When Will The Breastfeeding Mommy Wars End?

My friend Adrienne Griffin pointed out to me a recent article in the Atlantic called "The Case Against Breastfeeding".  I think the title goes a little far, as breastfeeding is of course just fine.  The title should have read "The Case Against Acting Like Breastfeeding Is the Only Way to Be a Good Mom."  Author Hannah Rosin compares the medical literature on breastfeeding with the pop culture view on breastfeeding and finds out how much the two differ, after discussing her potential plans to stop breastfeeding her baby:

"One afternoon at the playground last summer, shortly after the birth of my third child, I made the mistake of idly musing about breast-feeding to a group of new mothers I’d just met. This time around, I said, I was considering cutting it off after a month or so. At this remark, the air of insta-friendship we had established cooled into an icy politeness, and the mothers shortly wandered away to chase little Emma or Liam onto the slide. Just to be perverse, over the next few weeks I tried this experiment again several more times. The reaction was always the same: circles were redrawn such that I ended up in the class of mom who, in a pinch, might feed her baby mashed-up Chicken McNuggets."

This from a mom who didn't suffer postpartum depression.  Adrienne, the founder of Postpartum Support Virginia, pointed out that breastfeeding is often the #1 topic of discussion in some of the PPD support groups she has helped lead, as this issue often causes such pain for moms who are suffering.  Some moms want to breastfeed but can't due to low supply, or because baby can't suck, or perhaps because they're on medication contraindicated in breastfeeding.  Sometimes this actually leads them into their depression.  Other moms refuse to get treated for postpartum depression or anxiety because they don't want to be on medication while breastfeeding, all the while often unaware of the potential dangers of untreated postpartum depression for both mother and child.  Some moms don't want to breastfeed, whether they are or aren't depressed, but do it while miserable to keep up with the Joneses.  For other moms who are depressed, breastfeeding is the only thing that helps them feel close to their child and they continue on while getting treated at the same time.  There is no one-size-fits all story around whether moms should or shouldn't breastfeed. 

It's too bad the Atlantic article didn't point out the effect the breastfeeding mystique has on women with postpartum depression and related illnesses.  It would have been a great supporting point to her piece.  If you read any of the stories from the Mother's Day Rally for Mom's Mental Health -- such as this one from Sophie in the Moonlight -- you can see how much moms are affected by the expectation that they will and should breastfeed if they truly love their babies.  You can find another great story on the issue of breastfeeding and postpartum depression -- A Mother Without A Breast -- here, written by Lisa Sniderman.  And still another great piece, which references the same Atlantic article, by Morra Aarons Mele on BlogHer about the breastfeeding debate in general, with lots of comments from readers.

Interestingly enough, Therese Borchard just wrote about this very subject today on Beyond Blue after receiving some negative comments on her post for the Mother's Day Rally for Moms' Mental Health, like this one:

Dear New Mothers,
Don’t make the same mistake this writer did. Learn the real facts about breastfeeding and depression medication. Know that there are options that can both treat your completely legitimate mental health needs and preserve your breastfeeding relationship. Know that your needs and your baby’s needs are not always in conflict. Breastfeeding need not be a soul-crushing, life-stealing endeavor. Indeed, you might find (as many do, as I do) that it is a life preserver, that it sustains and nurtures you and your baby through the good times and the bad.

Actually, the only thing new mothers need to know is that some moms can breastfeed and some moms can't  -- for some it's a life preserver and for some it's an anchor -- yet all can have loving, healthy relationships with their babies regardless. 

I couldn't breastfeed, even though I was being treated for my postpartum OCD.  Breastfeeding exacerbated my anxiety, as I was constantly and consistently FREAKED OUT over how much milk my son was getting.  My breast did not have ounce markings on it, and that was enough to cause me unrelenting worry.  This was all made worse by the fact that the nurses in the hospital nursery chose to supplement him with formula to help his jaundice, without my knowledge, causing horrible nipple confusion and a refusal to latch on.  For me, stopping breastfeeding in the end was one thing, among others, that allowed me to calm down and focus on getting better while at the same time not being hysterical when it came to the feeding of my child.

I look forward to the day when women support each other in their choices, including breastfeeding.  We all travel down different roads. 

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