The other morning (sometime in the last three weeks) I was awake at three AM (as I often am now) and through the fog of breastfeeding I had a rush of amazing ideas for this blog article. Getting up to write them down wasn’t possible and my phone was just out of reach. . . so I hoped that this burning bright inspiration would be seared into my memory and I could write them down as soon as I woke up (can we really call it “waking up” when we have been waking up throughout the entire night?).
These important ideas had vanished by sunrise (which I watched if you count seeing light fill the room while yet again breastfeeding, not like going on a hike to actually watch the sunrise or partying all night and accidentally seeing the sunrise). One of my mentors says “Never trust your brain.” This makes me laugh and helps me notice when I’m stuck in a thought loops, judging, comparing and reacting instead of being present. In these last seven weeks since my second son was born, this idea has taken on a whole new level of meaning.
At a birthday party (on the way to said party I had to run back for forgotten essentials) I was lamenting (complaining) that I couldn’t remember the fabulous ideas. One Austrian mom laughed and said “Stilldemenz!”. I looked it up and found an article by a midwife.
Not to make light in any way of actual dementia (a serious medical condition) the breastfeeding kind is not a diagnosis, but more a tongue-in-cheek term for the forgetfulness that characterizes how our brains react to the perfect storm of hormonal changes, lack of sleep/interrupted sleep in addition to a baby that needs 24/7 attention and care. Her experience of new moms is that they are incredibly absent-minded, which she explains with anecdotes. One is about a mom that forgot to return a breast to her shirt after feeding and didn’t notice until partway across the restaurant. I did something similar yesterday in the park, leaving one side of my bra unhooked then looking down half an hour later to think, why is one boob so much higher than the other? At least I had buttoned my dress! Her main point is that this brain condition is creating a way of keeping us more connected to the child and less connected to the outer world. We simply can’t cope with all the tasks we used to in the same was.
If we can’t spend all day in a milk haze this is not practical news. Simple tasks seem like they require Herculean effort when the brain is running low on sleep and high on Oxytocin. As a yoga teacher specializing in Pre & Post-Natal Yoga, as well as training other yoga teachers in these niche classes, I am well schooled in these physical, emotional and whole-being changes. As a mom I have felt it before, yet now that I’m older (and already tired from keeping up with my six year old) the dementia of breastfeeding is more intense. . . or maybe I just can’t remember! What I do remember is that this newborn phase is short and these phases of development and growth never end. We may not see it as clearly in older kids, we may not see it in ourselves. The world doesn’t stop so that we can lay in bed with a baby all day, but we have to press pause and recalibrate so we don’t forget what’s important.
What works for one parent or child is not for everyone. Breathing slowly and practicing even one minute of meditation helps me accept that this is my state, I can’t fight it. Drinking coffee and pushing ahead is a no-go (hello screaming baby). Podcasts on historical events help me fall asleep when I’m up at three AM from feeding/burping/changing/eating cookies because I’m SO hungry/etc. Restorative Yoga helps me find better posture when feeding (sometimes) and generally relax – which lowers my stress hormones and helps me clear my mind and feel good in my body, which is also (of course) tense from bending over/carrying/not sleeping well/sleeping in weird positions with the baby/etc.
Whatever phase of parenting you are in this season, good luck finding your way through. You’ll find me in the park with a green tea, hopefully a sleeping baby and fully clothed upper body.
A VFN member since 2015, Sarah works with yoga and movement in both the healing and performing arts. She has an MFA in Physical Theatre and multiple yoga teaching certificates. Sarah leads trainings in Pre & Post-Natal Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Voice and Performance.
Her book, Holding Space: Voice & Performance for Yoga Teachers was published in 2020. She lives in Vienna with her husband and two children.
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