I was blessed to give birth to my beautiful baby boy earlier this year. I was consultant-led during my pregnancy due to a history of mental health issues, and was labelled as high risk for postnatal depression. I suffer from anxiety disorder and had in the past suffered from severe depression. I didn’t realise at the time that such a history can sometimes lead people to question whether breastfeeding is an option for them. For me personally, I don’t know what I would have done without it…
I wanted to breastfeed despite not knowing anything about it
When I decided to breastfeed, I made the decision based on the fact that it was better nutrition for baby. I had no experience of breastfeeding at all. No one in my family had breastfed, none of my friends had, I hadn’t read up about it at all.
Weirdly, I feel this lack of knowledge from both myself and those around me actually helped my breastfeeding journey. I had nobody telling me it was too difficult, or sore, or that the baby would feed all the time, that I wouldn’t get any sleep, or tell me it wasn’t a good idea with my anxiety. If I had heard these things, I would have seriously questioned whether it was the right choice for me!
I had nobody telling me it was too difficult, or sore, or that the baby would feed all the time, that I wouldn’t get any sleep, or tell me it wasn’t a good idea with my anxiety. If I had heard these things, I would have seriously questioned whether it was the right choice for me!
Having a newborn turned our worlds upside down and I struggled to cope
The reality of a newborn baby was something I was not prepared for. Our whole lives were completely turned upside down, and I struggled to cope. I felt my old feelings of depression start to sneak back in. On top of that, breastfeeding wasn’t easy initially either, as the responsibility for all the feeding was on me. On one of the first nights, my husband came to sit up with me while I fed the baby through the night. “Go!” I said to him while more or less shoving him off the sofa. “There’s no point in us both being sleep deprived, you rest!”.
Adrenaline got me through at first, but as the days (and nights!) wore on I questioned whether I could keep it up. I was just so tired and so stressed…the thought of someone being able to help me made formula seem so tempting. I dropped my previous exclusively breastfeeding goal of 6 months down to 4.5 months, and figured I’d be lucky if I even made it to that! If things don’t improve soon, I’m giving up breastfeeding” I said to my husband on more than one occasion.
I realised breastfeeding was making me feel happy and contented
But things did start to improve, and sooner than I anticipated (when baby was around 3 weeks old). The cluster feeding settled, I began to get chunks of sleep, and was much more in the swing of everything.
As time went on the comfort my son got from breastfeeding became really obvious to me, the closeness we shared relaxed him and he loved to feed. Then after a while I realised that it wasn’t just him! It was making me feel happy and contented also, and I started to feel much more positive.
I loved spending that time together, cuddling close, and in the early days when they take quite a while to feed, I even had time for an episode of my favourite show to relax. This is something I very much miss now he’s older! For the last feed of the day I would feed him to sleep, and for this feed I just held him and enjoyed the moment as I knew these times wouldn’t last forever.
The joy we got from breastfeeding didn’t take away how tough being a new mum was but it made me think “I can do this”. I’ll admit I didn’t like breastfeeding at first but I started realising that actually…now I loved it!
I’ll admit I didn’t like breastfeeding at first but I started realising that actually…now I loved it!
The next challenge was breastfeeding in public
Once he was older (and lockdown was finally over!) my next challenge was breastfeeding in public. When my anxiety was at its worst, I couldn’t leave the house for fear of judgement or a hurtful comment. Although it was much improved in my later years, it still lingered, and the thought of getting my boob out in public was just not an option for me. “I’ll express and feed him from a bottle when I’m out” I said to a friend while I was still pregnant.
I had a hospital trip in the first week of pregnancy and I had to bring baby with me as he was still cluster feeding. It was too early to express so instead I faffed around nervously with a scarf, trying to keep myself covered but latch baby on at the same time. A kind nurse told me about how she had breastfed her child, and how she reached a stage where “if my child needed fed I just got my boob out whether people liked it or not”. I looked at her in awe. What a confident person to be able to do that! Something I could never do… But as time went on and my bond grew with my son, I was very surprised to find myself having the same mindset. Anxiety wasn’t going to stop me feeding my hungry baby!
I have now breastfed in many locations; the park, a farm, the roadside, events, cafes…I don’t even think about it anymore. For me, all those lovely hormones that were released every time I fed my baby helped override any negative emotions or anxiety I was feeling and gave me the confidence to feed my baby anywhere he needed it.
All those lovely hormones that were released every time I fed my baby helped override any negative emotions or anxiety I was feeling and gave me the confidence to feed my baby anywhere he needed it.
Eight months in and I can say breastfeeding helped keep postnatal depression at bay
It’s been 8 months now and I’m still breastfeeding my son. My new breastfeeding goal is to let him self-wean, so quite a bit longer than my initial 4.5 months! I still don’t get a good sleep and the daily challenges of having a young baby continue.
Having a baby is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life but somehow I’m still going, mental health intact. Science shows those regular oxytocin surges experienced when breastfeeding help to keep postnatal depression at bay, and for me, there is no doubt in my mind that it has helped me stay mentally healthy.
Having a baby is the hardest thing I’ve ever done…but somehow I’m still going, mental health intact.
Breastfeeding provides us with many positive things, such as happy hormones, opportunities to rest as baby feeds, hormones to help both mum and baby sleep, it’s also an extremely useful parenting tool as it soothes baby so easily…the list goes on! There’s not much that a bit of boob can’t fix!
I think back to when I made my initial decision to breastfeed, wanting the best nutrition for my baby, not realising that it is so much more than that! It has brought me more joy, strength and happiness than I could have imagined, and of course baby is pretty happy too!