Hi friends! I’m taking a little time today to blog on something totally unrelated to debt as a little public service announcement (PSA). Even though unrelated to debt, I really want to spread this message and encourage any/all of you to do the same. This is something that isn’t talked about nearly enough, but is quite near and dear to my heart. Mention it to a new Mom or Mom-to-be. Or just talk about it amongst friends. If this message reaches and helps even a single new Mom, then this post will have served its purpose. Thank you for your patience with this interruption to regular blogging. I’ll be back later with a more relevant post.
One of my lifelong best friends called me the other day.
I could tell instantly that something was wrong. She was clearly holding back tears, just trying to keep it together.
My friend Alice* (*not her real name) is a first-time Mom. She brought her sweet baby home from the hospital a few days ago, and is having a very difficult time with the transition. Although it’s totally normal to have your hormones all over the place in the early days and to feel some level of angst, Alice’s feelings were a bit amplified compared to most. As we spoke, I could tell that she was near-panic. My heart ached for her as she told me about her anxiety and feelings of helplessness.
What was Alice’s biggest problem?
Alice’s baby was refusing to latch. She’d seen multiple lactation consultants in the hospital, but was experiencing continued problems. The doctor noticed it and even had her stay an extra day in the hospital, hoping the extra time would help.
Exhausted and feeling defeated, Alice turned to formula while at the hospital. Now at home, she was still trying to breastfeed, but was working herself into a terrible mental state due to her difficult and unsuccessful experiences.
She called me to seek some solace from our friendship and to ask about my experiences (I’m a huge breast-feeding supporter. I breastfed my girls for 6 months and attended a weekly breastfeeding support group religiously). I gave her some suggestions and talked about my experiences. Every person is different. Every baby is different. When I first had my babies I’d planned to breastfeed for a full year. I fought tooth and nail to make it to 6 months. I won’t go into all the details, but it felt like a daily battle and I struggled the.entire.time. It never came easy or naturally for me and my girls.
Here’s the thing. We all know that “breast is best.” We’ve all read the studies, heard it from nurses, pediatricians, etc. We have had it beaten into us that breastmilk is the best thing we can give our babies. I am not arguing with that.
What I would like to say though, the message I really want to spread, is that it’s not all about what’s best for the baby. There’s another very important person in the equation: the mother.
Yes, we all know about the studies showing how important breastmilk can be for supporting a baby’s health (see here or here for an overview). But do you know how incredibly important maternal mental health is for her growing baby? A recent meta-analysis discussed the many varied ways that maternal depression can negatively effect a child long after infancy (see here).
I want to be clear that I’m not a breastfeeding-basher. If a woman can breastfeed then that is fantastic! I’m totally pro-breastfeeding! I’m just saying that there are many cases where trying to breastfeed may actually cause more harm to the child than formula-feeding would. One of these cases, specifically, is if the woman is battling severe anxiety and/or depression as a direct result of breastfeeding complications. We all have these ideas of what it will be like when we have a baby, and rarely do we think that one of our biggest troubles will be feeding the baby! Experiencing difficulty with breastfeeding is actually quite common. But if these complications translate into perpetuating a state of anxiety and depression in the mother then, “Houston, we have a problem!”
I liken this to being on an airplane. If the cabin loses pressure and the oxygen masks come down, we are instructed to put on our own oxygen mask FIRST! We do this BEFORE helping anyone else (including children and/or elderly) because if we don’t help ourselves then we aren’t in a position to be able to help anyone else!
If a woman is struggling with depression, then she’s unable to mother as effectively as she would otherwise. This can negatively influence the growing child’s affective and behavioral development in a number of ways (higher rates of depression and psychopathology, behavior problems, and altered biological stress reactivity profiles). In short, if a new mother is depressed, it’s bad for her child. I would argue that the effects of maternal depression are much worse (and longer lasting) than the effects of being formula-fed as opposed to breastfed.
Many people don’t look at it that way. They look at a new baby and if the mother is feeding the child formula, then she’s often judged. Why would you not want the best for your baby? But maybe offering formula IS the best choice for the baby.
I’m not a trained counselor nor am I a trained medical professional, but I gave my dear friend my own personal advice (this, coming from someone who is pro-breastfeeding, but also pro-mommy’s mental health). I told her not to give up yet. Try to pump so baby can still get breastmilk that way. Try to nurse (like, really try….could take a good 30-45 minutes) at least once a day. See another lactation consultant. Try a nipple shield. Etc. Etc. Etc.
But I ended the conversation with this: If, after you’ve exhausted all other options, you are still finding yourself in a state of panic and depression, unsuccessful with breastfeeding….then you give your baby a bottle of formula. And you do NOT feel bad about it for one second. You are doing the best thing you can for your baby. You are taking care of YOU!
I know this is a controversial topic and you may not agree with me and that’s just fine. But I urge you all to open your minds a bit about this topic and consider not just what’s best for baby, but what’s best for Mommy?
In my opinion, this concept (what’s best for Mommy) is not discussed nearly enough. Think about it. Keep it in the back of your mind when you offer a new Mom suggestions or advice. Remember that each person is different; our babies are different; our experiences are different; and let’s be sensitive toward each other in our choices about breast versus bottle because it’s not always the clear-cut choice that everyone makes it out to be. We’re all just trying to make it through life doing the best we can. Let’s offer each other a little bit of grace.
Thank you! I hope you’re having a fabulous day and will check back later for a more debt-related post. In the meantime, tell me one of your favorite things about your best friend. My dear friend Alice is so incredibly generous. She always thinks of others before herself (really to a fault), and over the years has taught me to be a more caring and giving individual. I am a better person for having her in my life.