My Postpartum Anxiety Started With My Boobs

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post is by Hilary Covil. She tells a story many moms feel familiar with; one of how her postpartum anxiety began with a difficult breastfeeding relationship. We know she’s not alone in this, and neither are you. -Jenna]

My Postpartum Anxiety Started with My Boobs

I was on the couch when it happened, and the baby was screaming.

This helpless girl didn’t know that her Mommy could not breathe. I found out later that I had had a panic attack, and it began my journey to figure out why.

I think it started with my boobs, and an a abrupt couple of hospital nurses who tried to make breastfeeding work for me.

I found out the first reason of why I had the worst possible equipment for breastfeeding: flat nipples that are notoriously hard for babies to latch to. But many nurses tried. One told me I was not patient enough, and in my exhausted, hormonally strung state, this made me feel terrible. Another told my husband that those who bottle fed were very lazy.

Breastfeeding is harder for me than labor, I told the humor-less pediatrician at my baby’s first doctor’s appointment. She shook her head, thought I was crazy, and said, “This isn’t how it should be.”

I went to see a lactation consultant and found out the second reason why breastfeeding was going to feel like the Battle of Gettysburg: I had mammary hypoplasia, or low milk supply. For a bit, I muddled through. Breastfeeding a bit, pumping a bit, giving her formula a bit. Omigoodness, it was too freaking time consuming for what I was getting. And I dealt with so much guilt that I wasn’t doing enough.

The worst thought ever: that I wasn’t a good enough Mom because I couldn’t move heaven and earth to get this to work for me. I decided to bottle-feed.

I got some judgment from others around me. I began to feel so ostracized for the first time in my life, something I hadn’t experienced before as a middle class female. It was a new experience for me.

I think the breastfeeding experience, coupled with my propensity towards being an emotional flower led me to the panic attack on the couch, which led to a couple of well-meaning EMS workers staring into my hollow face, offering to do my dishes for me.

We ended up in the ER because they wondered if there was something more wrong with this sleep deprived mama. They attached probes to me and a nurse asked me where things hurt. The doctor asked my husband if I usually had trouble answering long questions. We will try simple questions, she said. I remained safely trapped outside of this forlorn woman: a neverland region where I was safe from my body, my mind, my truth.

The truth? I wanted to detach myself from what had happened on that couch during my first week alone with my baby; that I thought I would meet my end on the cushions on a cold January day with my infant screaming in the pack and play.

But while it wasn’t the end, I was forced to facedown my Goliath: anxiety so strong that it had taken residence in synapses of my brain, causing me to think I was dying. Yes, dying.

Today, I am in therapy working on the task of understanding where the panic attack came from and why. It is a cold, lonely journey and terribly hard. And I feel woefully not up to the task. I am trying to be patient with myself as I remember that my life has recently changed by this eight pound baby girl.

I try to hold on to the advice one of the best nurses at the hospital had for us when she came with Similac bottles in tow to our room: Have peace that you are a good Mom. No judgment. Just telling me to breathe. Alright, now, breathe, Mama, breathe.

~Hilary Covil

About Jenna Hatfield

Jenna Hatfield is the Online Awareness & Engagement Manager for Postpartum Progress. She is an editor and award-winning writer, having won a SWPA Media & Mental Health Awards in 2012, among others. She is an everyday mom to two boys and a birth mother involved in a fully open adoption with her daughter. She makes her home in Ohio.

Tell Us What You Think


  1. I’m going through the breastfeeding heartbreak for a second time and recently quit, feeling such overwhelming guilt. You are not alone. You are doing what’s best for you and your baby. Women should be trusted to make their own feeding decisions. Good luck, Mama. You’re doing amazing.

  2. I had the same exact problems with breastfeeding, and it triggered my already chaotic hormones after the birth of both my children. Breastfeeding became my own personal torture both times, I even remember thinking at one point that I’d never wish the pain on my worst enemy because it was so intense. I remember thinking the same thing as you, that I could naturally LABOR and birth 100 babies and be fine, but the whole boob feeding thing was too much. With both my children, my breast feeding issues led to mastitis in both breasts. I felt like shit, especially after my youngest, since I couldn’t fully uphold my role as ‘mother’ and feed either of my babies with my own milk. No one fully understood my struggle (mentally/emotionally), it hit me so incredibly hard.. I’ve never felt worse. Everyone obviously saw the alarming physical pain, but the internal pain was horrific. All the other women around me who chose to breastfeed seemed to only have a little bit of difficulty in the beginning and then blossomed into free-flowing lactating goddesses. I wanted that soooooooo badly, I tried to get help with it, but like you, my nipples and low supply would not let it be. I was told on both occasions I needed to be more patient, I needed to relax, I needed to pump more…. bla bla bla…. I’m the one who brought those two big issues to attention, like I was a professional or something. After accepting those two issues, I gave up, got formula, and began recovering. The experiences I’ve had with failed breastfeeding and PPD (mutually and separately) have made it so I’m about 98% sure I don’t want anymore children, I just don’t want to revisit those dark places again because it affects everyone in the family. Reading your post about your struggle really hit home, I wish I knew about this page and how to contact other moms in similar positions when I was experiencing them. Thank you for making your situation public. I wholeheartedly understand the feelings and thoughts that trouble/d you, and I know how valuable it is to get a bit of empathy from others when you’re feeling so isolated inside your own mind and heart during these very delicate times after birth. No matter what, if you’re doing your personal best at caring for your baby and yourself, that alone makes you a wonderful and beautiful mother. Stay strong, momma.

  3. Kimberley says:

    This was/is me too. Amazing to read this, thank you. Hypoplasia is so little known, I’m so grateful for my community midwife who identified it – it only took two or three questions and the world suddenly made sense. If only they’d known what to ask when I more or less had a breakdown about it in hospital. The struggle, guilt and utter loss of all confidence took me totally by surprise – I thought I was relaxed about feeding, I thought I didn’t really mind if breastfeeding succeeded or not – the impact of those postpartum hormones is indescribable! A year on I’m still on anti anxiety medication but am immeasurably better. Always remember ‘you won’t feel like this forever’. Oh and my formula fed daughter is absolutely fine in every possible way.