Mental Health & Breastfeeding
Updated: Aug 13
If you are a parent, you have heard it before:
“Breast is best” “Breastfeeding is natural” “Breastfeeding gives your little one the best start to life that you can possibly give them.”
And while these statements may be intended to provide support and encouragement, oftentimes they leave new parents feeling guilty and ashamed if their breastfeeding journey does not go as expected or if they choose not to breastfeed at all.
Expectations vs. Reality = Emotional Difficulties
Many women (myself included) begin to envision their breastfeeding journey while pregnant and it usually looks a bit like what is portrayed in movies, TV and on social media. Baby effortlessly latches to the mother and the mother is blissful with no pain. However, this isn’t always the reality. I haven’t seen any movie talk about engorgement, pain, clogged ducts, mastitis, nipple shields, nursing strikes or any other hardships that come with breastfeeding.
So, when your reality looks far different from your expectations, that is when guilt, shame, anxiety and other emotional difficulties may set in.
On top of your own disappointments, it does not help when consulting with a professional who is preaching how much better breastmilk is than formula. Yes, breast milk is the more nutritious option but it is not “liquid gold” if it is negatively impacting your mental health. Formula is a GREAT alternative, especially if it keeps you emotionally healthy.
How to Cope With A Difficult Breastfeeding Journey
I know so many new moms feel guilty about their own breastfeeding difficulties. I can tell you 100 times that you do not need to feel guilty but I know that isn’t how it works and you will feel what you feel regardless. So instead of simply telling you, i will give practical tips for how to cope in a healthy way:
Go Through The Grieving Process & Feel Your Feelings
Just like me, you may have envisioned what your breastfeeding experience would be like when you were pregnant. You may have seen the TV character effortlessly breastfeed and get excited thinking that will be you shortly just to be left disappointed.
Sometimes, life does not go as planned and, as hard as it may be, you have to let go of your vision and accept your reality. I know this sounds hard and scary but that is okay! Allow yourself to feel your feelings and relish in how much it sucks that your feeding journey did not go as planned. Your feelings are valid and deserve to be felt!
When you allow yourself to grieve and feel your emotions, you are letting them pass through you so you can get to the other side and begin to accept your reality. You are giving yourself time to adjust to what your situation looks like rather than dwell on what you were hoping it would be.
Give Yourself Permission to Stop (when you are ready)
I remember my mom and sister asking me why I was still breastfeeding when it clearly wasn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped. I remember being annoyed that they weren’t encouraging me to keep going but now as I look back I think they were seeing something I wasn’t seeing at the time. They were able to disconnect any feeling of guilt or shame that I was attaching to breastfeeding.
Now, i think it’s important to stop when you feel ready to and not when someone else tells you to but if there is someone you trust in your life pointing out that you do not have to keep going if it is compromising your mental health, it is worth it to hear them out and reflect on what they are saying.
You don’t need permission from a doctor or lactation consultant to stop breastfeeding, you are capable of making that decision for yourself! You do not need to compromise your mental health and wellbeing, your baby needs a happy mother more than they need your breastmilk.
Do Not Blame Yourself
It is not your fault your breastfeeding journey does not look like it does in the movies. Just by carrying, birthing, and caring for your new baby you are doing amazing!!
If you are having a hard time reassuring yourself, lean on your support system for encouragement and comfort. Surround yourself with people who support you and do not judge your decisions.
Look in the mirror and repeat these words to yourself over and over until you begin to believe them: I am a good mom and my feeding journey does not change that.
As long as you care for your baby, feed them, and love them you are not hurting them.
Find Different Ways to Bond With Your Baby
Yes, there are other ways to bond with your baby other than breastfeeding! I am not denying that breastfeeding is beautiful and a great way to bond with your baby, HOWEVER, I think when this is preached it can bring about guilt or shame to the new mom who can’t or chooses not to breastfeed for any reason.
There are many ways to bond with your baby that do not include breastfeeding. Some of them include:
1. Make eye contact: While you’re feeding your newborn spend some time interacting with your baby through the simple but effective act of eye contact. Put your phone away & turn off the TV and spend some time gazing into your beautiful baby's eyes.
2. Skin to skin contact: Just one hour of skin to skin each day can have huge benefits & increase the bond between you & your baby. Skin to skin contact also helps your baby regulate his own body temperature, as well as reducing stress in your baby.
3. Look in the mirror together: Although your baby does not understand a reflection yet, this is a great way to engage & bond together as babies love looking at faces. This is a good opportunity to be silly & playful with your baby.
4. Gentle baby massage: A daily gentle infant massage is a great way to bond with your baby. A good time to do this is when your baby is quiet yet still alert. Use a blanket or towel, gentle baby oil or lotion & massage while enjoying this quiet time together.
5. Interact through talking, singing, or reading: Your voice is the most familiar & calming sounds to your baby. By talking, singing & reading you are strengthening the relationship & bond between you & your baby.
These are just five of MANY different ways to bond with your newborn baby.
If you take anything away from this please let it be this - you are a good mom however you choose to feed your baby! Please show yourself some compassion and grace during this challenging period ♡