I recently read a story about a mother who lost her battle with postpartum depression. In the article her husband mentions the intense pressure she felt to breastfeed. My reaction to this was a mix of sadness and anger. This should be a wake up call to all of us about the amount of pressure placed on new mothers. We need to do better.
During my pregnancy with my daughter, I experienced crippling prenatal depression and anxiety. This was not out of the blue considering I have dealt with depression and anxiety in waves throughout my life. I decided to go off all medication before getting pregnant to avoid exposing my baby. I THOUGHT I had everything under control; and then the hormones came in full force. I spent nine months feeling claustrophobic in my own skin.
Throughout my pregnancy, my doctors, husband, and family all agreed that it was important for me to be proactive when it came to postpartum depression. Instead of a birth plan, I created an “after birth” plan. One of the biggest decisions I made was to forego breast feeding. This was a difficult decision for me. Like every pregnant woman in today’s society I read dozens of books, articles, and blogs about parenting. Although I knew formula feeding was the best option for my family, I was worried about not bonding with my daughter and denying her the nutritional benefits of breast milk. What if I regretted my decision? What if the hospital staff pressured me to breast feed? What if people judged me on this decision?
This is where the disconnect lies for mothers and maternal mental health. While dealing with severe depression I was stressing over how I would justify my feeding choice to those around me. At the time of my daughter’s birth our hospital was working to become “baby friendly”. I was warned by well-meaning friends that the hospital staff would pressure me; that they would send in a lactation consultant even if I declined their services. The problem with the baby friendly initiative is that it leaves out a crucial part of the baby’s wellbeing; maternal mental health. I truly believe that a healthy, happy mother is one of the most important factors for infant health.
For many women my feelings and viewpoints may be difficult to understand. AND THAT IS OKAY. We can have differing opinions and still respect one another. Although I have not had the experience of breastfeeding, I have tried to educate myself so that I can support my friends that do choose to breastfeed. I do my best to cheer them on and celebrate their successes with them. I do this because if it is important to them, it is important to me. In addition, I also have friends who chose to formula feed simply because they did not want to breastfeed. ALL mothers deserve support. It takes a village to raise a child but it also takes a village to support a mother.
I do want to state that the benefits of breastfeeding cannot be denied. However, there are many other factors that contribute to a child’s emotional and physical wellbeing. A mother making a decision for the health and wellbeing of their family should not be judged or shamed. I would also like to add that while I have been vocal about my journey with mental health, many women are not. It is a good reminder to us all to treat everyone with kindness; we don’t know what battles they may be facing.
**Although I chose to forego medication while pregnant with my daughter, that is not the answer for everyone. If you are dealing with depression during pregnancy it is important to be honest with your medical provider. And always remember, you are not alone.