Caroline Koen talks about her breastfeeding experience and how the pressure and guilt to breastfeed contributed to postpartum depression. She talks about how a more relaxed attitude about breastfeeding ultimately led to a more positive breastfeeding experience.
Kristen Elise Umunna
Kristen joined the Fed Is Best Foundation’s Mental Health Advocacy Team to be a voice for mothers, especially mothers of color who are struggling to breastfeed and are experiencing shame for feeding their babies formula.
‘ I want to be a voice that tells every mother that bottle feeding is also beautiful and formula is the best nutrition for the babies who are being nourished by it.’
February 12, 2014. I was just 1 day postpartum after delivering my firstborn and I remember bawling my eyes out. The nurses at the time were assuring me that I was doing everything “wrong” in regards to feeding my daughter. They woke me out of my sleep at least 7 times in one night to feed my baby and they assured me she was getting enough to eat. One nurse told me to stop crying about breastfeeding pain as it is going to hurt! “If you want to build your supply, you have to keep going!” Never has I felt like more of a failure.
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.
Dear Fed Is Best Foundation,
Thank you for everything that you do! Your organization has made me feel so much better about my situation and personal needs. I did have a question for you though, although I should probably explain my situation first. My daughter is now 14 months old. When I was pregnant with her, I had preeclampsia from about 28 weeks onward. I had to take maternity leave eleven weeks sooner than planned because my job as a full-time middle school substitute teacher was too stressful on my blood pressure. I went to the hospital at 37 weeks with a blood pressure of 177/100, and they decided to induce me. After 45+ hrs of labor, followed by an emergency c-section, Clara was born three weeks early.
This story is for you mommas whose mental health feels like it comes second to breastfeeding, when it should be first.
I have a long history of mental illnesses in my family. I inherited most of them. While they do not define me, they are a part of me. I have Bipolar 1 Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and a Panic Disorder.
This is hard for me to write. My breastfeeding experience is a trauma that I don’t like to relive but is undoubtedly the biggest cause of my postnatal depression and anxiety (PNDA). But perhaps I can save someone else unnecessary pain and heartache. I know some will disagree, but hopefully, my story can be a tiny cog in the wheel of feeding guideline reform.
Going into pregnancy, I knew Fed is Best. I decided I would attempt breastfeeding but if it didn’t work out, there’s always formula. Simple. Now, I’m a scientifically minded person. I respect those in the field and the scientific consensus. As I progressed through my antenatal appointments, it became clear. The general consensus is, the breast is best, at all costs, with an inference that ‘formula is dangerous’. By the time my daughter was born, I had made up my mind. If other people formula fed, I wouldn’t judge, but I was going to breastfeed no matter what. I’d get all the help I needed.
I just want to say thank you so much for your foundation’s web page and support group. I can’t say thank you enough! This is exactly the support system I have needed in my life since my daughter was admitted into the hospital at 3 weeks old due to failure to thrive.
This was worst experience of my life as a new mama and when the doctor told me my daughter could have died I was broken.
Because of the intense pressure, I felt the need to exclusively breastfeed my daughter. Yet for the 3 weeks that I tried I had no idea that I was starving my daughter ? My midwife was absolutely useless and she is a the biggest reason why this happened to us as she told me to keep breastfeeding and everything was fine. Long story short, I just didn’t have enough milk, and I didn’t find out until after my daughter was admitted to the hospital. This was the worst feeling in the world. Formula is the only reason my daughter is alive today. Formula saved my daughter’s life!
I’d heard pretty much since starting puberty that breast is best. It’s in movies, books, social media, health class, and even in my own family. So, you can imagine my surprise to be sitting across from a very concerned doctor with a starving infant hearing that my breast milk wasn’t enough.
I wanted to breastfeed because I wanted to do what was absolutely best for my son, no questions asked. But before he was born, the intense pressure to exclusively breast feed was causing anxiety attacks, frequently. I have flat nipples but I was assured breast feeding would be no problem.
Then I had my beautiful baby boy. We immediately had issues with breastfeeding. One lactation consultant slapped my nipple trying to get it to poke out and called the nipple shield a “cheater”. So I didn’t use one after that. We were not allowed to give him a pacifier. It was four days of pure hell in the hospital with both of us crying.
I was told over and over my body would produce enough milk for my baby and to just keep breastfeeding.
We went home and it wasn’t much better. So, every time I held him he’d cry, and then I’d cry because I’d have to feed him. I began dreading my child. No parent should have to dread their child. Continue reading
Writing helps me process my emotions. A few weeks ago, I wrote this, and have debated whether or not to share it, because sharing the things I write makes me feel really vulnerable. But, today I needed to reread it to remind myself that I am not a “formula-feeding mom”, I’m just a loving mother. I decided to go ahead and share it with you guys. I’m hoping that this can maybe help someone else who may need a reminder that motherhood is not defined by how we feed our babies!
Some days I have to remind myself that I am not a failure.
I didn’t fail at breastfeeding. I did not fail at being a mother.
Society and my inner voice may sometimes convince me that I came up short in the infant-feeding part of motherhood, but in the rare moments of clarity, I know that this is not true. I am confident in my decision to exclusively formula-feed my son.
You see, I didn’t start out motherhood with the goal of breastfeeding my son. It wasn’t my plan to exclusively pump. Nor was it my plan to formula-feed my baby. My only plan was to feed him.
They tell you that if you prepare enough, it will work. They tell you that all you need is support, belief that you will be successful, and commitment. If only it were that simple.
I knew I might have issues. I had breast reduction surgery back in 2001, but had been told that using the right technique would preserve my ability to breastfeed. Nonetheless, I set out preparing to ensure I would be successful. Besides doing yoga, pilates, weight training, and exercise, I got into the midwife program and prepped diligently. I did prenatal workshops and tracked down a book on how to successfully be a breast feeding after reduction mom. I hired a private lactation consultant for a session ahead of time. We talked about teas and tinctures, techniques and diet to help my supply be optimal. We talked about how I could use a supplemental nursing system if necessary. I read extensively and was convinced breastfeeding was the only way to feed my son to ensure his well being and I would have no problem breastfeeding because I had SUPPORT.