Recently someone posted this article about breastfeeding and mental health on facebook, and I’d just like to comment a bit on it.
Really there isn’t much more I can add to what these people have already said, but it seems pretty incredible to me, so I’m just going to say first of all, please go read the article, and second… WOW!
We all know the line ‘breast is best’, and for the most part there is no argument to that, it is true, breast milk is known to carry antigens and healthy bacteria to the infant from the mother, and if you have a choice then you should absolutely choose breast milk for your infant. *There are certain situations that do not allow for a baby to be exclusively breastfed, and I would hope you understand that I’m not saying every mother can and will be able to.
As a mother who tried to breastfeed all of her children and was successful with 3 out of four so far, I feel like I can speak in this area a little. Mental health is affected by so much!
My daughter Sapphira was born by c-section, she was my second baby, and her older brother breastfed like a champ. Sapphira however was smaller, much smaller than her brother, and had a lip tie (it wasn’t diagnosed until much too late to help our breastfeeding relationship). I can honestly say that my mental health struggled a lot during this time. I was diagnosed with PTSD, I was shocked that I wasn’t given the label of PPD, or just ‘the baby blues’… but I was actually traumatized from the surgical delivery of my daughter (that is a story for another day).
To say that my mental health wasn’t healthy is an understatement. As with all new mother’s I didn’t get much sleep. I was careful to care for my daughter and my toddler son, but often forgot to eat, or to shower when I really should have. I was having nightmares of when the surgeon cut me, and I wasn’t enjoying being the mother of two.
And add to that the deep desire to feed my daughter the ‘best’, and the inability to get a good latch from her. The worry of her not gaining weight, and the frustration at trying for more than 1/2 an hour to an hour every feeding just to get some food in her…
My milk supply did come in, but Sapphira wasn’t any good at getting it out, and I was exhausted. I turned to pumping and bottle feeding, but my body doesn’t respond will to a pump so I was spending the majority of my day pumping milk instead of feeding my daughter. And wishing I had time to play with my toddler.
Was I as attentive with my daughter as I was with my oldest child? No.
However, I realized very early on that even though I didn’t really want to hold her (because the memories of her birth clouded my judgement at the time of who and what she was to me), I MUST hold her, I MUST not let her know that I was suffering, I MUST give her all that she, the innocent child she was, deserved to have from her mother.
I decided that knowing how important that bonding was I must absolutely do everything a breastfeeding mother would do with her child… and that meant that only rarely would I let other people feed her, that I would hold her when I fed her, that I would not prop a bottle up and leave her to eat alone. I would rock her at night while I fed her, I would sing to her and rub her back, I would do the things I had done for my oldest, to create the bond, to help her socialize, to make the connections in her brain.
I didn’t even realize what I was doing at the time, I just knew that it was better for a baby to be held than to be left alone, and that I wanted to encourage her grow and learn, so I did what I felt was natural for a mama to do. Now reading this article, and knowing about the bond that is formed from simply being forced to hold and attend to your baby even when you are struggling with a mental illness, and you don’t feel the bond yourself, I feel like I might have done something more powerful than I even knew. I’m so glad I followed my motherly instinct.
You have instincts in you to mother your children, I would urge every mother out there, use those instincts, even when you don’t ‘feel’ like it. There were plenty of times my mental health was so low that I just wanted to walk away, but instead I stayed, for her sake. Stay, for their sake. Hold them because it is good for them, not because you feel like doing it.
And as a reward, later, when your brain starts feeling more normal, you’ll be glad you did because you’ll start to feel the way you wished you did before, and you’ll not have missed that critical time to bond with your baby, because you did it even when you didn’t feel like it.
Have a Cherished Birth!
(and breastfeeding experience)