Breastfeeding is hard.
Before I had kids I thought that breastfeeding was nothing much. Just put your nipple in the baby’s mouth. It’s so much more complicated than that. Even though I’m on my second child now I’m still learning about breastfeeding.
I feel like breastfeeding is just an endless stream of questions I ask myself. Am I producing enough milk? Is my baby getting enough milk? Is the latch okay? What if they have a tongue tie? What if they have a lip tie? What happens if they don’t get enough? What happens if they get too much? Can they even get too much?
A lot of my questions stem from my own anxiety and even when I ask myself some of these questions I feel ridiculous. I know, I know there’s really no such thing as a stupid question but sometimes I feel stupid anyway.
With all this anxiety it’s not surprising that trouble breastfeeding can contribute to postpartum depression and anxiety.
I definitely feel like my struggles feeding this baby are affecting me.
I am by no means an expert at breastfeeding, but I thought I had enough experience from with my first child that I wouldn’t have too many challenges. it turns out that even if you’ve breastfed before things can be very different with another child. It really depends on the baby.
I was expecting to have to use a nipple shield because I used it with my first baby for around two months. Both my kids were born at 37 weeks and had heads that were smaller than my breasts and mouths that were too small to properly latch onto my nipples. “So,” I thought, “that’s okay, the nipple shield isn’t so bad and we’ll get better at breastfeeding as he gets bigger.”
But it became more of a challenge than I thought. He didn’t want to breastfeed at all. He wouldn’t latch even with the nipple shield. For the first couple of weeks when I would try and breastfeed him, he would just scream. I’m not talking about screaming for a minute – because he was so hungry and he was having trouble calming down to latch, it was full on 10 to 20 minutes of screaming. Once he screamed for 40 minutes as I tried to latch him in the park while my other child played in the playground.
Obviously, I was still making sure he was fed during this time but I was having very negative feelings towards the whole breastfeeding thing. It didn’t seem like we would have any chance of having a normal breastfeeding relationship.
From the beginning I was also pumping milk. I did it with my first baby so my husband could also feed him. It worked really well because my husband was able to take care of some of the nighttime feedings and I was able to get some more sleep.
Our first baby was an amazing eater. He didn’t care where the food came from as long as it went in his mouth, so he happily switched from breast to bottle and back again. I just assumed that my second child would be the same, so we tried the same method.
Baby number two really prefers the bottle over the breast. That definitely made me feel like a failure. I thought I had a good supply of milk with my first and that it wasn’t too difficult for the baby to get the milk from my breast. But it seems that baby number two could never get enough.
He wasn’t growing fast enough at first so I was advised to try and breastfeed for 10 minutes and then give him a bottle of expressed milk. That 10 minutes of breastfeeding would often just be 10 minutes of him screaming and pushing himself away from my nipples. It was so difficult for me not to cry and scream myself during those breastfeeding sessions. Some days I couldn’t even bring myself to try breastfeeding and I would just pump.
I’m lucky because I can pump. I know that’s a challenge for a lot of women. I’m also lucky because I got a high quality, very portable breast pump so I didn’t feel as weighed down by pumping. But really, if I hadn’t spent so much money on this breast pump, I would have switched to formula and given up on breastfeeding.
I’ve always had the attitude that “fed is best” and I still have that attitude. But there’s a pandemic now and I spent so much money on the breast pump that I couldn’t justify spending more money on formula and having the breast pump go to waste. It gave me so much anxiety thinking about wasting that money and spending money that I could otherwise spend on my children to make their lives better.
Just because I knew fed is best didn’t mean that I could make that change myself. This carries over to other aspects of life, of course. Just because you believe something should be one way or people should have a choice doesn’t mean you could make the same choices as other people. Choose your favorite controversial topic and insert it here – the same principles apply.
So with baby number two, I thought that I would end up exclusively pumping because he really didn’t seem to want to breastfeed. He was always so happy after he had a bottle. This makes sense because it’s a lot easier to get the milk out of a bottle than it is to get it out of the breast, especially when you’re using a nipple shield. I tried to get my mind to accept the fact that I would be pumping for the next year. And I just couldn’t. I wanted to be okay with it because I knew if I accepted it I would feel calmer and better.
So, I pumped every three hours to make sure that my supply was good enough. After about a week I started to freeze little bags of breast milk. Then I started to have another problem. I didn’t feel like I was making enough. He was having his bottles, he was happily sleeping after them but no matter how much was in the fridge and no matter how much I was adding to the freezer, it wasn’t enough. It still doesn’t feel like enough.
I have around five liters in the freezer right now. I would like to have two weeks worth of milk frozen at any time. I don’t want to run into a situation where I can’t breastfeed for a couple of weeks and there’s not enough milk stocked up. Even though I’m clearly making enough milk these days, it doesn’t feel like enough for me. I’m still getting up and pumping in the middle of the night even though he doesn’t really eat that much in the night anymore. I don’t want to feel like there’s not enough, especially because I know that there is enough, but this is part of the anxiety.
Just because I can recognize it doesn’t mean I can do anything about it at the moment. I’m hoping that recognition will be the first step to accepting and not feeling this way any more. I’m slowly coming to understand that depression and anxiety will take a long time to completely resolve and that’s frustrating.
Can breastfeeding help postpartum depression?
It seems that breastfeeding may be able to help with postpartum depression. I can kind of understand this because, if you get past the main struggles, breastfeeding is so much easier than bottle feeding. Even with the nipple shield it’s much less work to just take the baby and put him on my breastfeeding pillow and calmly get him to latch. Thankfully he’s almost two months old and he will now latch on the nipple shield without screaming most of the time.
With breastfeeding, I also don’t have to constantly wash multiple bottles and breast pump accessories. I have enough to do with two children that I don’t want to be standing over the sink for hours each day, cleaning breast milk off many different shaped items. Have you ever had to wash breast milk off things? It’s very annoying because it’s so fatty it doesn’t even get properly cleaned in the dishwasher.
The other thing for me is that breastfeeding your child is like having a hug. Hugging is usually helpful when you feel down. So, having your child’s belly pressed against your chest is a good hug and a good way to feel connected to your child.
I’m accepting that I will have to pump a lot more for this child than I did for my first and because I have a better pump I’m okay with that now. It makes it nicer for my husband as well because somehow the connection is greater when you’re providing food for the child. So this includes him in that process. I personally hate giving bottles but sometimes it’s better to give a bottle and keep my calm than try and breastfeed when I’m already agitated.
So, breastfeeding may help improved postpartum depression but I’m not going to force myself to exclusively breastfeed, because that doesn’t work for me and forcing myself to do something just because it’s considered the best option isn’t a good idea for my mental health.
As long as my baby is fed and thriving, he will be okay and I will be okay.