What does breastfeeding have to do with postpartum mental health?
I explored the intersection of these topics recently on the All About Breastfeeding Podcast. Host Lori Isenstadt, a lactation consultant and breastfeeding expert, points out that breastfeeding mismanagement can pose unique hurdles for women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs).
If, for instance, a nursing mom needs to take an antidepressant and receives misinformation about the safety of the medication, she could unnecessarily stop nursing her infant. This might worsen her mental health, especially if she stops abruptly. Taking away something the mother values without exploring all options is the wrong way to go.
Nursing can be empowering. It was for me. As I wrote in my debut book, When Postpartum Packs a Punch, everything went wrong after the birth of my first child—except nursing. I had a traumatic birth, a physical injury from it, and that all led to postpartum depression. Nursing my son through long days and nights proved an oasis. I was forced to sit still for as long as he needed. Sometimes I would read. Other times I closed my eyes. Or I looked out the window of our Chicago high-rise.
I took an antidepressant for four months (Sertraline, the generic form of Zoloft). I nursed Noah the whole time. My OB-GYN assured me it was safe to take while nursing, as did my research. I encountered only a few people who doubted it was a good idea. My mothering instinct, which kicked in while I was pregnant, told me I did the right thing.
Breastfeeding helped me heal mentally and physically. Postpartum depression had devoured slices of joy from my early days of motherhood. If nursing was taken away, I would’ve felt robbed of yet another joy.
I didn’t struggle with nursing. If I did, I would’ve asked for help. If you’re a new mom facing a PMAD and and you want to nurse, it’s okay to ask for help with your mental health and with nursing. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. There are more resources than ever to help new parents. Lori Isenstadt is one. If you want to nurse, she’ll do everything in her power to help you. Her podcast is a good place to start.
Postpartum Support International is another support system for new parents with postpartum-mental-health challenges. You can find them online, or at their helpline, 1-800-944-4773.