self-care (or lack thereof)

May 2, 2018

I am a physical mess right now.

It isn’t all that apparent to the outside world, which is good.  But it dawned on me yesterday as I fought off waves of vertigo-induced nausea that I haven’t felt GOOD in a long, long time.  Maybe there was a short stretch of relative well-being during my 2nd trimester, but other than that I have been slogging through life in a body that is not particularly happy with how it has been cared for.
Here is a laundry list of my current neglect:
– I have barely worked out at all, running or otherwise, since going back to work.  This is so unlike me — I cannot recall a stretch like this in the past decade, with the exception of the immediate pre- and postpartum weeks.  On some days, I simply have not made this a priority; on others, I truly did not have time (unless I were to further sacrifice sleep, which . . . NO.)  This hasn’t impacted my physical size much (breastfeeding = cardio) but I feel tremendously out of shape.  I miss the feeling of well-being that comes from being in a physically active and fit body.  I miss it A LOT.
– I have not slept more than 4 hours straight (and even 4 hours is a rare unicorn) for the past 2 months.  There was a time when G had some lovely nights of going 9p-3a, but those days are looooong gone.  Because she eats a lot at night, I am typically up 2-3x.  Last night was 11:30p and 2:30a, then 6:00a.  That was a good night.
– I have not been to the dentist or eye doctor, and am months overdue for both.
– I do not floss.
– I have been eating a ton of convenience foods/takeout especially for lunch and at work — this is not because I even like these foods but is a direct result of poor planning.
– I eat most of my meals (healthy or not) in about 3 minutes, unless I’m pumping.  Now that’s a luxurious mealtime ritual.
– My mental health kind of sucks too, in that I am still beating myself up when I cannot pump enough and have a lot of anxiety (all centered around that dumb issue!) taking up mental energy that I do not have.
– Meditation and journaling have gone by the wayside — and I miss them both.
This is not to say I am an anomaly; I’m sure many mothers of infants — or older children — could generate a similar list.  But I’m just putting it out there that I’m a little tired of feeling like utter garbage.  The vestibular neuronitis (English for dizziness / imbalance) after my recent cold* kind of tipped me over the edge and for the first time on a work day, I skipped my 5 am pump session.  I actually didn’t really mean to, but just slept though the alarm and G’s sleep schedule didn’t really allow for it anyway (since she was up at 2:30 and 6, I couldn’t have pumped at 5 b/c she easily could have been up at 5:30 and even 6 doesn’t give me enough time to ‘refill’.  PS dear breastfeeding zealots that don’t think you should need any time to refill post — you clearly have not met my breasts or my babies who clearly show their displeasure if I’ve pumped too recently).  
I’m not sure I’m ready to give up this early morning pump session for good, but I do know that I need to figure out how to take better care of myself.  As much as I’m trying to be patient, the balance has tipped too far in the martyr direction and honestly I am not really enjoying life right now in its current form.  
* cold # 287423 this year, it seems.  The infection rate in this house seems to be related to the square of the number of children . . .


  • Reply Lindsey White March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    You are not going to like this comment, but with my third i eventually nursed at night followed by a bottle of formula. He slept like a champ. I would do that and see if you can get a better night’s sleep and resume workouts. Your baby is getting amazing nutrition from you even if you supplement! I really hope you can ease up on your expectations of yourself. It’s a different ball game with three kids.

  • Reply Bory March 10, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Just to chime in on the formula (or extra bottle of breast milk) at night. I have three kiddos, the youngest is 15 months and it is all fresh in my mind. Some kids are just bad sleepers regardless of how much milk/formula you give them. It”s nothing you are doing wrong! The third kid made such a different in our life, especially since the older ones were over 3 when she was born. It is just hard, my husband and I liaved in a fog (and kind of still do). Getting someone to the extra feed a couple of nights in a row may make a huge difference both in your energy and controintuitively increase your supply. Maybe hire some night help, pump before you go to bed and then on waking? Getting 6 hours of sleep can do magic!
    Don”t really have good advice, just wanted to say you are not alone!

  • Reply Colleen March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    multi-part comment b/c I’m so long winded…

    Long time reader, listener and comment-er, particularly on these pumping related posts.

    First, I want to say I feel like I’ve been EXACTLY in your shoes with each of my kids and BFing/ pumping (and just life in general). I SO APPRECIATE you sharing and you’re not being a martyr (or at least not to me). I GET IT. For those of us without those mythical boobs that just have an endless supply of milk, THIS IS SO HARD. I desperately longed to continue my BF relationship and for my pumping supply to be good enough. I HATED that the BF world / culture made it seem like it "should" all be so easy, meanwhile it was driving me absolutely batty trying to attain exclusive breastmilk, even until 6 months. You’re doing an awesome job 🙂

  • Reply Kristen March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Hello Sarah and all! So many good comments, encouragement and advice!

    I want to add that I love this blog comment community. When I click through to read and / or share I am always empowered by the support and love found here. Women helping women rock their lives. YES!

    I am a solo parent by choice – business owner and corporate consultant – I adopted (my dream!) at birth – and a night nanny is the ONLY parenting advice I EVER give. I am a lunatic without sleep. Even the anxiety over maybe potentially perhaps in some way or by some chance not getting sleep is enough to throw me for a loop. Shared for Sarah and any other parent considering it. YES. DO IT!

  • Reply Sarah March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    Hi Sarah – love the comments and hope you can find that balance soon. In a similar kind of madness (2 kids instead of 3 though), I dropped pumping first. The nighttime feeding also don’t bother me at all. I had to add in formula during the day which I was also fine with – she slept a bit more during the day because she was more full at night (is my theory) but I kept the nighttime feed (for some reason that was psychologically harder to let go of and do a top-up bottle though I get why people do it vs. her having a few bottles of formula during the day) and the wake-up feed, and any night wake-ups (but they slowed down after the formula bottles at daycare).

  • Reply Sara B. March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    That is all.

    Well, almost.
    Pumping sucks.
    There are many, many days when I think to myself that, for all the daily heroic pumping craziness we go through (and it is truely heroic some days), the bravest thing I could actually do is just stop. Before I actually have to. Let myself off the hook. Give myself some freaking grace. But I just can”t. Not yet. I can”t figure out if it”s the type-A in me or all the breast-is-best (but really not that much) cognitive dissonance, but it”s HARD.


  • Reply Tyra March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    I”m really glad you”re being so open and honest about how hard you”re finding it – even as an (essentially) stay at home mum who didn”t pump i had similar feelings in the early days. No one else can make the decision about what is best for you and your family though! I hope things start to look up for you soon 🙂

    (Oh and about the exercising, I struggled a bit more with motivation this time around too. It”s only now that I”ve fully weaned Millie that I”m really starting to feel strong again!)

  • Reply Anna March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Maybe making slow but mindful changes. Stop the 5a pump as you said above, reassess in a wk or two, see what to cut next. It would be too hard for me to make a big drastic change, even if I felt completely awful. (& frozen dinners or having G cook more food).

    Another thing is to try to remove the irrational parts of it… what would you want a dear friend or Anabel or Genevieve to be doing if she were in your situation? There is no reason to treat yourself even a drop worse than this.

  • Reply siliconvalleyrefire March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    There’s a new movie coming out May 4th called "Tully" its all about hiring a night nanny and getting help! I found the trailor mirroring my truth so if nothing watch the trailer and hope it makes you smile.

  • Reply SethWard12 March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    Everyone was warm, welcoming yet professional and informative at East bentleigh dental clinic. I am so glad I found this dental office and I highly recommend it to anyone who has a need for a dentist.

  • Reply Wilda Jones March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Nice Post

  • Reply Zoe March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    I hate pumping so much because it forces me to acknowledge that where I really want to be is at home with my baby, and that makes me really angry! Angry that I created a situation for myself where I need to pump at all. I don”t think your feelings are merely down to formula vs. breastmilk. I think they are real and valid and may not disappear even if you give up breastfeeding altogether. Being a mother to three young children creates a very full life, for you and many others. Fitting a career (especially a medical one) into that already full life is just plain hard and tiring no matter how we choose to feed those kids. I think it gets easier but never truly easy or even what we imagined for ourselves and our families.

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

      Yes Zoe – there is definitely an element of that. It”s not that I don”t want to work. I”m just not really wanting to be away from G yet. I do feel resentful especially since pumping isn”t the magic solution for me that it is for some. Thank you for putting this into words.

      • Reply Zoe March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

        You are welcome!

  • Reply Katherine March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    I think you”ve gotten a lot of perspectives re breastfeeding, so won”t add to that. Re exercise: are there any conference calls (not confidential) you could take walking? Walking meetings with coworkers? Flossing, journaling, and meditating: can you just set an alarm/timer and do as much if those three things in 10 minutes before bed?

  • Reply Katie March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    I know that others have said similar things. But I would offer that when I went back to work and couldn’t handle pumping anymore, my little guy still enjoyed a breastfeeding session when I came home from work as a way of reconnecting. He was otherwise feeding on a bottle/formula, but got a little something from that session plus special time with me. Put your oxogen mask on first and do what is best for you. She has had 4 months of exclusive breast milk. As a fellow type-A mom, I get it. But your health is vital to the health of your family and it is suffering.

  • Reply Helen March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Um. I”m just going to say I think flossing is over rated… (and hugs, that vestibular nausea thing is pretty bad. My mother had it but had physiotherapy that some how “gets the crystals” back in place and felt so much better)

  • Reply Aly March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Whiskey. A shot of whiskey will make all things better. 🙂 🙂 Just throwing in some humor…

  • Reply Jill March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    As you have said, the night feeds don’t see to be your issue, so keep those as is. Fix the issue. The issue is pumping. Quit the morning pump session. Supplement with formula during the day if needed. Don’t put some much pressure on yourself. All of this will not make a difference in a year.

  • Reply LMD March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Hi Sarah – Just a virtual hug and hang in there…. vertigo is NUTS. I had it once and truly couldn’t stand up straight or walk without falling over. I hope it has subsided.

    As you consider your options, I would like to encourage you to treat yourself and give yourself the same advice you would give a good friend. If you had a good friend in your same situation, what would you tell her? I suspect you would tell her to find ways to take the pressure off ASAP. You would tell her she is a champion of a mama, no matter how much breast milk she can produce, and her health and well-being are of paramount importance. Please be as kind and gentle with your expectations of yourself as you would to a friend. Best to you!

  • Reply Erin March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    My daughter is 10 months old and categorically REFUSED a bottle when I went back to work at 3mo PP (and the 8 weeks prior). Luckily I’ve been able to work from home but when she takes milk from a straw cup, it’s sometimes bm and sometimes formula. My son is 3.5 and he got supplemented with formula as soon as I went back to work – and I actually enjoyed pumping as a result — no pressure! I nursed him full-time when not at work until ~8 months and morning/evening until 10.5 months when he self-weaned. I am totally lucky to find nursing easy and not have any supply issues — but it’s 100% okay to want the bodily autonomy, the lack of pressure, the time in your workday/day back – whatever it is, supplement if you need to! I’m not an MD but I do have a PhD (and was 100% formula fed!!). I read a meta-analysis on breastfeeding vs. formula when I was pregnant with my first child – the "evidence" about the ‘superiority’ of breastfeeding really is mixed at best. Take the pressure off yourself and drop pumps if it will make you a happier human being!

  • Reply Rebecca March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    For me, my anxiety was compounded by lack of sleep. I didn”t mind the night feeds either because me and the baby would both fall asleep but I felt so unhealthy and honestly crazy that something had to give. I went and spent the night away (at a spa hotel- worth every penny I didn”t have)and sleeping 12 hours straight was enough to recharge. It”s been a few months and my 15 month old still doesn”t consistently sleep through the night, but that one night away did wonders for my sanity and had allowed me to feel a little more like myself again. It”s a season but it”s hard not to feel improsoned by it all so I hope you”re able to find some peace soon 💗

  • Reply Stacy Noel March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    I”m a longtime reader but never comment. Until now. :). Your post, Sarah, reminds me so much of myself when my twins were infants. I, too, struggled with breastfeeding and placed pressure on myself to keep up with a crazy pumping schedule while also working FT. My twins were born premature with NICU time, and I was anxious about giving them breast milk since “breast is best” was drilled into my head. Eventually the stress of everything lead to a PPD and anxiety diagnosis.

    All that to say, now my twins are four years old which provides the gift of hindsight. I truly regret sticking with pumping as long as I did. Pumping itself didn”t cause my PPD or anxiety, but it was certainly a contributing factor. Looking back it was something I could have controled to relieve a part of the stress. Quite frankly, I didn”t prioritize my own health or sanity during that time. I felt like not pumping was somehow failing my twin babies. The impact my PPD and anxiety had on my family and me was more significant than the health benefit of breast milk for my babies.

    I”m not trying to say you will have PPD or diagnosis you. After all, you”re a physician. ;). But I share my story as a cautionary tale from a faithful reader. I”m passionate about sharing my story so other moms don”t go thru the ordeal I did with PPD. Self care is paramount to getting back on a healthy course of action. When I read your post, I immediately wanted to give you a hug and say “I totally get it.” This time of life isn”t going to last forever, but the decisions you make today can have long lasting consequences on your own health. You deserve to feel healthy, too.

  • Reply Sarah March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Another vote for doing what feels right with the pumping… I used formula to make a "mega bottle (8 oz)" at bedtime for my twins because I could not keep up with them. I never know if this helped with sleeping longer or not at night because it took another 4 or 5 months until they were sleeping through the night consistently… but at least it gave me the peace of knowing they seemed satisfied and full at bedtime without burning through my entire freezer stash.

    My other idea (as a person who NEEDS some time running) is to try and fit in the running/exercise a few times a week… and maybe that is once in the evening with the help of a babysitter/nanny and once on twice on the weekend with spouse help. I was a dedicated daily morning runner before I had kids and once my girls came along I got much better at sneaking in a short run at other times… when pre-kids I would say oh, 20 or 30 minutes is not even worth going out.

    Now with two girls going into kindergarten, that time seems SOOOO long ago.. so if nothing else… you WILL get through it and feel like yourself again!

  • Reply Colleen March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Sorry for the book but I have so many thoughts on this topic. This comment was supposed to be first, but it doesn’t seem to have posted.

    Long time reader, listener and comment-er, particularly on these pumping related posts. First, I want to say I feel like I’ve been EXACTLY in your shoes with each of my kids and BFing/ pumping (and just life in general). I SO APPRECIATE you sharing and you’re not being a martyr (or at least not to me). I GET IT. For those of us without those mythical boobs that just have an endless supply of milk, THIS IS SO HARD. I desperately longed to continue my BF relationship and for my pumping supply to be good enough. I HATED that the BF world / culture made it seem like it "should" all be so easy, meanwhile it was driving me absolutely batty trying to attain exclusive breastmilk, even until 6 months. You’re doing an awesome job 🙂

  • Reply Rinna March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Oh, Sarah, I feel for you. I think everybody has felt this way at certain times in their life. Just know that whatever you decide to do will be the right thing because…it’s what you’ve done. (Circular logic, I know, but really, we can never know where an alternate path would take us.) You’ve already received a lot of advice about formula and dropping pumping which, like I said, is absolutely the right decision if that’s what you decide you want. But I want to be the one who says that it’s OKAY if you don’t want to take all that advice. Maybe, for you, the BFing is important enough to manage all of that stress for the short term. Only you can know that. I just feel like when things were tough for me with BFing, it didn’t actually help to have a cacophony of people telling me, it’s okay, you can quit. I KNEW that I could quit. What I really needed at that time was somebody saying, it’s okay, you can push through this and it will be worth it. So I’m going to be the one to say that for you. It’s okay, you CAN push through this, if that’s what you want. You’re not a martyr – you are a mom making a choice, and an important one.

  • Reply Colleen March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    As much as I LOVE BF’ing (and I really do), I REALLY resent the expectations that are put out there on today’s moms (particularly working moms). I found the Atlantic Article on "the case against breastfeeding" to ring SO true for me. I also really enjoyed the book Lactivism.

    I really appreciate how much you (and Laura) encourage outsourcing. Can you find a way to remove some of the emotion from BF’ing and to look at feeding like you’ve looked at other parenting decisions that you "outsource" / figured out what works best for your family? You’re not a bad mother/parent b/c you don’t cook your children dinner (or eat with them most nights, if I remember correctly)? I’m sure there’s LOTS of research that says family dinners are important, and yet you’ve let yourself (rightly so, in my opinion), figure out what works best for your entire family for this season of life. In my opinion, BF’ing should be no different (save that damn emotional component). There’s what you’d do in an ideal world, and then there’s the compromises you make to accommodate given the demands of modern life.

    All of this extremely long-winded comment to say, you’re doing an AWESOME job, but please, please think about how you can find more time for yourself. This is a season, but it doesn’t have to be this hard. Oh and I highly encourage you to read that Atlantic article.

    Big HUGS!!

    • Reply Irene March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

      Colleen, I love your comments so much. That comparison to the family dinner is so perfect. We all give up something. Time you are spending pumping takes away from time you could be doing something else. You can only steal that time from your sleep for so long without consequences. Breastfeeding is great when it”s working for everyone but there is no magic that makes it worth compromising the rest of your life. I am seriously considering not pumping at all when I go back to work- I hate it and this time it”s taking away from time I could spend with two kids. We will see…

      I am so shocked that you are only up for 10 minutes per feeding. Don”t your kids poop after at least half the feedings? Mine also need to held upright for a while after…

      • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

        She has never pooped at night- ever 🙂 And nope, doesn’t need to be upright. She actually seems to spit up more when she is upright compared to lying down.

  • Reply Colleen March 10, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Having said all that, let me tell you where I ended up in case it helps you (but with no judgement on what you decide to do, though) With my second, I quickly realized I wasn’t going to stay sane with 3 or 4x / day pumping at work (plus night pumping and trying EVERYTHING possible to increase my supply – you name it, I tried it). My job demands were too great, and I CONSTANTLY felt so fragmented, anxious, disappointed, like a failure. I actually spent a LONG time researching the scientific literature on the health benefits of BF so I could weigh that with all the cons (MY SANITY, my being a good mother to both my kids in other facets, being a good wife, being a good worker) and (after much soul searching) I came to the realization that pumping was just not worth it. That my main priority was to be a good mother (and in order to do that, I needed to stay sane) and that pumping was just the "straw that was breaking the camel’s back". There may be health benefits to BFing, but in my situation (despite my best efforts), the stress that pumping was adding to life was FAR outweighing the benefits. So I stopped pumping at work at 4 months. This was A REALLY HARD decision for me, but I did it. I continued to BF in the morning and evening until 6 months when my supply was too low for my LO. It was sad to end our BF relationship earlier than I’d wanted to, but when I look at the overall health of my family, it was definitely the right call. It was by NO MEANS an easy call, but it allowed me to return to a saner existence and to be a better mother, worker, spouse, etc.

  • Reply Gillian March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Another vote here for cutting back or (gasp!) even dropping the pumping and supplementing with the formula. A fed baby and a happy mom should be the goal. One shouldn’t be at the expense of the other.

  • Reply Ash G March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I’ve always been a firm believer that there comes a point when sleep (for everyone) has more benefits than breast milk. I think you might be at that point.

    I second Lindsey on the formula top-off. It was kind of life-changing for me as well.

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

      It’s definitely possible. I could even do a freezer top off. But interestingly it’s not the night feedings which are really bothering me. I seem to have a supernatural ability to do it in 10 min and fall asleep immediately afterwards. It’s all of the stupid pumping that is killing me!!

      • Reply Anne L March 10, 2019 at 9:00 pm

        Just echoing back to you- it’s killing you. That seems like something to drop! Sending supportive working mama vibes your way!

  • Reply Omdg March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    Sarah, you know damn well what you could do to make your life easier at this point.

    1) formula
    2) night nurse, just a few times even. Or perhaps have someone else get up with her and feed her pumped milk or formula?
    3) just start flossing again (perhaps while pumping?)
    4) make that dentist Appt and eye appt while pumping

    I know you don”t feel like you “can” do these things. I remember feeling that way myself. But sometimes it”s ok to do what is easier. You are much more as a mom than a pair of breasts.

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

      I should have included that I am actually THE LEAST bothered by the night feedings. They take like 15 min and I fall right back asleep. I am faaaaaar more bothered by the workday pumping and 5 am pumping. I think if anything needs to go it’s that!

      And yes I know I need to do the appts. Ugh I’m just dreading getting yelled at by the dentist for not flossing! Agh!

      • Reply Omdg March 10, 2019 at 9:00 pm

        Drop a pumping session then. Just do it. My one regret with Dyl was that I was so inflexible about this issue. Being able to feel like a human rather than a cow at work would be amazing. Just think! You”d be able to talk to other people at lunch again!

    • Reply ali March 10, 2019 at 7:06 pm

      Just wanted to be another voice chiming in to say STOP THE MADNESS (I say this as someone who fully engages in madness of my own). I would pretty much give up pumping period, and just let that be that. G is great and will continue to be great no matter how you feed her, but you being able to take a breath and enjoy life matters much more than how much breast milk she got at each month of development.

      I also know that you think the night wakeups aren’t the main thing, but I think those really might be just one more factor contributing to the overall mood right now. Not getting a full night of sleep just really wears on you mentally, physically, etc. Take care of yourself so that you can be at your best for everyone!

      I think sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, and i think this is one of those instances in which you’re so focused on a goal that you’re missing the point. (Again, I totally do my own version of this often, so hope I am not coming across harsh. It just makes it easy to recognize in others.) (And also–if your dentist yells over floss, you need a new dentist. If you are brushing and going on at least a somewhat regular basis, you’re doing better than 95% of the population I’d guess!!!)

  • Reply Alyce March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I’m really sorry to hear how tough it’s been lately. I know how much I struggle when my most basic health pillars (sleep, eating nutritious food, exercise) aren’t being me, and that’s before any mom guilt is added on top of all of those things. Wishing you only the best as you balance all of the competing pressures.

  • Reply Kayla March 10, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I am going to jump on the bandwagon and suggest a formula bottle, perhaps just one right before bed. From reading your last few posts, it sounds like the vast majority of your struggles stem from breastfeeding and lack of sleep (which are pretty much tied together.) From personal experience, my baby slept MUCH better when we introduced formula (which means Mommy slept much better). Granted, I dropped breastfeeding altogether fairly early on because I felt like I was going insane and not able to enjoy my newborn because I was so, so stressed. Formula was an absolute lifesaver for me.
    I know your husband’s schedule is crazy, but could he get up at least once and feed G so you could sleep a little longer? Like you said, this is a short season, but there’s no reason you can’t ask for/accept a tiny bit of help to get through it.
    I understand wanting to breast feed as long as possible, but it sounds like it is starting to really hamper your life. You’ve done AWESOME keeping it up this long, so please don’t feel like a failure or whatever if you need a little help.

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