Let’s give moms a break when it comes to breastfeeding

It’s World BreastFeeding Week and UNICEF and WHO are running full-steam ahead with their campaigns. Yet, while breastfeeding is an ideal, this kind of campaign is adding extra pressure on new parents, particularly moms, if they can’t or decide not to breastfeed based on their needs and situations.

Breastfeeding is an ideal – and this campaign clearly wants people to support it – yet for most moms and dads who’ve gone through the realities of ‘natural’ feeding, it’s not such a rosy picture. There’s the difficulties of latching, the pumping, the sleepless nights, the constant social pressures of equating breastfeeding to being a good parent.

While there’s been some alternative perspective on the week-long campaign, this recent study published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal highlights that women with unmet expectations about breastfeeding may be at higher risk for postpartum depression (PPD).

According to Maria Iacovou, PhD, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge in England and an author of the study, the benefits of breastfeeding is not new information. “But what is new – and urgent from a public health perspective – is that there is increased PPD risk among women who plan to breastfeed and then are not able to.”

The study suggests that women who wanted to breastfeed and did not may be in the most vulnerable position, possibly because they feel disappointment and guilt in addition to not getting the physiological benefits of breastfeeding.

If moms who are depressed fail at breastfeeding, that is another strike against their perceptions of being a good mom.

The study ultimately underlines the importance of providing expert breastfeeding support to women who want to breastfeed, but also to provide compassionate support for women who had intended to breastfeed, but who find themselves unable to.

I’ve been told that World Breastfeeding Week is trying to target developing countries because breastfeeding is the best way to provide infants with the nutrients they need. If this is the case, the message could be more specific, otherwise it might inadvertently be perpetuating social pressures leading to unnecessary stress and anxiety for parents who have the choice to decide how they want to feed their child.

An interview with CBC Radio about Postpartum Depression

Like every postpartum depression story, Muriel’s one is unique and deeply personal. It isn’t black and white or clear-cut because many factors and triggers make it different for everyone going through it. I’m glad that CBC Radio invited me to share a part of her story and our experience… While what Muriel (and I) went through was very different from who she was and the outcome isn’t what anyone expected, I’m glad that part of her story can be told and I hope that it can make a difference for both moms and dads.

**A web article and the interview can also be found on CBC’s Website.**

The interview highlighted some of our struggles. Here are few other things that we went through as a family and that some of the callers also brought up:

  • It felt like riding an emotional roller-coaster which was both draining and tiring.
  • The feeling of helplessness for not knowing what else to do and the frustration for being unable to see the end of the illness was very real.
  • Muriel reached out to friends, family, psychologists, and the hospital for help. Despite trying to find other ways to address her depression, anxiety, and struggles, we were at the mercy of doctors and the healthcare system because we thought they had the answers.
  • As Muriel’s condition deteriorated she became more recluse, but we also felt more isolated because of the stigma around postpartum depression (PPD) and the lack of understanding to address it and how to reach out to Muriel.

The on-air portion on the interview was only five minutes, but Gloria Macarenko and I talked a bit about what more could be done.

  • For one thing, it’s important for both moms and dads, as well as people in the support network, to realize that “it’s ok to not be ok”. There’s too much pressure, from society and between moms and parents, to be “good parents” or to do everything “right” (ex. breastfeeding).
  • Society must realize that it’s not only the person directly suffering from postpartum depression, but also their partner and child(ren) and they also need the support.
  • A mother’s physical and mental well-being is as important (maybe even more?) as a baby’s well-being.
  • Treatment for postpartum depression should include a mix of medication and therapy, including being in a supportive and appropriate environment for PPD-sufferers and babies, and communication between the medical team and families to understand the history, character and coping mechanisms of moms (and dads) who are suffering. There is no one-size fits all solution.
  • It’s important that soon-to-be new parents are aware of the possibility of postpartum depression and the causes and reasons for it. This includes changes in hormones, social pressures and expectations, and the ability for parents to cope with anxiety issues, lack of sleep, and the stresses associated with parenting. If there are pre-natal classes, why aren’t there post-natal ones?