Many women with postpartum depression report struggling to breastfeed, or at least feeling that extra pressure to do so.
It’s hard to know for certain whether breastfeeding problems cause postpartum depression symptoms or if symptoms of postpartum depression are making it difficult to breastfeed. It could be a combination of both.
Either way, breastfeeding takes some work. For a mother with postpartum depression, it’s just another aspect of motherhood that can contribute to more stress, added pressure, and self-doubt.
Here are some tips for mothers who are, or who might be, concerned about breastfeeding with postpartum depression.
Do Your Research
Don’t expect breastfeeding to come naturally to you and baby. Sometimes it does, but don’t expect it to. Breastfeeding may have come naturally to our ancestors hundreds of years ago when life was simpler, but if we want to be successful at it now, then we need to do some research.
The best time to do that research is while still pregnant, since the first few days of breastfeeding are the toughest. If you’ve enrolled in a birthing class, it’s likely they will cover breastfeeding as well. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you can think of and take detailed notes. You never know which aspect of breastfeeding you might struggle with.
Being prepared for any breastfeeding setbacks can help you handle problems better if you end up suffering from postpartum depression.
If you’re already breastfeeding with postpartum depression, it’s never too late to research ways to improve your experience. There are plenty of resources available to help you.
A postpartum doula is a great option to consider if you’re worried about breastfeeding. They are trained to help mothers breastfeed successfully and can help you get enough rest and proper nutrition after giving birth, which is important for milk production.
Milkology – an online breastfeeding class that offers tons of information for all the different stages of breastfeeding.
Mom Smart Not Hard – this site has some really specific breastfeeding articles. I also recommend taking their Free 5 Day Breastfeeding Course and downloading the Breastfeeding Handbook to use as a reference when you’re offline.
KellyMom – the ultimate online breastfeeding resource. You can find articles about basically every single breastfeeding situation and/or question you could possibly have.
ABCKidsinc– a great collection of articles about all things breastfeeding. Includes common questions about health, diet, medications and products.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding – This book from the La Leche League is a breastfeeding bestseller for a reason. You can read it while pregnant and keep it on hand as a quick resource when and if situations arise.
For more resources, check out this post from The Merry Momma – An Epic List of Breastfeeding Tips and Resources
Learn About D-MER
Also known as Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. D-MER is a newer breastfeeding condition that often gets confused as a symptom of postpartum depression. It is characterized by feelings of anxiety, sadness, panic, dread or loneliness that are brought on during letdown.
It is important to note that D-MER is NOT a symptom of postpartum depression, although it is triggered by a change in hormone levels. The “dysphoric” state that it causes is purely a physiological response to the sudden drop in dopamine levels required to increase milk-producing prolactin. In other words – a chemical imbalance.
Women with D-MER can also suffer from postpartum depression, which can add to the confusion and increase aversion to breastfeeding. Simply recognizing the unpleasant feelings as a physiological response, as opposed to a psychological condition, can make a huge difference.
Start Off Right
There is one epic moment after you have a baby that opens the door for breastfeeding success. What you do in this moment will set the pace for your breastfeeding journey. I’m talking about when your milk comes in.
Up until your milk comes in, baby has just been “suckling” and they haven’t really been “feeding” on much other than colustrum (still super important, though). And then one morning, you wake up with boulders on your chest, pain up to your armpits and a soaked t-shirt and have more milk than you know what to do with.
The most important things to focus on when your milk comes in are:
It will be difficult to latch a baby onto an extremely full breast. The nipple can flatten or invert, and squeezing the breast to get it into baby’s mouth can be incredibly painful. Using breast shells was a lifesaver for me during engorgement.
With extremely full breasts, there is a lot of watery fore milk at the front, and the rich, fattier hind milk at the back of the breast. You want to make sure that baby is getting enough of the fattier hind milk before they get full. Otherwise, you can end up with greenish poops and red bums, along with other problems. The breast compression technique is the best way to ensure baby is getting the good stuff.
Clogged Milk Ducts
The name says it all and the last thing you want to end up with is a swollen, red clogged milk duct. If left untreated, it can lead to mastitis. Thankfully there are lots of easy remedies to help loosen up a blocked duct.
Regulating Milk Supply
It might be tempting to pump out all that extra milk, but the best thing you can do is just feed, feed, feed. Baby may go through a cluster feeding phase when your milk comes in so just lay in bed and feed baby all day long if you need to. Feeding on demand will help to regulate your milk supply so that your body will learn to produce exactly the right amount of milk for your baby’s needs.
Once you have an adequate supply of milk, you should start experimenting with different nursing positions. A football hold is great for managing those XL sized engorged breasts. Lying back can be helpful if you have a forceful letdown. Side-Lying is always a popular option for night feedings or to get through cluster feeding sessions. You can even try nursing with baby in a baby carrier.
[Related Reading: The Ultimate Guide to Breastfeeding Positions]
Reduce Stress While Nursing
Stress is the number one killer of a good milk supply. Stressing out about whether or not you’re producing enough milk is the last thing you should do.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety and feel like it is impacting your milk supply, try to find ways to calm yourself down during feedings.
For more advice on handling and reducing stress, you can find a variety of articles on Better Help – https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/stress/
Listen to music – put on your favorite playlist.
Aromatherapy – diffuse some essential oils, check out the mood collection from Rocky Mountain Oils.
Practice Deep Breathing – yoga and meditation can help you to clear your mind completely. Try to use slow, deep breaths while you feed baby.
Nurse while in the bath – nursing your baby (or pumping) while sitting in a warm bath can help your body and mind relax enough to let the milk flow effortlessly.
Watch TV – distract yourself with a good show or movie.
Read a Book or Magazine – or use an e-reader or tablet.
Look at old pictures – Make an album filled with pictures of happier times and loved ones. (I love these customizable photo albums from Mixbook)
Get Comfortable – find the most comfortable spot in your home to nurse baby and make sure everything you need are within arms reach. If you’re out in public, do whatever makes you most comfortable – whether it’s nursing with or without a nursing cover.
Cry it Out – crying is a way to release stress and built-up tension, not always a sign of despair.
Support vs. Pressure
Women with postpartum depression are extra sensitive to criticism, because they already feel like failures themselves. They often mistake breastfeeding support as pressure to breastfeed. I have heard many women with postpartum depression say they felt they would let their partner down if they could not breastfeed.
The truth is, your partner likely doesn’t care as much about breastfeeding as you do. They want what’s best for the baby, and if they’ve done as much research as you have, they also feel the pressure for breastfeeding to succeed. But they don’t feel the emotional urge like you do. They don’t understand what a total body experience it is.
What they do care about most, is you. They don’t want you to be miserable and in pain simply to breastfeeding. They will never think of you as a failure for not being able to breastfeed.
If they truly support you, then they will stand by you no matter what decision you make. And if your partner’s opinions about breastfeeding are causing you unwanted stress, it’s important to tell them, because they may not realize how much it’s affecting you.
Treatment Options While Breastfeeding
Talk to your doctor about your treatment options. I wasn’t given the option to take anti-depressants while I was breastfeeding, but I’ve heard that there are several safe options now. Prescription anti-depressants are not the only option, either.
Therapy is a great option for breastfeeding with postpartum depression. There are different types of therapy available, including cognitive behavior therapy, support groups or couples therapy.
There are several different herbs, supplements, vitamins, and minerals that have been known to improve symptoms of depression. If you’re not sure where to begin, I recommend this e-book and treatment plan to learn more about which ones are best for you.
Acupuncture has also been known to help with symptoms of postpartum depression, but make sure to indicate that you are also breastfeeding.
Don’t feel like treatment is out of the question for you if you are breastfeeding with postpartum depression, it’s important to know all your options.
Giving Up IS An Option
Choosing to stop breastfeeding will NOT make you a bad mother. Yes, we know that breast is best, and that there are so many benefits to breastfeeding. But at what cost?
When we weigh out the risks vs. the benefits, your mental health is one hundred times more important than the benefits of breastfeeding.
There are so many advanced options for formula feeding that your baby will never be at a disadvantage. In fact, they’ll grow up into junk food addicts just like every other kid. One day, you will watch your toddler eat dirt in the backyard and wonder why you ever stressed out about breastfeeding.
It’s alright to feel guilty for not breastfeeding, but there are so many other ways to bond with, and provide for, your baby. You will only be able to do those things if you focus on your mental health so that you can be there for them completely.
My own personal experience of breastfeeding with postpartum depression was actually a pleasant one. Knowing that my daughter needed me for her survival was what kept me going. As much as I despised doing it at the time, especially the night time feedings, I realize now that it’s what saved me from detaching from her completely.
No matter what your experience is like, or what choices you make for your baby, remember that your mental health and physical well-being are just as important as theirs.
If a woman in your life has recently given birth, then there’s a 1 in 5 chance they are struggling with postpartum depression.
It might be your partner, daughter, sister or friend but no matter who they are to you, it’s normal to feel helpless seeing them in pain. It can be even more discouraging when you try to help them and they shut you out. But don’t be offended, mental illness is a tricky situation and displays in many different ways. There are still several ways to help a mother with postpartum depression, even if she tries to push you away.
From a mother who has battled it first hand, here are a few tips that might help you understand her better and be able to provide the right type of support.
1. Know the symptoms
It’s very common for a mother to be in denial about their postpartum depression at first. Even if she does have her suspicions, it’s unlikely that she will admit it out loud. Often, it can be hard to tell the difference between the common baby blues and a real mental health disorder unless you know what to look for. The best way to help a mother with postpartum depression is to recognize the symptoms. Even if she doesn’t want to talk about it, you can get her the help she needs.
- Web MD: Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
- Postpartum Support International: Depression during pregnancy and postpartum
- Parenting Pod: Beyond Depression: Anxiety, Psychosis and Other Mental Disorders of Pregnancy and Postpartum
- PostpartumDepression.org includes lots of useful information including a PPD Quiz
- Postpartum Progress – The Symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety in Plain Mama English.
2. Believe her
There is a lot of stigma around postpartum depression and many people still don’t believe it’s a real disease. If she does open up to you about having postpartum depression – believe that her pain is real. She is not being overly dramatic. She is not “just tired.” Motherhood is overwhelming in general and it will be for a very long time but postpartum depression is different – it’s uncontrollable. Sometimes, just being on her team is the best way to help a mother with postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression and anxiety cause a lot of undesirable side effects and symptoms that vary depending on the person. This can make a woman feel and act like a hypochondriac.
3. Help her get some rest
Sleep deprivation can aggravate postpartum depression but postpartum depression can cause insomnia so it’s a lose-lose situation. Do whatever you can to help her rest. If she cannot sleep at night, then make sure she gets frequent, short naps in throughout the day. Invest in a new mattress to see if it makes a difference in her quality of sleep. Here’s an excellent one that you can try for an entire year.
With a new baby, it’s natural and understandable to be sleep deprived. If you’re having a lot of difficulty getting baby to sleep, consider hiring a sleep training expert.
But if baby is sleeping through the night and mom isn’t, then there’s definitely something wrong.
4. Don’t tell her things could be worse
It’s natural to want to tell her stories about someone else who had it worse in the hopes of making her feel better, but it can have the opposite effect. Your horror stories won’t help a mother with postpartum depression, only cause added stress. Instead of being thankful that she isn’t having suicidal thoughts, she might see her pain as insignificant and feel guilty for having such a difficult time when others are going through “things that are worse.”
It’s still important to make sure that she knows she isn’t alone, as long as she knows that debilitating pain from postpartum depression comes in all forms.
5. Don’t try to explain why
It’s not her fault. But she will try to blame herself anyway. Trying to find a reason why this has happened can inadvertently put more guilt on her. Yes, she’s tired, yes, breastfeeding is hard, yes, labor was intense but those are not the reasons why she has postpartum depression. If labor and recovery were a breeze, baby was nursing fine and sleeping well she could STILL have it.
Knowing that postpartum depression does not discriminate and there was nothing she could have done to avoid it will relieve some of her guilt.
6. Keep it on the down low
For some reason, having a mental illness is embarrassing. While it’s important to check in on her and ask her how she’s feeling, don’t put her on the spot or force her to open up about it if she’s not ready.
And definitely don’t go advertising that she has postpartum depression without her permission. The last thing she wants is everyone at your office knowing about her postpartum depression and offering to help. She will be mortified if someone she barely knows confronts her about postpartum depression, no matter how good their intentions might be.
It takes time to come to terms with postpartum depression for many reasons. The more public it is, the more guilt and pressure she will feel about disappointing others.
The day will come when she will openly want to talk about it but it should be her who decides when that is.
7. Send her a text message but don’t expect a reply right away
Don’t expect her to answer the phone when you call. Better yet, don’t phone her. For someone with postpartum depression, their emotions change throughout the day without warning. Chances are, when you want to talk, won’t be when she wants to talk and vice versa.
Checking in and asking how she’s feeling is a great way to help a mother with postpartum depression. A text message will allow her to reply when SHE feels up to it. You can even include something like “you don’t have to reply right away – whenever you feel like talking, just text me.”
Postpartum depression has a way of making a new mother withdraw from society and it has nothing to do with how she feels about you.
8. Don’t force her to socialize
And don’t be offended if she doesn’t want to see you. She’s not trying to keep the baby all to herself. Going out or hosting visitors means putting on a smile and talking to people when all she wants to do is be alone. Even her inner circle can be extremely irritating.
In addition to feeling socially withdrawn, many women with postpartum depression also suffer from social anxiety. She may feel incredibly uncomfortable in public, even in small groups of close friends.
Allow her some time to avoid social interaction, and gradually work your way up to larger social gatherings.
9. Cook food for her
Appetite changes are a major symptom of postpartum depression. She will either not want to eat anything at all or not be able to stop eating. Having a fridge stocked with healthy ready-to-eat food will help her get the calories and nutrition she so desperately needs (especially if she’s breastfeeding) without all the added exhaustion of having to prepare it.
Proper diet and nutrition plays a big role in managing her symptoms, so it’s important to make sure that she has access to healthy food.
10. Clean the house but don’t make a big deal about it
Do it while she’s napping so she can’t tell you to stop. Cleaning will be the last thing on her mind but looking around at piles of laundry, overflowing garbage bins or dishes in the sink will cause her unnecessary stress and anxiety. It’s one thing to tell her not to worry about the cleaning, it’s another to make the clutter magically disappear. A clutter free environment will help her mind to feel clutter-free as well.
11. Get up with her in the middle of the night
If she’s breastfeeding, you may feel like there’s no point in getting up for night time feedings. But those dark, lonely hours can be the scariest times for a mother with postpartum depression. If for no other reason than to keep her company – get up with her. She may tell you that she’s OK and to go back to bed. But at least get up and check on her. Check if she needs anything, rub her feet or her back while she nurses.
Breastfeeding in itself can cause a lot of stress on new mothers. If you see her struggling, let her know there are online lactation courses available, so she doesn’t need to do it alone.
12. Help her find strangers to talk to
Don’t try to force her to talk to you about her feelings. Sometimes, the best way to help a mother with postpartum depression is to find someone else she can talk to. It’s much easier to talk to strangers who understand and won’t judge her. She can be completely honest and vulnerable without having to worry about hurting someone’s feelings.
Whether it’s an online forum, support group or a therapist – she will be much more comfortable talking to someone who has been in her position before and/or who has experience to share.
postpartum depression Facebook groups
13. Take pictures of her
Not happy, dressed up, perfectly posed pictures but real pictures. Pictures of her nursing in her pajamas, pictures of her holding or sleeping beside the baby and pictures of her when she hasn’t showered in 3 days and has dried breast milk all over her shirt. Take pictures of her crying. Aim for honest pictures of her so that she can look back at them when she is better and remember this part of her life.
You can even make a special photo album filled with pictures of her and baby as a keepsake because she may not remember all these days as clearly.
Reassure her that you will never show them to anyone else or post them anywhere, they are only for her.
14. Wait it out
Don’t try to rush her recovery. Helping her find the right path to recovery is important but don’t keep asking if she’s feeling better yet. If she has a good day, don’t assume she’s past the worst of it.
She may go years without an episode, only to have it triggered by stress, sleep deprivation, illness or something else entirely. Many women will battle postpartum depression for years, if not forever. So if you’re in this with her – prepare to go the lengths for her.
Know that there is no cure for mental illness, only treatment options to keep it under control.
For more information on the recovery process, check out this post: How long does Postpartum Depression Last? Accelerate Your Recovery!
Postpartum depression is one of the most under-diagnosed conditions in North America for a reason. Women, moms in particular, pride themselves in being able to handle it all. Admitting that they are struggling or need help is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. While these tips may help the woman in your life open up to you, nothing is ever certain when it comes to postpartum depression. Many women experience it in different ways. The best way to help a mother with postpartum depression is just to love her and support her and don’t ever give up on her.