Florence Leung's husband's emotional and heartfelt Facebook posts about his wife's passing and the role that breastfeeding may have played in her post partum depression is an opportunity to raise awareness and educate women so we may better recognize the symptoms, treat it early and honour her life.
Dear New Mom,
Congratulations you're going to have a baby. Such an exciting time! Doctor or Midwife? Home or Hospital Birth? Car seat, carriage, cradles and cribs, oh my goodness what about bibs? It's all so exciting and going to be great. But there's one thing I must tell you that you just might hate.
Much like the truth about labour which few women share, breastfeeding or moreso breastfeeding struggles are not often discussed. Breast is Best. But is it? Not always. There are studies that support the benefits of breastfeeding; fewer serious illness, less asthma, eczema, respiratory and ear infections. But this is not to say that babies who are fed with formula will get these illnesses, be less intelligent or athletic.
Not every woman can breastfeed and the reasons are many. Yet we have a breastfeeding vision in our heads of a happy, thin beautiful, coiffed woman sitting comfortably in a rocking chair (not recommended for breastfeeding ) as her babe nestles into her breast gently suckling for routine feedings that provide optimal nourishment so the baby can sleep. For many women, this couldn't be further from the truth.
To breast feed a baby often requires a lot of ammunition and it can feel like war for many women. Those rosebud lips vs. a gigantic areola is often the first battle. The chances of a tiny baby gaining access to the heavily loaded (engorged) breasts that seem to be rapid firing spurts of white or yellow stuff are slim.
Bring on the breast pump, a workhorse promising to suck every drop of white gold from your breasts which ironically stimulates milk production. Just what you need, right? Never give up, let the next battle begin. Pump. Pump. Pump It Off.
Your back is broken, from the body contortions you never knew in order to get that tiny tyke into the football hold,(whatever that is you say, it's not football girls play). Your nipples crack, your fever soars, diarrhea is calling at the door. Chills and spills, darn you could've sworn that cap was tight! Next time get it right! Your baby cries all day and you wonder if purple is OK. If I could just get this breastfeeding thing underway.
You're leaking from every orifice, urine, blood, breastmilk and stool. Why didn't anyone tell me this wouldn't be cool? Exhausted, depleted, sobbing and defeated, hardly fed, intrusive thoughts enter your head. What if I harm her, what if she's dead? If only I could get some sleep in my bed.
So you phone a friend and tell her your troubles. I'm thinking of bottle feeding, your head in a bubble. Your baby will get allergies, eczema and certainly won't be smart. He'll never be called up by the NHL to start. "I loved breastfeeding, we are now so close," she says. You're just anxious. Relax. We shame women for breastfeeding at a mall, we shame women for not breastfeeding at all.
When breastfeeding doesn't go well, a woman is at greater risk for Postpartum depression especially if she is a Type A personality.
Postpartum depression is depression that may start during pregnancy or at any time up to a year after the birth of a child and it may affect a mother or father, but is more common in women. Depression is a mental illness that affects a person’s mood.
Signs of depression are:
- Feeling sad, worthless
- Loss of interest in activities or her baby
- Physical aches and pains
- Poor concentration
A woman with PPD may believe she is not doing a good job.
New moms may also have scary thoughts about harming themselves or their baby although these thoughts are rarely acted upon. This is a serious situation and requires urgent medical care. If you believe that you or a loved one is in danger, please call 911 or your local crisis line. Please understand that post partum depression is serious and no one is immune.
There may be something that is contributing to the shame associated with women who do not or cannot breastfeed. Many hospitals have initiated a "Baby Friendly Initiative" based upon the World Health Organization's efforts in 1991 to improve the role of maternity services to support mothers to breastfeed so as to provide what is considered the best start for babies. The criteria for a hospital to be "baby friendly" includes breastfeeding policies, training of staff, education of pregnant women, breastfeeding demonstrations and support, rooming in and encouraging on demand breastfeeding.
The Baby Friendly Initiative restricts the use of free formula by the hospital. Many Baby
Friendly hospitals go so far as to hide formula from sight which isn't fair and may be sending the wrong message to all moms (that regardless of circumstances formula is poison) but especially to those who cannot breastfeed for one reason or another. Hiding anything is associated with shame including baby formula.
The baby friendly initiative may not be so friendly to new moms and it may be time for a review. Maybe it should be a Baby and Mother Friendly Initiative. There are many reasons a woman may need to feed her baby formula. She may choose to, her baby may be ill, she may have a medical condition and/or her baby may outright refuse. Women should never be judged for their decision on how to feed their baby by anyone. It's time we put the problem on the table and the formula in plain sight.
Breast may be best but formula is fine!
Maureen McGrath hosts the Sunday Night Sex Show on Newstalk 980 CKNW. A sought after speaker and TED speaker, she is an RN in women's health and was Head Nurse of the Maternal/Child Program at Vancouver Coastal Health in Vancouver British Columbia. She is in clinical practice in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Her website is backtothebedroom.ca. Follow her on twitter: @back2thebedroom
Maureen is Keynote speaker at The Birth Fair on February 25 & 26, 2017 at the Cloverdale Agriplex in Surrey, British Columbia.