Caring for babies and small children can feel like having a cart full of boulders that should be pushed by a whole team of horses. But with only one sucker of a horse pulling that heavy cart (that’s YOU!), you make very little progress and become so exhausted that eventually you burn out and just can’t pull that cart another step.
The thing is, taking care of a baby is a full time job in itself – well, without the lunch and tea breaks and, most of the day, without a coworker to laugh with or bitch to when the going gets tough. And, did you know that even the most easy going baby takes at least nine hours of ‘hands on’ care each day (and night)?
It’s time to cut yourself some slack and take care of yourself or all your efforts to be a ‘good mummy’ are at risk of being high-jacked by mummy burnout. This is a state of total exhaustion – physical, emotional and spiritual – brought on by unrelenting stress. When we burn out, we feel we have nothing left to give. Dr Kathleen Kendall Tackett, author of ‘The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood’ describes burnout as a loss of enthusiasm, energy, idealism, perspective and purpose. She says that burning out is like the feeling you get when trying to run a marathon at full speed.
Burnout is not a sign that you are failing. Rather, it’s generally a sign that you are caring too much – for everybody except yourself! Most of us feel pressured to live up to impossibly high and unrealistic expectations. It’s all too easy to judge yourself harshly against the social media images of yummy mummies with perfect homes, doting partners and supportive families, so you keep trying to juggle more and more balls in the air as you meet everybody’s needs, except your own.
Most of all, burnout is a warning sign that things need to change. Growing a baby, feeding a baby, interrupted sleep and keeping up with active littlies is a huge stress on your mind, body and spirit. Although the responsibility of nurturing a little being is rewarding and joyful, it also takes up a lot of energy, both physical and mental. So, if you are feeling burnt out right now, here are some tips to regain your balance:
Give yourself a head start in the energy stakes, and maintain your energy levels until the afternoon, by eating a nutritious breakfast; avoid empty calories – sweets and junk food will not sustain your energy and may cause mood changes as your blood sugar levels fluctuate; opt for healthy snacks such as fresh fruit or vegetables, avocadoes, boiled eggs, cheese and crackers or try our organic and natural ‘health food’ Boobie Bikkies. Include fish in your diet: deep-sea fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel are rich in DHA, a fatty acid important in maintaining the nervous system. Studies show that a mother’s DHA levels become depleted as her body provides for the developing infant during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and low levels of DHA can lead to reduced concentrations of serotonin, which has been linked to depression.
Have a health check
You need to be in peak health to meet the needs of your little ones as well as the demands of your busy life, so take time to have a health check: thyroid disorders, low iron and vitamin D levels can all make you feel exhausted and these conditions can also present with symptoms of anxiety or depression, but a simple blood test will reveal if you need treatment. So, homework for you = have your iron, thyroid and Vitamin D levels checked.
Broken sleep is a reality with babies and small children but there are ways to get healthy sleep even if it isn’t in the long stretches you were used to BC (Before Child). See here for some tips to get better sleep even if you have interrupted sleep. Also consider, who can you get to help you – could a family member watch your baby while you catch up on some zzz ‘s ? how can you share the load with your partner, if you have one so you can sleep in or take a nap? If things become desperate you may like to call in professional help but there are some important questions to ask about this. Also consider whether a bit of creativity will get you small power naps or rest breaks during the day – here are some tips if you have a toddler.
Delete, delegate and simplify
Take a look at everything you do each day and make a list (this could take a week to do), then check which things you have to do, what you like or don’t enjoy doing, what can wait, where you can take shortcuts – then delete, delegate or simplify. Meals for instance can be simplified – without resorting to takeaway. Slow cookers, batch and freeze, organise a mama bake group, eat more raw foods. Do just one bigger job a day –rather than clean the entire house, just clean or tidy one room or shelf, by the end of the week it will all get done and if it doesn’t , as long as choking hazards are picked up, no small children will suffer because they lived in an untidy house; they won’t remember whether they wore clothes that were ironed or not and they won’t give a toss if they ate cheese on toast and fruit for dinner some nights or if they ate a picnic dinner in the bath – saves clean-ups – mess goes down the plughole, you are multi –tasking so it saves time and everyone has fun!.
Protect your mental energy
Learn your early warning signs that you are entering your ‘overwhelm zone’ – you feel extra tired; you start to say yes when you know you should have said ‘no’; your shoulders are up and tense; you are yelling too much; you are feeling anxious. These are all signs you need to stop and take time out, whatever that is for you and however you can manage this. It might mean sitting in the sun while your toddler plays outside or having an afternoon nap with your baby. Perhaps you could hire some help or invite a friend over just for one afternoon so you can go to bed while she cuddles the baby or plays with your toddler. Inviting a friend over can be great if your stress is affecting your mothering – it’s like having ‘supervision’ as well as support. You are less likely to have a mummy meltdown if you have company. You can take turns helping each other.
Reduce your negative self-talk, especially about how much you are achieving – or NOT!
If you feel as though you haven’t achieved anything all day/ all week/ all year – whatever, stop this negativity and try looking at your day as though you are making a movie of yourself – follow yourself through your day – and acknowledge everything you have done – so the floors may be scattered with toys, the benches might be piled with junk and you have no idea what you are making for dinner – but you have engaged with your baby, fed him, cuddled him, rocked him, smelt his delicious smell, you have sat outside with your toddler, listened to his chatter, seen the world through his eyes, survived the tantrum about the toast, listened to your mother on the phone as you wiped a toddlers bottom with your other hand… maybe you even managed to have a shower among all of this – you haven’t achieved NOTHING! You have worked all darn day! So look at all of this as though you are watching a movie – and tell yourself – “I am freaking AMAZING!”
Ditch the guilt
Divide guilt into ‘piles’ – good guilt motivates; bad guilt takes you away from the present. And if we dwell on guilt, that adds to our stress load. We tend to over compensate – often giving in when we should actually be setting boundaries or indulging our child when all we need to do is apologise , acknowledge what we have done that disappointed us and our child, and move on . Guilt can be a signal that we might need to do things differently, so instead of being overcome, try and work out what happened – why did we lose our temper, perhaps – and how could we do things differently next time?
Set yourself a goal to do one fun thing every day before 10am! If you are too stressed right now to be spontaneous, write a list and stick it to your fridge – your spontaneity will develop as you see the positive response from your little ones.
If you have a wakeful baby or toddler and this is affecting how you are able to function, you will find a wealth of gentle solutions in Pinky’s book ‘Sleeping Like a Baby (this covers birth to 3 years).