If you asked me while I was pregnant what my plans were for feeding my little one once she arrived, I adamantly responded with “we’re going to pump”. Period. End of discussion. My reasons were, and still are, justified: I wanted my husband to be able to bond with baby in that way, I didn’t want to be the one having to do all the night feedings while my husband lay snoring next to me, I didn’t even really want my husband to see me like that (how could he ever see me as a woman – and not just a mom – ever again?), and, after seeing the invisible tether between my friends’ boobs and their babies determining what they could do and when they could do it, it was decided that breastfeeding was just not for me. These reasons may seem stupid and selfish to some, but perhaps relateable to others. Little did I know, this was just the beginning to my - our - journey.
My husband and I planned a home-water-hypno birth, and after learning how beneficial immediate breastfeeding is for baby and mama, we decided to have a little give in our plan and breastfeed following our birth. And this is where it all changed. That instinctual latch, those first gulps, the look in her big blue eyes, and those amazing “I’m really a mom” feelings.
To say our journey has always been this blissful and easy would be an outright lie. We definitely had our ups and downs. My milk took abnormally long to come in, our little one lost too much weight, then took to hour long feedings, and I continued to question whether or not every little thing I was doing was right. Many of the feelings behind my initial plan to abstain came flooding back: Sitting up in bed, half asleep, breastfeeding every 2 hours, having to seclude myself in another room for however long it took for baby to be satiated whenever company came over - how could they not? I even remember saying to my husband, in a stressed out state, “This is why I didn’t want to breastfeed!”
And then something clicked. I took a deep breath, decided to stop stressing about how much she was getting, how long she was feeding for, how often she was feeding, why she was feeding, and just…let it happen! I was also fortunate enough to stumble upon some amazing articles online which helped me solidify my positive relationship with breastfeeding, and it was like the fog cleared:
“Easy, long term breastfeeding involves forgetting about the “breast” and the “feeding” (and the duration, and the interval, and the transmission of the right nutrients in the right amounts, and the difference between nutritive and non-nutritive suckling needs, all of which form the focus of artificial milk pamphlets) and focusing instead on the relationship. Let’s all tell mothers that we hope they won’t “breastfeed” – that the real joys and satisfaction of the experience begin when they stop “breastfeeding” and start mothering at the breast.”(1)
The concept of “mothering at the breast”, along with understanding that this act is about more than an exchange of nutrients and calories, honestly changed my life. I began following such online campaigns as #milkmemo from Breastfeeding USA, which posts encouraging and uplifting photos and comments for moms who may be struggling with or questioning their breastfeeding experience. I began to feel confident, relaxed, and in love with this new relationship.
We are now six and a half months into our breastfeeding journey, have begun to introduce food, and have no plans of ending our relationship with breastfeeding anytime soon. I am now the mama who sees breastfeeding as more than a meal. I am the mama who leans into the carseat to breastfeed while the hubby drives. I am the comfort breastfeeding mama. I am the co-sleeping, nurse-all-night-if-you-need-to mama. But more importantly, I am a mama who has learned that not everything works out how you planned, that feelings change, and then change again, and perhaps once more. That every woman and baby have the right to experience feedings (and any of the other myriad of things to do with parenting!) however they feel is appropriate for them and their family, and that these decisions should be respected, even if they change several times. That’s life. And that is most definitely parenthood. I’m sure this is just the first of many things my little one will teach me.
(1) Wiessinger, Diane. "Watch Your Language." Journal of Human Lactation 12.1 (1996) Web. 27 April 2014
When my daughter Jade was born just over a year ago, I planned on exclusively breastfeeding. I had successfully breastfed her sister Josie for 14 months, at which point Josie had self-weaned. I loved breastfeeding and the bond that it gave me with Josie. Breastfeeding Jade was something that I was looking forward to.
When I had Josie, I had minimal problems over the first couple of weeks, and I expected that I was an old pro and Jade and I would have no problems at all.
I couldn’t have been more wrong!
In those early days, breastfeeding Jade was very painful, but I assumed it was just my nipples getting used to breastfeeding. I was certain that by the end of the second week, I would be just fine. Instead, things just got worse. My nipples were cracked and bleeding. I slathered on the Lansinoh and walked around topless to the dismay of my five year old daughter. Still, things were not getting better. Every time Jade ate, I was in excruciating pain. Every time she ate, the sores were opened up again.
My midwife came to visit when I finally admitted that I wasn’t the successful breastfeeding mother that I thought I would be. I actually thought I had a milk bleb. My midwife took one look at me and said that it wasn’t a blister. That little bump I could see was all that was left of my nipple. She said that it was the worst nipple damage that she had ever seen. She advised me to express from that side until it healed, and to feed my baby the milk that I had expressed.
I was stunned.
Having a newborn is such an emotional time. The reality was not matching up to my expectations. I had to go back to work when Josie was six weeks old. I expressed until she was nine months old and I was able to quit my job. I absolutely did not want to express to feed Jade, and in my irrational, just-had-a-baby mind, I was a failure. Never mind that Jade would be getting my milk. It was coming from a bottle! Making matters worse was that she struggled to latch onto a bottle. But I soldiered on, determined that expressing was going to be a short term fix and that I would be able to breastfeed without pain soon.
I wanted an answer. I saw nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants. I called breastfeeding helplines. The consensus was that Jade’s mouth was too small to make a good latch. I was assured that once she grew, her mouth would get bigger and breastfeeding would not be painful.
In the meantime I became very anxious every time I thought about feeding Jade. It hurt. I honestly would call it excruciating pain. I was in tears multiple times a day. I thought about quitting. Even though I was super committed to making it work, if I hadn’t had a good experience with Josie I don’t think that I would have had the confidence or desire to continue with Jade. But I had taken on the mindset that I was a breastfeeding mother, and there was no way I was going to give up. I kept reflecting on the experience I had with Josie, and I knew that breastfeeding could be euphoric. I was determined to do anything I could to feel that with Jade. I affirmed to myself that I could breastfeed successfully.
Over time, my nipples both healed. Jade’s mouth grew and she wasn’t damaging me as she fed anymore. However, I knew that her latch still wasn’t right. It didn’t look like Josie’s latch. Her top lip was always tucked under. She was often gassy and fussy and I was still uncomfortable feeding her. At this point she was 10 weeks old.
I decided to search the internet for “baby’s top lip tucked under” and I found myself on a forum where mothers were discussing lip tie. I had never heard of lip tie. I know that the nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants had all checked Jade for tongue tie and said that her tongue was fine. But lip tie? Nobody had mentioned that. Lip tie, I learned, was when skin at the top of the lip is attached tightly to the upper gum. There was a link in the forum to images of lip tie. I looked at the photo. Jade was in my arms. I flipped up her top lip, and she most certainly had lip tie.
I cried. I was so relieved to finally know what was ‘wrong’. Then I was angry. It was frustrating that nobody had caught it. I expected that lactation consultants would have checked for this structural problem. But I couldn’t dwell on the negative. I had to switch my focus to fixing the problem. I decided that I could cope with the discomfort, but I had to determine whether this lip tie was going to cause Jade any long term problems. The forum had led me to Dr. Lawrence Kotlow’s website. I studied his website, fact sheets, and videos. The research I did led me to believe that there was a risk of dental and speech problems if I left the lip tie. Dr. Kotlow was a dentist and he corrected lip tie with a laser. I started calling dentists in my area. None of them would perform the procedure.
I took Jade to the doctor to confirm that she had lip tie and to find out my options for treatment. I was told that I could take her to a pediatric surgeon. I did not want to put my baby under general anesthetic. I started to look into dentists in Sydney, which was about a three hour drive from where we live in Canberra, Australia. I was able to find a dentist that would use a laser to cut the lip tie. I sent the photo of Jade’s lip tie to the dentist and he confirmed that it was lip tie and that he could correct it. We made an appointment for a couple of weeks later.
My husband and I made the trek to Sydney. The procedure, though quick, was very difficult for us as parents. Jade hated being restrained, and Jon had to hold her very still on his lap. There was more blood than I expected, and Jade refused to feed as she was very angry, numbed, and possibly sore. What took a few minutes felt like hours, but eventually Jade calmed down and had a good breastfeed.
I wish I could say that this was the start of euphoric breastfeeding. It wasn’t. Because Jade was already three months old, she was set in her ways. On top of that, I was overly full many times and she wasn’t able to latch well unless I expressed first. The damage she had done to my nipple led me to have what the doctor said was a cyst from the poor latch. This ‘cyst’ remained until Jade was ten months old. She bit it one day as she was slipping off my breast and it opened and drained. Finally I could feed comfortably.
Yes, it took ten months to breastfeed comfortably. Jade has just turned one, and I hope she doesn’t wean as early as her sister did. I’d like to enjoy our breastfeeding journey for a little while longer, while it’s still enjoyable.
I hope that by sharing this story I can raise awareness of lip tie. I think that if Jade’s lip tie had been caught earlier, we would have had a much better breastfeeding experience. I also know that if I hadn't previously breastfed successfully it's very likely that I would have given up due to the excruciating pain. I hope that by sharing my story I can prevent other mothers from unnecessarily giving up on breastfeeding, or from going through what I went through. I believe that when there are problems with attachment, health care providers should be checking for tongue and lip tie. I am happy to report that I was able to share Jade's photo with my midwife, who in turn shared it with her colleagues. I share the photo of Jade's lip tie with nurses and midwives when I get the opportunity. One by one, I know that my story and Jade's photo can make a difference in the lives of mothers.
To learn more about lip tie, visit Dr. Kotlow's website - www.kidsteeth.com or see his fact sheet on tongue and lip tie here: http://www.kiddsteeth.com/articles/ttfactssheet.pdf
Parenting is such a thing that everybody thinks she knows how to do it perfectly, especially if it not about her own child. Breastfeeding is also a ‘topic of everybody’ – when, where, how, how long and so on. It can be very confusing if everybody provides different information, and the situation is more problematic if they belong to your close family.
Here I’d like to collect some views about breastfeeding which can be useful in the first few months. I also had to face these problems, but now I know what to do to give the best to my child.
I’d like to share two other problems with you with which I don’t have personal experience but I heard about them or some of my friends experienced them. I hope these will also be useful for you.
This is not a complete list, but I’d try to collect the most common problems for the first few months. But it is not an impossible mission to overcome them. Believe me I’m a practicing mother of a 2-year-old boy and a 3-month-old girl and I’m a breastfeeding fan!
Molnár, Á.(2012, September). A mellgyulladás kezelése (Treating mastitis), Anyák lapja, p14-16
Mohrbacher, N. Szopási sztrájk (Strike against breastfeeding). Retrieved July 17, 2013 from http://www.lll.hu/fuzetek/szopasi_sztrajk
Disclaimer: On occasion, a mother/baby breastfeeding dyad is be compromised by a medical situation. If your intuition tells you baby's signs are needing extra attention, please do what you believe is best for you and baby. Good sources for special circumstances in breastfeeding include LLLI and kellymom (do you have a good resource? Comment below!). Please don't give up, you can breastfeed as long as you would like!
For those of you who are not familiar with my writing, I am a 29 year old mother of two little boys (1.5 and 3). I worked full time (while pursuing my undergrad psychology degree) while I was pregnant with #1. After #2 was born, I stopped working (since it would have cost me more than I made to put the kids in daycare) and became a stay at home mom. I am now pursuing a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. From the incredible amount of research and reading I’ve done as a result of my schooling, I’ve become passionate about the challenges of becoming a mom, especially when it comes to postpartum depression (PPD).
During my first pregnancy, I lost my libido, and it has never fully recovered (more than 3 years later.) This (among a number of other things) contributed to serious relationship issues with my husband (though we have since been able to work through our struggles and have devoted ourselves to improving communication and understanding). What does any of this have to do with PPD? Well among the diagnostic criteria for PPD, a libido that has not returned after you have been cleared to have sex again by your doctor is included. Of course, everyone’s comfort level with postpartum sex is going to differ, especially if there was tearing that needed stitching. That being said, if your baby is now a few months old and you still have no interest whatsoever in sex, it could be a sign that something else is going on.
The following is a list of diagnostic criteria (symptoms) for PPD. The bold symptoms, even if they occur alone (but very frequently occur with other symptoms) are a major signal that a woman is experiencing some level of PPD. The symptoms that are not in bold are still important. I never had thoughts of harming myself or my children, nor did I have problems bonding with them; however, I did isolate myself and have excessive feelings of being tired, sad, and overly emotional about seemingly insignificant things even after my son was over a month old (and in general, your body’s hormones have leveled back out.)
Many of these symptoms are also symptoms of depression in people who are not postpartum, but have been modified according to research with women who are experiencing depressive symptoms and who are also postpartum. It is estimated that up to 85% of women will experience some sort of mood disturbance after delivery, but most of this is contributed to the physical, emotional, and social adjustment that comes with having a baby. Anywhere from 7% to 25% of women may develop PPD (these numbers are estimated because most researchers believe that PPD is underreported). Even if you have only two or 3 of the less severe symptoms, you may be suffering from PPD if you have been experiencing them within four weeks of giving birth and the severity of the symptoms is not declining as time passes.
I recently completed a project for my human development class on the potential impact of PPD on child development. While doing my research, I discovered a wonderful paper on PPD which attempted to analyze the current state of research and views of PPD. The author completed her own study and subsequently came up with a number of recommendations to enhance the way we diagnose, treat, an ultimately view mothers with PPD. The most important aspect of Mauthner’s research was that while it may be physiologically and emotionally “normal” to have a challenging adjustment period after giving birth, we must normalize and validate each woman’s experience without causing women to assume that it is normal to be depressed. Indeed the drastic hormone changes that come with labor and delivery can wreak havoc on one’s body and mind, but by saying that PPD should be seen as a “normal” experience leaves women feeling as though they are inherently damaged.
The shift in American society to small nuclear families means that instead of growing up with child bearing women around us, we often grow up seeing a mainstream, medicalized view of birth. Instead of navigating pregnancy with our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, aunts, and friends around to help, we are often left to our own devices while still working, going to school, tending to other children, and all of the other roles that often come with being a woman, and we often do so alone.
Mauthner sat down with 40 women and asked them to describe their experiences in an attempt to better understand and redefine PPD. The following bullet points are a “nutshell” version of the meaningful information from this paper.
Inspired by Mauthner’s study, and in an an effort to better understand women’s subjective experience of PPD, I created a survey to supplement my research project. I created a brief (10 question) online survey an asked for volunteers to respond to the survey at their convenience. Respondents varied in locations across the world due to solicitation for volunteers through the internet (a big thanks to TBS for posting it on the wall!) Women were asked if they experienced PPD and what their experiences of the post partum period were. Respondents (N=74) reported on level and quality of support systems, whether or not they took medication and/or attended counseling, what helped, what did not help, and their history of family and mental health.
What women with PPD said about their support systems.
What women without PPD said about their support systems.
Women with PPD were asked about what they think might have helped them manage their PPD and daily life.
What women with PPD who received counseling or other services said about what helped them manage their symptoms.
So what does this all mean? Essentially, I believe that PPD should be considered as being on a spectrum: some women have more difficulties, while others have fewer difficulties. Women with fewer difficulties should not be overlooked as being “less important” than women suffering from severe PPD. Between the physical, emotional, and social changes that take place when we spend 9 months creating a life and then bringing that precious live into this world, it is a TON to handle, much less handle it without much help. Even mothers who have a great deal of help still get PPD, and there are mothers with no help who never develop PPD. There are so many things that contribute to any mental health challenge; thus there should not be a “one size fits all” idea about PPD or any other mental health disorder. It should not be assumed that PPD is normal, but that if it does occur, it is not necessarily abnormal.
Many women get through PPD without any outside help, but nobody should have to. If you have had depression before, or are depressed while you are pregnant, take a few moments to listen to yourself if you begin to feel overwhelmed after giving birth. Just because you experienced depression before doesn’t mean that you necessarily will after giving birth, but you may be at a higher risk than mothers who have never been depressed. Also, just because you have never been depressed does not mean that you have a significantly less chance to develop PPD than someone who had depression before.
If you are experiencing PPD, consider seeing a licensed mental health counselor. A good counselor will not think that you are a hypochondriac because you are concerned that you might have PPD. In fact, most counselors believe that everyone could benefit from counseling from time to time, regardless of whether or not they meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis. Counseling is especially beneficial to people navigating a drastic life change, even if it is not causing extreme distress. The benefits of having someone listen to you talk about your feelings and struggles can make a world of difference; especially when that person does not tell you that “everything will be fine,” “you’re overreacting,” or try to fix you. Skilled counselors will refrain from trying to cheer you up and giving you advice; they will listen to you talk because they know that sometimes the best healing and change comes from acknowledging and accepting the emotional struggles we deal with on a daily basis.
The journey of motherhood is full of joys and wonders. If you are struggling, reach out to someone for help. It is a failing to mothers and children that society often sweeps the struggles of mothers under the rug as if our challenges are not worthy of meaning. There are lots of people who can help, and many will be happy to help if they know it is needed.
As I close I leave you with this task. Next time you are standing behind a new mom at the checkout line in the grocery store and want to tell her how lucky she is and how happy she must be, instead, say this to her: “Your baby is beautiful! How are you feeling? I’m a mom too and I know how it can be both wonderful and occasionally challenging.” Maybe she won’t open up to you (especially if she is a stranger) but instead of walking away feeling guilty about her sadness, she may have some hope that she isn’t alone in this journey. By doing this, you will be working to bring women one step closer to joining together for the greater good, rather than segregating us through the one thing we all have in common; our ability to create and nurture life.
A note to the reader: I am not yet a licensed counselor and I am in no way offering medical advice. If you are concerned, please contact your practitioner immediately. Also, please be aware that there is a difference in mental health licensing and titles. Counselors are trained to listen, cannot prescribe medications (but can consult with a psychiatrist who can) an provide an opportunity to “talk through” your struggles. Psychiatrists have a medical degree and the emphasis in their education is diagnosis and treatment. If you have had a negative experience with a mental health professional before (such as a psychiatrist who prescribed meds and “didn’t listen,” consider seeking a counselor instead. They can be identified by their title of LMHC. (I’m not trying to bash psychiatrists and I know of many who are great listeners, but many people are not aware that there is a difference between a counselor and a psychiatrist.)
Mauthner, N. S. (1999). Feeling low and feeling really bad about feeling low: Women’s experiences of motherhood and postpartum depression. Canadian Psychology, 40(2), 143-161. doi: http://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1037/h0086833
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