Guest post: “Breastfeeding through postnatal depression”

Ella from Purple Mum is mother to three children and has had to deal with Postnatal Depression after each of their births. The illness has impacted her breastfeeding experience differently each time. She’s currently battling through and blogging about PND for the third time but generously took the time to share a thing or two about breastfeeding through it.

I have experienced postnatal depression following the birth of all three of my babies. During treatment for my illness it has been necessary for me to receive inpatient treatment. During this treatment I have met many mothers who have stopped breastfeeding either due to their illness or to medication choices.

Breastfeeding rates in the UK are, in my opinion, not ideal. Only 44.9% of mothers in the UK are still breastfeeding after six weeks. I’m not aware of any statistics regarding mothers with postnatal depression. Due to my own experiences and talking to other mothers on the ward where I was treated I can only assume that these figures are even lower than the general population.

Breastfeeding does not come naturally to every mother/baby pair. There is a learning curve. Until it is settled and comfortable breastfeeding can be at best bothersome. At worst – frustrating and painful, and could trigger postnatal depression in those already susceptible.

When breastfeeding is not going well pressure can come from all angles. If the baby is not gaining weight, well-meaning health professionals can cause a lot of stress. Family and friends wanting to help will make suggestions (such as switching to formula or continuing against the odds) which could be very upsetting for a new mother.

When a mother is determined to breastfeed but needing to supplement life can become one long cycle of feeding, expressing, and supplementing. There is little time left to adjust to becoming a new mum let alone enjoy the baby. This is what happened to me when I was trying to breastfeed my first baby. I really believe this played a large part in my developing postnatal depression.

If breastfeeding really does not work out it can have a terrible impact on a mother’s mood. Particularly if she felt very strongly about wanting to breastfeeding and the benefits.

From my own personal experience when at six weeks I switched my eldest child to formula I felt terribly guilty. I felt I had failed him, and failed at one of the fundamental tasks of becoming a mum.

However, I think if managed well, success achieved breastfeeding can have an incredibly positive effect on a mother’s mood. I know that for me, establishing and continuing breastfeeding my second and third children has helped me feel a sense of achievement. It’s gratifying to look at your thriving baby with the pride that you have nourished it.

When a mother breastfeeds oxytocin is released. This chemical causes feelings of relaxation and well-being which must be helpful for a mother suffering from postnatal depression.

Of course, the other major consideration for a breastfeeding mother suffering from postnatal depression is medication. Drug treatment is often recommended as it can speed up recovery and prevent relapse. On the ward I met mothers who had stopped breastfeeding in order to take the medication they were prescribed.

There are medications that can be prescribed for breastfeeding mums. However as research on infants is not possible (ethically) a lot of the information about the impact of these drugs is anecdotal. Also since some psychiatric medications are relatively new the data about them is short term so we cannot know the long-term affects on the baby.

This leaves the mother with a difficult choice in which she has to balance the severity of her illness with the potential risks to baby.

So as you can see whether to continue to breastfeed with postnatal depression is a very difficult question to answer. I think it is a very individual choice that should be made by the mother based on a variety of factors.

I do think that whatever choice is made it should be one that the mother can feel comfortable with. She shouldn’t feel guilty for needing to stop breastfeeding, there is more to an infants well being than the way they are fed.

Mum being well and happy has to be a number one consideration as this will have the biggest impact on her
baby.

If it is important to her to breastfeed and it is possible to continue I think she should be offered support and encouraged to do so. After all, this is the ideal situation.

If you are suffering from postnatal depression and reading this I hope whatever choice you make is one that you can be happy with. Good luck with your recovery and I hope you feel better soon.

This week is Baby Feeding Week on Circus Queen. I’m celebrating having made it to six months of breast and bottle feeding my daughter through LOTS of difficulty. Look out for tomorrow’s Baby Feeding Week post: “The self-warming bottle”.