When I first wrote this blog post, I was blown away by how many mothers related to my breastfeeding story. So many women reached out to let me know I wasn’t alone, and shared nearly identical stories. Which made me both relieved, and also very sad that this mental health side of breastfeeding isn’t talked about enough. I don’t understand why so many people act like it doesn’t happen and don’t talk about it. We can SAVE lives if we DO talk about it!
I was just as equally shocked to see how many mothers thought that I should have kept breastfeeding anyway, even if it meant resenting my son, and being nothing more than a food source and a shell of a person. My story has been picked apart by many lactivists, from accusing me of being selfish, to thinking I just didn’t have enough support or encouragement. I had more than enough support for breastfeeding, but very little support for switching to formula when I knew it was best for my own mental health, and for my son. I can’t fathom telling a mom she’d better breastfeed or might as well be dead. I’m not against breastfeeding. I successfully breastfed my second baby for almost a year! But I don’t believe in breastfeeding at all costs, especially at the expense of the mother’s health, and that includes her mental health. A mother’s mental and emotional health are just as important as her baby’s health. Not every mom gets that oxytocin-induced happy breastfeeding experience. Sometimes it’s the opposite, and those moms need support and recognition too.
Postpartum depression is the most common complication after birth. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the first year postpartum. We NEED to start taking maternal mental health more seriously. The idea that breastfeeding prevents PPD is a myth. It can happen to any mom, no matter how she feeds her baby, and each mom can experience it very differently.
I had more than enough support for breastfeeding, but very little support for switching to formula when I knew it was best for my own mental health, and for my son. I can’t fathom telling a mom she’d better breastfeed or might as well be dead. But I was told this and I believed them.
I was four months postpartum and I was suffering with post partum depression(PPD). I began suffering with PPD almost immediately after birth that I brushed off as “baby blues” but it never went away. I slowly got worse as the weeks went by, and finally admitted to myself that I had PPD. I was so ashamed and embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know. The tipping point was actually a combination of things. I was desperately trying to avoid medication or therapy due to the stigma surrounding them, but all the natural options I tried were not working at all. (And I tried everything I could get my hands on. Supplements, oils, exercise, and religion.) I hated breastfeeding/pumping so much that all I could think about while feeding him was ways I could disappear, but the people I admitted this to basically said that all that mattered was that he was getting my milk and not formula, which increased my guilt for wanting to stop. I hated myself for it. I didn’t have that magical bond everyone talked about, and I was sure it meant that I was a terrible mother. I felt like a food source and nothing more, but it felt like it was the only thing I could do right since I seemed to be failing at everything else. I was not myself, and I knew that was a burden on my poor husband. It hurt my heart but I didn’t know how to stop it. Everything just seemed to get worse. I felt stuck in a dark pit in the back of my mind, but the walls kept getting higher and harder to climb. I vividly remember being at work and writing down my thoughts of wanting to disappear/die on a scrap piece of paper. A co-worker happened to find it while I was away from my desk, and all she said was, “I’m really disappointed in you.” At that point I became fully convinced my husband and son would be better off without me. I’d be out of their lives and they could move on happily without me. It makes me sick to say it now, but I honestly thought they’d be much happier if I was gone.
I remember being in the basement bathroom and looking up at the tiny window and thinking that would be the last thing I saw before I died. I was ready to go. My husband came home and found me the right moment. That was my rock bottom and I got the psychological help I desperately needed.
My amazing doctor mentioned to me that formula feeding for my mental health did not equal failure. I didn’t have to keep putting myself through that, and that my sweet boy would be just fine on formula and It would give me a chance to recover. I started the medication. It took a few weeks to fully work, but my husband noticed a change in me before I did. One day he smiled at me and said, “It’s nice to have you back!”
But it took me longer to switch to formula. The guilt I felt over it was crippling. Even though I really wanted to stop, I worried I’d be dooming him for life and ruining his future. And I feared the judgment of my “breast is best” friends. Every day I’d think, “Today is the day we try formula!” But guilt ate at me every time.
Until one day I just decided to do it. I felt so guilty preparing that bottle. I cried. But during that feeding was the first time I actually looked at my baby boy while feeding him. I made eye contact, and stroked his red hair and sang to him! I wanted to snuggle him afterwards. I had no bitter feelings toward him or the feeding, no wishing it was over, no dreading the next feeding. He smiled at me, and my heart melted. It was a real bonding moment, and that one bottle took a huge weight off my shoulders. For me, that was the first day I started to feel better and feel hopeful. I knew he’d be ok and happy on formula, and I’d be able to be the happy and healthy mommy that he deserved. My mental health slowly improved over a three month period and I finally reached a point that I felt back to myself. I had a few hard days here and there, but soon there were definitely more good days than bad days.
If you are a mom who is struggling, do whatever you need to do to be okay! There is help, support, and resources available to you. Please join us in our support group where you will find the best shame free available! If you feel that breastfeeding helps your postpartum depression, then keep doing it but get extra help with PPD/A while doing so. If you feel like breastfeeding is making your postpartum depression worse, it’s okay to switch to formula if that is what you want. I say that because I desperately wish someone had said that to me when I was struggling, instead of trying to push and guilt me into something that I hated. If you want to combo feed to give yourself a break from exclusive breastfeeding, you can do that too!
I am a 25 year old mom of two boys and a little girl on the way. My amazing husband is a firefighter/EMT and we have been happily married for 7 years now. I’m a hobby photographer, and have a deep love of books. We enjoy family walks, superheroes, and eating way too many cookies. Our lives are centered around fun traditions and going all-out for birthdays and holidays. Before having my children, I read everything I could get my hands on about being a mom. I wanted to be prepared and to be the best mom I could! But nobody warned me about what could happen to my mental health. Nobody talked to me about postpartum depression. I wish it was talked about more. After recovering from my suicide attempt and PPD, I learned as much as I could about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Since then I’ve tried to be an advocate for maternal mental health awareness so hopefully other women won’t have to experience what I did. I volunteered with Postpartum Progress as a Warrior Mom Ambassador and co-lead two Climb Out of the Darkness events in my community. I am honored to be joining the Fed Is Best Foundation in raising maternal mental health awareness. -Avery F.
HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT FED IS BEST
There are many ways you can support the mission of the Fed is Best Foundation. Please consider contributing in the following ways:
- Join the Fed is Best Volunteer group to help us reach Obstetric Health Providers to advocate for counseling of new mothers on the importance of safe infant feeding.
- Make a donation to the Fed is Best Foundation. We are using funds from donations to cover the cost of our website, our social media ads, our printing and mailing costs to reach health providers and hospitals. We do not accept donations from breast- or formula-feeding companies and 100% of your donations go toward these operational costs. All the work of the Foundation is achieved via the pro bono and volunteer work of its supporters.
- Share the stories and the message of the Fed is Best Foundation through word-of-mouth, by posting on your social media page and by sending our resources to expectant moms that you know. Share the Fed is Best campaign letter with everyone you know.
- Write a letter to your health providers and hospitals about the Fed is Best Foundation. Write them about feeding complications your child may have experienced.
- Print out our letter to obstetric providers and mail them to your local obstetricians, midwives, family practitioners who provide obstetric care and hospitals.
- Write your local elected officials about what is happening to newborn babies in hospitals and ask for legal protection of newborn babies from underfeeding and of mother’s rights to honest informed consent on the risks of insufficient feeding of breastfed babies.
- Send us your stories. Share with us your successes, your struggles and every thing in between. Every story saves another child from experiencing the same and teaches another mom how to safely feed her baby. Every voice contributes to change.
- Send us messages of support. We work every single day to make infant feeding safe and supportive of every mother and child. Your messages of support keep us all going.
- Shop and Fed is Best Foundation will earn cash back! We hope to develop our online safe infant feeding classes with these funds.
- If you need support, we have a private support group– Join