breastfeeding problemsFor some women with postpartum depression or anxiety — not all, thankfully, just some — breastfeeding doesn’t end up being the best choice. I quit, because I had to save my sanity.

Many others with PPD, of course, don’t quit. Postpartum depression and anxiety and quitting breastfeeding do not go hand in hand, nor should they. I’m grateful that we are doing more to make sure mothers understand that you absolutely CAN be treated for PPD or anxiety and continue to breastfeed. A breastfeeding mother should be supported 100% and not be made to or encouraged to quit for no reason.

I’m always keenly attuned to any policies that might hurt mothers who cannot breastfeed, and there are mothers who cannot breastfeed. Yesterday I waded into the breastfeeding/formula feeding debate, thanks to a new policy in New York City to promote breastfeeding that I believe goes one step too far. I was so pleased to find the discussion on Postpartum Progress’ Facebook page to be very intelligent and constructive for the most part. That’s one of the things I love about our group of Warrior Moms. We are 99.9% troll-free, probably because we’re populated by women who’ve been through enough in their lives (partially thanks to PPD) that they fully understand empathy and the idea that there are always two sides to any issue.

On my personal Facebook page, however, things didn’t go quite as smoothly. I was accused of being against breastfeeding. For example:

What do you have against infants getting breastmilk Katherine?

I can’t believe any person would try so hard to stop the encouragement of breastfeeding our children. It’s incomprehensible to me.

I have to question the accuser’s ability to read and comprehend, given that I think I was pretty clear that I do support breastfeeding. People like this tire me out. I mean, why on earth can’t we have a reasoned conversation about this? I think that, for some, there is never a time when it’s okay not to breastfeed.

Anyway, in case I wasn’t clear enough:

1) I think breast is best.

2) I think that for far too long formula companies have had too much influence on maternity wards. I agree that there hasn’t been an even playing field. I have no problem with that influence being severely restricted or even wholly removed. None at all.

3) I agree that we don’t do enough to help moms succeed at breastfeeding. Some hospitals are very quick to hand mom a bottle rather than muster up the time and patience to support her and guide her to success. I know I reached out for help because I wanted to breastfeed, and I didn’t get it. That’s a shame and it’s something that needs to be fixed.

4) In the end, I still believe that even if I had gotten all the help in the world, I would have quit because of my postpartum anxiety. I don’t believe quitting was the wrong thing for me. My children are very healthy, and I mean so healthy that they rarely get sick. My son has a cold right now, for the first time in probably two years if not more. My children are also very smart. They both just scored in the 99th percentile of the US on the standardized Iowa test. I can’t believe I have to say that, because it sounds so freaking annoying, but I get TIRED of having to defend whether formula-fed children are healthy or smart.

5) My concern with the Latch on NYC program is with the requirement that nurses must tell a mother how much better breastfeeding is for her baby every single time she asks for a bottle. That’s it. The other elements of the program don’t concern me. I believe that repeating over and over how you are essentially making the wrong decision for your baby, without any regard to why the mom has made that decision and why in this case it might be the best one, could end up being tantamount to shaming. I have read story after story of moms who could not breastfeed for very real reasons who are pained by the idea of this program.

6) I believe people who would judge a mother with a maternal mental illness for electing not to breastfeed so that she can recover, perhaps because it causes her too much anxiety or perhaps because she takes a medication that doesn’t allow it, don’t know a whole lot about how serious mental illness is. As Dr. Marlene Freeman, clinical director of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Women’s Mental Health, explains, “For some women, breastfeeding is difficult and stressful. It is important to remember that adding distress in a situation in which a woman is at risk carries its own consequences. If breastfeeding adds to a woman’s depressive or anxious symptoms, it is reasonable to stop. Sometimes it is necessary to stop.”

6) No matter how important breastfeeding is, I will not stand for any mother who quit due to a maternal mental illness like postpartum depression to be made to feel bad, to be shamed, to be guilted, to be made to feel that she is selfish, or wasn’t willing to work hard enough on behalf of her baby.

Period. The end.


For more on this, read Toughing It Out with Postpartum Depression to Breastfeed: A Psychiatric Expert Weighs In

For a different view on the Latch on NYC program, read Ask Moxie’s The Illusion of Choice, the Free Market & Your Boobs