Did you know that oxytocin plays a role in motherhood, not just in birth? And that if you increase your oxytocin, you will feel better, happier, and more loved? We all know that if we take care of ourselves, we have more to give our babies and partners.
Specifically, if you raise your oxytocin, you will be more relaxed, contemplative, and companionable; you will be more tolerant of monotony and boredom (which can come in handy as you experience long days of doing the same thing over and over with your new baby!); your digestion and appetite will be better; you will have lower blood pressure; wounds will heal quickly; it helps with letdown if you are breastfeeding; and best of all…it is contagious! So if you have high oxytocin, it will flow over to your partner, children, other family.
Sometimes a steaming cup of tea is all you need to boost your oxytocin.
Here are some examples of what can raise and lower your oxytocin:
|Things that raise oxytocin
||Things that lower oxytocin
Eating comfort food
Meditation, Yoga, Exercise
Touch, including skin-to-skin
Anything you love!
A crying baby
Books and experts
Social isolation or too many visitors (you need the right kind of visitors! This video talks about that.)
With new moms, it’s important to try and avoid anything that can lower oxytocin because once a mom becomes stressed, it’s a lot harder to care for a newborn, which while a lovely job, can be a demanding and tiring one. (Just as an example: if you’re breastfeeding and stressed, it’s that much harder to get the baby to latch on. Then the baby is crying. Then you are crying. It’s a vicious cycle. In this case, you need to stop and breathe, think of something that brings you joy, and try again.)
This is where her village of friends, family, postpartum doula comes in. It’s time to call on all those people who said, “Let me know how I can help when the baby comes!” A mom experiencing stress or worry over any of the above oxytocin killers might need someone to hold the crying baby to give her a break, or someone to do the laundry or cook a meal. She needs to be given the confidence to know that the answers to her baby lie within her, that she is the expert, not the author who has never met her baby.
This mom also needs help boosting her oxytocin! And there is a simple way to do that: by making and following your own self-care plan. It’s actually pretty simple:
- make a list of all the things that bring you joy
- pick 2 or 3 and determine how you will do them and when
- write down your intentions and put the reminder somewhere you will see it regularly
- try these for 6 weeks and see how you feel!
Here are a few examples:
- When my partner is home from work, I’m going to garden outside for an hour by myself twice a week.
- After my baby goes to bed, I’m going to read a chapter in my book before I go to bed each night.
- Every day I’m going to take the baby and I for a walk, even if it’s just down the street.
- My baby and I will bathe together, since I don’t have much time to myself, and we will do it when baby is happiest, so mid-morning.
Not everyone has a village or support: if you are a single parent or solo parenting with a spouse who has to work away a lot, there are still ways to take care of yourself. This post explains one such example.
The video below will walk you through how to create your own self-care plan and give you more examples of oxytocin boosters!
I would love to help you boost your oxytocin or hear what are your favourite oxytocin boosters! Shoot me an email below and I will hook you up with your own self-care plan template and follow up with you in 6 weeks so you don’t have to add that to your to-do list (thus, lowering your oxytocin!).
[contact-form to=”firstname.lastname@example.org”][contact-field label=”Name” type=”name” required=”1″ /][contact-field label=”Email” type=”email” required=”1″ /][contact-field label=”Yes, I’d like the oxytocin boosting self-care plan!” type=”textarea” required=”1″ /][/contact-form]
While Andrea Ulmer, RN, IBCLC, didn’t always plan or dream of going into nursing, she found her calling once she made the decision to enter the college. She works in postpartum at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon and the passion and love she puts into her work deserve to be highlighted. In addition to having a huge heart and a desire to help women as much as she can, she recently added to her skillset and became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Here is her story.
Q: Did you always want to work in postpartum? How did you come to work in that area?
You could say being a nursing student taught me a lot about what I did not want to do with this career. What areas I never saw myself working in. I really had no idea what areas did or did not interest me when I first started the program. I was not exposed to postpartum till 3rd year and I was nervous in the beginning. I specifically remember being absolutely terrified to bathe a newborn!
It was in 4th year that I fell in love. There is no question in my mind the RN I was placed with as my preceptor had a direct impact on my career; she was the nurse I wanted to be. My first shift with her I was extremely nervous. She appeared as though having me as her sidekick was likely as fun as having rocks in your shoes; annoying! But we grew to work well together and I am forever grateful for everything that woman taught me. I was fortunate enough to work alongside her as a colleague for several years until she retired, and it was an absolute honour. It is safe to say she had a major impact on my choice to stay on postpartum.
I also remember vividly having an interview with the manager at the time when I was considering working there as a Grad Nurse. Coming out of nursing, many expect new grads to take jobs on medical or surgical floors to gain experience and maintain skills. Now I knew I did not want to do that, but the pressure and comments made had me second guess my path. When I mentioned this in my interview, this manager simply asked me “is that the nurse you want to be? Do you want to be the nurse with those skills?” And I answered with confidence” no”. And her reply was then “why would you choose an area you do not enjoy to keep skills you do not want?” She was the first person that gave me the feeling that it was ok to choose postpartum as a new grad. It felt like permission to choose a path less traveled. Without her I would not be where I am today, so I owe a lot to her as well. Plus she gave me a job so she’s high on my list of wonderful women!
Q: What do you love most about working in postpartum?
Oh where to start?! I get the pleasure and sometimes challenge of working with people from all walks of life. I have the privilege of being a part of some of the most important moments in families lives. I have witnessed unimaginable joy, and also heartbreaking and devastating sorrow. While each shift has similar routines and expectations, there is not one day the same as the next.
Helping families get to know their newborns is truly a gift. I cannot describe what it feels like to witness the joy in a mom’s face when her baby latches well for the first time. Or when a dad tucks his baby in skin to skin and he/she stops crying. I have laughed with families, I have cried with families, and I have been honoured to participate in many monumental memories with each of the families I have encountered.
I am also exposed to so many different cultural and personal beliefs, I am learning something new every day.
Q: What do you find most challenging about working on postpartum?
The general complaint that I think most nurses across the board would say is staffing. I am forever saying that we could be providing so much more for our families with the proper resources and time. When we are short staffed, or left to run at a busy pace based on our current models, the care we provide and the families’ experience suffers. And I never feel ok with that. Nothing feels worse than walking out at the end of a shift knowing there was so much more that needed to be done in that 12 hours for those families. It’s hard knowing what kind of nurse you have the ability to be, but working in such limiting environments and not having the opportunity to give your full potential.
Another challenge is differing opinions, practices, and approaches amongst coworkers. Again, I think this is found in any area of work. There will always be people doing one thing two different ways. Postpartum is an area with great leeway in terms of practice. I can go to work and give 95% of my efforts, and have the following nurse come on providing very little but essentially getting the same things accomplished. Only the experience for the family can be drastically changed based on who they interact with. It’s proven to be extremely hard to uphold standards in terms of providing the absolute best for the patients. I would say that is my greatest battle there. But I just keep showing up and try to give my best effort every time. It’s all I can do.
Q: Has becoming a mom impacted how you view your work on postpartum? How?
Absolutely yes. Before having a child I could only imagine what it felt like, could only assume what the sleeplessness and sore nipples and torn vagina was really all about. And then I experienced it. All of it!
My personal breastfeeding journey was not a pretty one. I went into it with the idea of “if it works, great, and if not, I am not going to wear myself down working for it”. I had witnessed so many women put so much pressure on themselves, and I swore that would not be me. And then, it was me. It started off alright, though there was some discomfort. Now being a postpartum nurse who happens to be extremely stubborn and struggles greatly with asking for help, I battled through the beginning and probably could have benefited from some advice. But by about the 4th month, my supply started to dwindle and my son’s weight gain was slowing. And I tried really hard to keep it going, taking domperidone and pumping every chance I got. But it was not enough, and on Dec 28th, 2010 I was standing in line at Walmart buying formula and crying. The girl behind me asked how old my baby was and when I said almost 5 months, she made a comment about why I was not breastfeeding. So here I was, trying to explain to a complete stranger that I had trouble with supply, and her response was “I had so much milk I could have fed other kids as well as my own”..oh the defeat, and the utter disappointment I felt was enough to send me into a spiral of sadness. Clearly it is a moment that has stuck with me, I remember the damn date!
So coming back to work, I vowed that if I had a mom willing to break her back to try and breastfeed, I would break my back right alongside her. I would come to know the strong desire to make it work, and the willingness to do anything for it. My heart still bleeds for those that struggle, and I often share my own story when it seems appropriate to do so. Sometimes a woman just needs to hear she’s not alone.
It’s also helped to have the ability to relate to labour stories. Again, knowing there are no two labours the same in this world, but hearing similar stories or symptoms to my own has been a great way to connect with patients.
Q: Why did you decide to become a Lactation Consultant:
I had a moment with a patient just over a year ago now. It was a quiet shift and I had lots of time to dedicate to each family. There was one couple I was working with who had just had their first baby. She was having a very hard time latching the baby and it was an uphill effort the whole time. At one point she asked me “are all the nurses up here LC’s?” And when I replied “no” she said “well you are great at your job then, thank you so much for helping me”…and it was truly my light bulb moment. It’s the best part of my job, when I have the time to do it. So why am I not focusing on it. Two days later I was going to a breast pump presentation with one of our LC’s and I blurted it out in the elevator with her that I wanted to pursue it. That was January of 2016, and 11 months later I have successfully been certified as an LC! It was a real ride…
Ultimately, breastfeeding can account for the majority of the work we do on postpartum, and if the proper supports are in place, it can be a real game changer in terms of a mother’s successful journey. I came to find out I want to play an even bigger role in that area of practice. I want to be a part of their journeys, good or bad.
Q: How do you think now being an IBCLC will impact your work?
I think it will keep me accountable to do my single best every single time for each mom I come in contact with. Sure, that is something I have always strived for, but now it’s professionally necessary and expected. It’s also an area of practice I have seen myself enjoying more in the last few years. I am excited to see where it can take me, how it can improve my practice, push me to be better for all the mom’s that want the chance to breastfeed their babies. Plus I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I want to impact the way we practice as staff on postpartum. One of our long time and well respected LC’s just retired. She was an absolute trailblazer in that field. She made change happen. I can only hope to be half of what she was to the profession. I want to improve the way things are for women entering our facility. No matter what you choose, or how you choose to do it, I want everyone to feel respected, accepted, and heard. I feel like earning this certification is only the beginning to the work that needs to happen. But I’m excited to do my part.
Moms are often anxious when their maternity leave is nearing its end whether they are breastfeeding or not. If they are breastfeeding, it adds another layer of concern: what will happen to our nursing relationship? Do I need to pump? How will my baby respond to me not being there to nurse? Will my baby willingly take pumped milk from a cup? Will they eat enough solids? These are just some of the questions moms ask themselves and worry about when they are preparing to return to work outside the home.
The early days of breastfeeding. My son is 2 months old here and I was already back to work because I am self-employed. Working from home and having flexible hours definitely helped continue breastfeeding but it is still possible if you are returning to work outside the home.
A good resource for moms facing this scenario is the La Leche League: it’s reassuring to speak to other moms who have been there (and as you’ll read below, it was a resource one mom tapped into). With that in mind, I’ve asked two moms what their experience was. One mom returned to work when her little one was a few month old, and the other returned to work outside the home after a year. Their experiences provide some insight on how to make your breastfeeding relationship continue to work even if you aren’t with your little all the time.
I went back to work part-time when my little was 7 months old, opening my own business. Before this I was working from home seeing clients and taking my babe with me (starting at about 6 weeks postpartum, very part time). At 7 months I had arranged for my little to be watched by her grandparents Monday afternoons, her daddy Wednesday afternoons, and her Aunty Friday afternoons anticipating working from 2-6. Being she was a little older I wasn’t too worried about pumping for a 2-6 time frame but before I knew it I was booking clients from 11-6 or earlier and I was taking my pump to work. I was able to keep up pumping 2-4 times a day from 7.5/8 months to 1 year with no leaking. My little was fine with other people taking breastmilk from a cup and eating some solid foods. We started daycare full time when she was 9.5 months old and she did so great. Having her be able to play with other kids was awesome for her and for me. I continued to nurse her in the morning before work and when I came home. I also decided to continue co-sleeping so we could all get better rest and she could nurse through the night without much disturbance. My girl is now 2.5 and we have continued nursing until the past week or two – being pregnant has lead to some serious nursing aversion for me and my daughter still asks on occasion but we decide to snuggle instead so mommy can work on growing a healthy baby.
A lot of the time I found people would tell me ‘you’re back at work so you’re not nursing anymore then right?’. Well no actually, I don’t see any reason to stop nursing (unless you want to) when returning to work because your supply is determined by demand by this point anyways. If you don’t nurse as much your body quickly responds and there is less chance of leaking (unlike earlier when it’s hormonally driven and you just leak everywhere all the time). If cows can be milked twice a day, why can’t I decide to nurse twice a day on work days and more frequently on weekends? It worked for us; now it won’t work for everyone, and that’s ok. But there’s no reason to stop nursing just because you are going back to work.
I also believe that my identity, although I am now a mother, is also very firmly planted in who I am as a working individual and business owner as well. Does this mean this is right for everyone? No. But I also don’t think that going back to work makes me less of or a bad mother, in fact it makes me a better mother because I am doing something I love (which I am also very fortunate I get to do). I know staying home with my daughter would not be beneficial for our relationship at this point. I need something outside the home and sometimes people try to make me feel guilty about that. Is my house clean? Yup. When the house keeper comes once every two weeks (I can’t believe I waited almost 2.5 years to get this going for my family!). Is the laundry always done? At some point yes – is it put away? Not necessarily but it does get put away by the next time I do laundry. Do I make homemade pizza and pasta weekly? Nope. But we do make pancakes for supper because my little loves helping make pancakes. Going back to work away from my home was important to me, and we made it happen in a way that worked for our family. I kept nursing, we still did cloth diapers, and both baby and momma were/are happy. It makes me a better individual, mother and wife.
I recall feeling so stressed about going back to work, especially when my little was 10 months old and still not filling up on solids (and refusing bottles of pumped milk). But I went to a LLL meeting and they reassured me that our relationship would stay strong, that he wouldn’t starve and that we could keep breastfeeding.
Some things I did:
- got organized with meal planning and freezer meals;
- matched nap and lunch times up to the daycare’s schedule;
- started using the same blankie at every nap to establish a comfort object for use at daycare;
- got his father to hold/rock him to sleep so he was used to someone else. (This usually happened when I was out of the house.);
- had a conversation about household chores with my partner since I’d no longer be home to do the lion’s share;
- made a transition plan with my daycare to ease my little in by increasing length of his visits over two weeks;
- prepared and resigned myself to the possibility of reverse cycling (baby nursing lots at night to make up for missing mom all day);
- planned to be connected as possible when reunited with my little (focused play, babywearing if I needed to cook, lots of snuggles and nursing);
- I nurse him the moment we are reunited when I pick him up from daycare.
The first few weeks I hand expressed a few times during the day and saved the milk in the work fridge. I was sending it to daycare in sippy cups but he was refusing to drink it. So instead I froze and donated it. After a month my supply regulated and I no longer needed to express.
As you can see from above, there are many ways you can keep your nursing relationship strong if you so choose. For more on breastfeeding and returning to work, watch my Facebook Live weekly mom chat on the topic:
I’d love to hear about your experience: what impact did returning to work have on your breastfeeding relationship? Comment below or on my Facebook page.