Mental Health

How I Used Breastfeeding to Practice Mindfulness

written by EMILY SHEPARD
Source: Анастасия Войтко / Pexels
Source: Анастасия Войтко / Pexels

My oldest daughter and I spent countless hours cuddling, rocking, and nursing when she was a baby. Friends and family often asked, Do you ever put her down?

When my maternity leave ended, being away from my baby girl ripped me apart, to put it mildly. The precious time I had to cuddle, rock, and nurse her took on a new level of importance. That’s when I started to approach breastfeeding differently. I didn’t make any radical changes, just a few simple ones:

  • I stopped checking my phone so often while I nursed.
  • I stopped using my time breastfeeding to accomplish other tasks.
  • I made more eye contact with my baby, stroked her cheek, and wiggled her tiny toes.
  • I took more deep, mindful breaths.

These small changes had a profound impact on my 18-month breastfeeding journey and on my relationship with my daughter. I am hopeful that our early connection will continue to enrich our lives as she grows.

 

Breastfeeding with a Toddler Around is a Little Different

Years later, my husband and I were blessed with another little girl. Separation from my baby this time, now 10 months old, is not an issue because I am fortunate enough to work from home. However, I don’t have endless time to cuddle because my attention is now divided between two kids (among other things). This often makes it challenging to peacefully breastfeed and connect with my baby.

A typical nursing session goes like this: I sit down with my baby and begin to nurse. Thirty second later my toddler shouts, “Mommy, I have to potty!” I get up to help her, still nursing, and then sit back down to finish. One minute later, “Mommy I want a snack.” Five minutes later, my toddler has found the markers and is decorating her body.

Not exactly the picture of tranquility.

So, when I do get a few minutes to quietly breastfeed, like in the evening when my husband is home, I make it count. And when life is hectic and I have one hundred things to do, I can still find a sense of peace and extend that peace to my baby while I breastfeed.

 

breastfeeding

Source: Wendy Wei via Plexel

 

How I Practice Mindfulness While Breastfeeding

I still follow the same small adjustments I made while breastfeeding my first daughter: I limit distractions, take intentional breaths, and bask in these moments with my quickly growing baby. I have also stepped up by game by repeating the mantra connection and gratitude in my head. This has become my unique way to meditate and has caused a very positive shift in our day. (I don’t know if it’s technically meditating, but I think a meditation expert would still applaud the habit.)

As I breastfeed, I deeply breathe in and silently say connection, and as I breathe out I say gratitude. (Sometimes I do this for just a few breaths, sometimes for ten minutes.) I chose these words because they center my attention on two things: my relationship with my daughters and how thankful I am for the time I have with them.

Also, an important goal of mine is to breastfeed for as long as it is mutually beneficial, so I have to be intentional about the way I approach it and grateful for the time and ability I have to do it. By repeating these words I focus positive energy towards this loving action.

 

Benefits to Being More Mindful While Breastfeeding

Research supports the many benefits I have seen since beginning my “mantra meditation” breastfeeding sessions. According to Yoga Journal, these benefits include:

  • Increased self-awareness
  • Reduced stress
  • A healthier nervous system
  • A more positive outlook
  • Increased attention span
  • Improved mood and mental state

Mantra meditation can even increase brain health, which includes decreased anxiety and fatigue and improved memory.

I choose to focus on my breathing and my mantra while I breastfeed because this is a special time for me to bond with my baby girl. Even while I am surrounded by chaos, just taking a few mindful breaths and reciting these words fills me with a sense of calm and a reminder of what matters most.

 

Even while I am surrounded by chaos, just taking a few mindful breaths and reciting these words fills me with a sense of calm and a reminder of what matters most.

 

I have seen the benefits of this practice extend to other parts of my day as well. My toddler and I write in a gratitude journal every morning while we eat breakfast together. This leads to great conversation! We also go on a walk every day (sometimes two!) and pay close attention to the changing leaves, sounds we hear in nature, and simple details that shift our mindset. Do you hear that woodpecker? Look! There’s a squirrel preparing for winter. I love going on walks with you. 

These abstract ideas of connection and gratitude become embodied in our daily habits.

 

breastfeeding

Source: RODNAE Productions via Plexel

 

How to Start Practicing Mindfulness While Breastfeeding

Here are some simple steps to start your own mindful breastfeeding sessions:

  • Choose a mantra: pick one or two words that resonate with you. Peace, Calm, Balance… whatever feels right.
  • When you begin breastfeeding, whether you’re in a comfortable spot or washing marker off your toddler’s arms, focus on your breath.
  • Notice how your body relaxes as soon as your let down is triggered; that’s oxytocin (the “love” hormone) working its magic and helping you and your baby bond. Lean into that comforting feeling.
  • Take deep breaths and repeat your mantra out loud or in your head.
  • Continue to peacefully breathe while repeating your mantra for as long as you like.

If you’re not breastfeeding, you can still do this! You can also practice these steps while breast pumping. Focus on a mantra, your breath, and finding a sense of calm anytime, anyplace. Through simple, mindful practices, such as cherishing the time I have to breastfeed my daughter, I can live a life that is dedicated to my relationship with my family and feeling thankful for all I have.

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