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 – Meditation and deep breathing 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.
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 you’re not familiar with the term precipitous labor, it means a labor that lasts less than 3 hours from the start of the first contraction until the baby is born.
It is sometimes referred to as a precipitate birth or delivery, rapid labor, fast labor or a plain, old speedy delivery. While many women who have NOT experienced a precipitous labor might think this sounds like a blessing, it’s not all it’s chalked up to be. For more information on that, you can read my post Precipitous Labor: The Traumatic Truth About a Speedy Delivery.
It’s common to experience a precipitous labor for a second or subsequent delivery, but having one with a first child is pretty rare (like 3% rare). The time frame for recovering from a precipitous labor, however, isn’t different from any other postpartum recovery.
Here’s some important information that moms need to know about recovering from a precipitous labor.
Recovering from a precipitous labor is… well… precipitous.
That’s right, a fast labor usually means a fast recovery as well. But don’t start hating on us precipitous laborers just yet. While laboring quickly generally means less physical trauma and fatigue, it’s not without it’s own set of dangers as well.
Example 1: Tearing
The whole point of moving slowly through the different phases of labor is to help our bodies stretch and prepare for the giant watermelon we’re about to push out of it.
But with a precipitous labor, our body has less time to warm up for the big push and can result in some pretty bad tearing. Usually there isn’t time for an episiotomy, so the degree and direction of tearing can be unpredictable.
Recovering from a precipitous labor can often mean stitches down below. This makes for a very uncomfortable postpartum recovery period (speaking from experience). There are several different home remedies available, but ice will become your best friend.
Here’s a quick and easy tutorial from Swaddles n’ Bottles for DIY “padsicles” to help reduce swelling and pain.
Example 2: Overdoing it
We’re all supermoms and the faster we can get out of bed after giving birth and back to our regular routine – the stronger we are, right?
We may feel GREAT immediately after a short labor, but that doesn’t mean that our bodies have completely healed. Recovering from a precipitous labor takes just as long as recovering from a non-precipitous labor. The first few hours, days, even weeks after giving birth are essential to the healing process and should never be rushed.
There are several parts of the postpartum recovery period that do NOT occur precipitously.
The uterus needs to shrink back down to it’s normal size and that process can take up to 6 weeks or more. As the uterus contracts back to it’s normal size, some women experience cramping (similar to menstrual cramps), especially while breastfeeding. However, some women do not feel any cramping or discomfort at all.
Everyone experiences it differently, but for me, it was severely worse than the labor pains, and got more intense after each delivery. I was given drugs for the pain, but since I was breastfeeding, I turned to essential oils and heat (both heat bags and stick-on heat pads) to help me get through it instead.
Whether you feel it or not, the uterus is still contracting and will need plenty of time to shrink back down.
Skin to Skin Contact
Stay in bed with that baby! It might be tempting to get up and do things because you feel great but the skin to skin contact in the first 24-48 hours is essential to bonding, breastfeeding success and can help ease symptoms of the baby blues and postpartum depression.
Regardless of where you spend those first few hours after birth, whether it’s a hospital, birth center or in your own home, just stay in the bed and hold that baby for as long as you can. Skin to skin bonding is an important, but often skipped part, of recovering from a precipitous labor.
Don’t underestimate the benefits of skin to skin contact for both mom and baby.
Just like during pregnancy, a postpartum spike in blood pressure can be dangerous. Roughly 24 hours after giving birth to my second child, I experienced something I had NEVER experienced before in my entire life – high blood pressure. I had resumed all my normal activities less than 12 hours after giving birth to her and because of that, my body didn’t have time to heal. In addition to the high blood pressure, I developed a fever, severe headache, nausea, swollen hands and feet, blurred vision and dizzy spells.
It’s called postpartum preeclampsia and it’s rare for women who did not experience preeclampsia while pregnant. Thankfully, some rest helped my blood pressure regulate and I didn’t develop any further complications or need medication but it can become quite serious if left untreated.
Physical symptoms are our body’s way of telling us to slow down and take it easy.
The Baby Blues
Those hormones will be in full swing after giving birth. Recovering from a precipitous labor needs to occur mentally and hormonally as well. For months your body has been working hard to maintain two humans and now it has to adjust back down to one. The baby blues affect nearly 80% of all mothers postpartum, so it’s something to prepare for after giving birth, whether or not you’ve had a precipitous labor.
Hormonal imbalances, unfortunately, don’t often work themselves out precipitously…
Let me be clear when I say that there is no known link between precipitous labor and postpartum depression. Many believe that a traumatic labor can lead to postpartum depression but precipitous labor is not always a traumatic experience. In fact, many women who have one really DO feel lucky and blessed that they were spared a long labor and delivery.
In my own, personal postpartum depression story, I talk about how I rushed through my recovery with my second child and eventually wound up getting postpartum depression. I can’t say for certain that it had anything at all to do with my mental state, but I DO regret rushing my postpartum recovery period.
Whether your precipitous labor experience was traumatic or not, make sure to know the warning signs of postpartum depression in order to be prepared.
Everything happens so quickly when it comes to having kids.
There are moments and memories that we can hold onto and savor each second of – and there are some that we have no control over. While we may not be able to choose whether or not we have a precipitous labor, we CAN choose not to rush our recovery. Just like anything with motherhood, remember to take care of yourself and give yourself enough space and time to heal. A mother’s physical and mental wellness should always be high on the list of priorities.