone?). "Just throw this load of laundry in, pick up the toys, chop the veg for dinner, and then I can drink my coffee" - but what if drinking your coffee was the "in breath" you needed to "breathe out" those other tasks? Take a piece a piece of paper right now, or open up a "notes" app on your phone, and list out the major activities and tasks you do when you get home from work (or another distinguishable "chunk" of time in your day). Jot down an "i" beside the ones that are in-breaths and an "o" beside the ones that are "out-breaths." Is there a healthy "i-o-i-o" pattern, or are you pushing through a HUGE out breath and then gasping for air at the end of the day?
You can look at your entire day and the whole week and do the same. If you don't see a sustainable "breathing" pattern, don't despair, and definitely DON'T feel like you have to do MORE to fix it. The key is to find moments between the "o's" where you can breathe in for a moment. You aren't being lazy or a bad mom. You are supporting yourself in small ways that add up to huge ones.
Decide to stop and look out the window for a moment and enjoy the trees before you begin the dishes. Take 20 minutes to watch some Netflix before you start dinner. It seems counter-instinctual in the "go, go" culture we are in, but you will find that filling your lungs before you exert your energy makes that exertion so much more enjoyable!
That is how you care for yourself. That is how you fill your cup!
Want to learn how to say "no" to your kiddo during those activities while still meeting their needs for love & connection?
Make sure to grab the "Making Changes" Toddler Communication Guide & Cheat Sheet so that you can say "no" to the feed while still saying "yes" to the need.