Thursday, December 2, 2010

Feeding Wars and ppd

For the last 2 days I've felt my heart was heavy. I've been thinking about something that happened and something of which I have little control. Let me start at the beginning:

About 3 days ago I received an email from a woman in my breastfeeding group. I found this group shortly after I had Kate and it was a Godsend to me. It finally gave me contact with other new mothers - which I so desperately needed. Anyway, a woman who had a baby close in age to Caroline Grace sent an email out about how to best "encourage" a friend to continue breastfeeding. She said that the baby was about a month old and her friend didn't like how constraining breastfeeding made her feel. She wasn't comfortable nursing in public and it took a long time to feed the baby. She thinks her friend has definite signs of ppd but has no experience with anyone who had ppd to really know. Friend is going to the doctor later this week.

So as the advice kept pouring in, I kept thinking about this new mom and remembering.
Remembering how difficult those first few weeks were after the thrill of the first few days wore off.
About how sleep deprived I felt.
About how I was going through the motions of taking care of this little tiny human being and there never stopped being something to do for them. I sometimes didn't know what day it was.
I remembered how Kate didn't latch on for the first 9 days and I kept trying, determined to breastfeed.
I remembered how when she did finally latch on at every feed how the doctors told us she was failure to thrive.
I remembered how I had to use a special Medela scale to weigh her before and after every feeding to see how much she was drinking.
I also remember the crying. Hours and hours of crying. So much crying.

Kate cried for at least 6 hours a day - sometimes more. She wouldn't sleep for longer than 22 minutes at a time. Weren't babies supposed to sleep the day away? Not mine. She had reflux which I am sure didn't help, but that baby would only sleep in my arms and would cry the rest of the day. This behavior only added to my crying. I felt helpless. I felt that I couldn't take care of my baby. I couldn't get leave her with anyone else because my anxiety would skyrocket and I honestly didn't believe anyone else could take care of her as well as I could. I didn't even want to give anyone else the chance. So as I was dying to have a moment of peace to myself, I was glued to that baby girl.

It was 8 months later when I was 2 months pregnant with Caroline that I realized I needed help. I was rocking Kate in her room and I was uncontrollably crying. It looks ridiculous now, when I picture it. Me, hysterically crying while trying to maintain the melody of Twinkle Twinkle. it was then that my 8 month old baby reached to my face and wiped my tears. She wiped MY tears. What the hell was going on? I was supposed to be taking care of my baby, not have her take care of me. It was then that I decided I needed to call my OB. I also reached out to my friend, Amy, who had bravely shared her story of post partum OCD with me.

Fast forward 3 years to this email. As the advice came rolling in (get out of the house, pump, etc), I carefully typed my own email and sent it. Here's what I wrote:

I've been thinking alot about how to respond to this post. I was/ am someone who deals with post partum depression, post partum anxiety, and post partum OCD (not like regular OCD). And I've been trying to think what I would have wanted to know in those early dark days.

I had a friend who had already nursed 3 babies and I called her regularly to ask her questions - even in the middle of the night. She always answered my questions and welcomed my phone calls (even the 4am ones). She also called me regularly to check on me. Kate didn't latch on for 9 days but I was so determined to breastfeed. For me, I think I needed to feel like I had control over SOMETHING. And with a newborn, there isn't much you can have control over. However, for some people, nursing is what pushes them over the edge into post partum issues. And if you suspect, there may be a good chance she is suffering from it or will be. There's such a stigma with the whole breastfeeding/ bottle feeding debate. While I totally agree that breastfeeding is best (and I've been doing it for the better part of the last almost 4 years), if she's having a tough time, it may not be best for her. I know that's not commonly said in our group but formula never hurt anyone (I was formula fed). She has to take care of herself first before she can take care of the baby.
That being said, I think the first 6 weeks of nursing are hardest. My friend had suggested I stick with it for 6 weeks and then evaluate and see if I wanted to continue. By 6 weeks, it was so much easier. It took me a while to nurse while we were out. I'd go out between feedings and plan on being home in time to nurse, or I'd take a bottle with me. Eventually when I was out, I would hide in dressing room to nurse. Now, 3 babies later, I'll nurse anywhere! Getting out of the house is key. I always had spring babies but even enrolling in a library story hour (or even at B&N) is a great idea. Kate went to story hour at 2 weeks old because I didn't know what else to do with her but I needed to get out.
Post partum issues are easy to recognize in hindsight. Here's a fantastic website:

Katherine Stone champions for women with post partum & perinatal mood disorders because she suffered at one time too. The link above is a great link to to see the symptoms. Have your friend take a look at it. It might help.
If you, or anyone else, have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I am very open to talking about it. And I've done a ton of research on it.
Hope that helps!

And this was part of her response:

I agree that formula has a valuable role if breastfeeding won't work -my concern is that she may consider giving up on breastfeeding when the reality is that feeding an newborn takes a long time, whatever way they are fed, and that the feeling of isolation may still be there too.

Yes, I agree, the feeling of isolation may be there. Any new mother feels isolated. It's a whole new world. But I disagree that bottle feeding takes just as long as nursing. I've bottle fed babies (Kate when she didn't nurse and Rebecca who didn't nurse for 3 weeks after she was born) and it's a whole lot quicker. Like, seriously, much quicker.

I suppose I am more bothered by this than I should be. After all, I've been nursing 3 babies for the better part of the last almost 4 years. I'll nurse anywhere and don't let it stop me from getting out. However, I almost feel like the underlying message is "since breastmilk is best, don't even consider doing anything else."

So is she supporting the new mom or the act of breastfeeding? Aren't we as moms hard enough on ourselves that we need to be hard on each other too? Shouldn't we just support the mom and whatever she chooses to do? I mean, formula never killed anyone (not the last time I checked... which was never, but you know what I mean).

Am I wrong to be bothered? Would you be?


  1. Oh girl, this has been such an issue for me, I had SUCH a HARD time bfing Annalee, we did it for 8 weeks and she wasn't back up to BIRTH WEIGHT! I get so upset when I feel like someone is pressuring someone else to do it! I nursed all 3 as long as I could, I am low supply person, and I have huge babies, it just doesn't work out, and no amount of pumping (I was nursing Annalee every 2 hours around the clock and pumping in between) or herbs or drugs ever helped, and I absolutely had PPD with her. It was the hardest time of my life. I loved her so much and couldn't do the one thing mommies are made to do for their babies. There is so much guilt laced into BFing these days, "they" try to convince you that everyone can BF, and that is just not true. I still have guilt feelings over not being able to nurse them completely, and hate that I didn't get to do it and experience longer, but the reality is, it was NOT what was best for my children. They all would have been failure to thrive had I chosen that route...Sometimes our bodies just don't work.

    And even if you're producing plenty of milk, but are having other issues, and like this poor woman is having a tough go of it, it is soooo not worth her mental health, and being miserable in those first few precious months to insist on bfing over formula....

    I hope she has some other people in her life that are encouraging her to do what is best for HER and baby.

  2. I totally agree, A! A healthy mom (mentally & physically) is what's best for each baby regardless of how we choose to feed them. This woman doesn't live in the area so I can't even find her. I keep praying for her, though, and hope she's surrounded by people who support her & not how she feeds her baby.