When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go As Planned

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When Breastfeeding Doesn't Go As Planned -postpartumprogress.com

As expectant mothers, all we can do is plan. We make labor plans, we plan the nursery, we plan how we will spend our maternity leave. We plan birthday parties, play dates, college graduations.

All this planning before even giving birth. We thrive on a diet made up entirely of good intentions.

What happens when the core of those plans is taken away from us?

What then? Where do the rest of the pieces fall? Where do we stand as confident and capable mothers?

My breasts began leaking as I reached eight months pregnant. I was excited. They were working and that was all I needed to know; the center of my plan was to feed my child using my body. The center of my plan was to provide the most intimate bond I could imagine with my child after removing her from my womb.

I could express the colostrum on demand before giving birth. I had to wear breast pads. Everything was going according to plan.

I gave birth in the middle of the night, via C-section. I was put to bed, in horrendous pain, and told a lactation consultant would visit me the next morning. I was told to not attempt breast feeding until the consultant visited.

I lay, awake, in the hospital bed as nurses in the baby sanctuary fed my newborn formula.

“But, it’s going to be okay. This won’t ruin her. She will feed from me in a few hours.”

Morning came, and morning went. I was not visited. By one o’clock in the afternoon that day, I was asking where this person was. When was it going to be my turn? I watched as my family members visited me and fed my infant formula, as I curled up in bed, clutching myself and wishing for my turn.

I was told to be patient. I was told to wait. I could feel it then, I could feel my plan slipping from between my fingers.

At 6:00 in the evening, after eating dinner, I asked one last time where my consultant was. She had gone home. The day had ended. There were simply too many mothers to get to.

She came the next morning. Late in the morning. She spent eight minutes with me. She showed me an awkward and not natural feeling way to hold my daughter as I tried to get her to latch on to me. She would latch, and then cry. Latch and cry. I was told to be patient. I was told she would eventually get it. I was told to go home and keep trying and pump.

I sobbed, there. I sobbed, holding my newborn like a football under my arm. She couldn’t do it. Worse: I couldn’t do it.

My mother reassured me. Maybe being at home, relaxed, would help. I was not to give up hope.

I arrived home and immediately secluded myself in the nursery. I placed myself and my daughter in the rocking chair that I always planned on feeding her in. I put on the soothing music. I drew the curtains so the sun cast an amber wash over us as we went to work.

I sat and tried to nurse my child for three hours. Visitors came and went. I saw none of them. This was my plan and I refused to give any more ground on it than I had already allowed.

She latched on for about 20 minutes on one side. I will always remember that feeling. It hurt but it felt like a pain I was meant to endure. My body was doing it; I was doing it. I could feel the dominoes stacking back up in place. I tried the other side and she latched on and then released immediately. And then she began to scream.

My child was hungry.

I had done all I could do at the moment so my mother came up, took my child from me and brought her downstairs to supplement with hospital formula, while I pumped for the first time.

I sat in the chair, hooked up on both sides, until it grew dark. The pain was dull, like how you would feel during a tattoo after hour four. I would check the bottles and while one side had accrued maybe two ounces of milk, the other side only held yellow colostrum. My husband took the bottles when I called for him, he fed them to her immediately. We mixed the colostrum with the formula. We did everything we could with what my body was giving me.

My breasts looked like they have been through a poorly fought battle after that much pumping. I felt deformed. I felt humiliated. But, I kept trying. I would try to nurse her, but I was losing ground. She would root against me, trying to find something that wasn’t there. She would scream at me. I would sob.

For two days this routine went on. Four hours of pumping wielding two ounces or less from just the one side, yellow gold from the other.

It wasn’t going to work. It had slipped between my fingers.

My mother told me it was time to admit defeat; to dry myself up and focus on what was important: feeding my child, regardless of where it came from.

We bought a can of formula. I endured the pain of drying my supply up.

People questioned why I was giving up “so soon.” They scolded me for “only trying for two days.” Those were the longest two days of my life.

I was in labor for 22 hours. I pushed for 2 hours. I had an C-section. Those two days were more painful than all of that combined. My child was hungry. It was time to feed her.

And so, I formula fed my daughter through her entire infancy. I watched other mothers blissfully breastfeed their babies. I read articles from highly respected mothers’ journals about the benefits of breastfeeding and how superior it was to formula feeding.

My child, who had initially dropped birth weight due to lack of feeding, thrived.

She grew up into a developmentally sound and sensitive little soul. She is five years old now and here is what I can say about breastfeeding:

It is not the center of your plan. It may feel like the sun. It may feel like the most important thing you can do for you and your child. But, every single mother romanticizes breastfeeding. We picture the room; the ambiance; the feeling and bond we will form in those hours together with our child.

I had all of that. I eventually allowed myself to bond with my child, once I had mourned the loss of breastfeeding. I created the same room, the same ambiance for us to be in together.

I just held a bottle in my hand.

And that is okay.

Read more on breastfeeding:

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Postpartum Depression Stigma Persists Even In Federal Government

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Postpartum Depression Stigma Still Exists, Even in the Federal Government -postpartumprogress.com
Update: We did hear back from the Office of Women’s Health quite quickly and they apologized for the tweet even though it didn’t come from their office. They assured us that they are fully supportive of moms with perinatal mental illness and that they don’t support stigmatizing language. They’re looking into where the tweet came from and why. We really appreciated the positive and sincere conversation about this. 

Someone told a mom in the Postpartum Progress community the other day that there is no longer any stigma when it comes to postpartum depression. We’re talking about it. We’re doing things about it. Moms need to realize that the stigma has abated! This mom reached out to me because she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. The person who had said that in her presence was a person in a position of leadership, a person with a lot of knowledge about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. A person who should have known better.

Here at Postpartum Progress we talk to moms from around the US and around the world every day. We know how much the stigma of postpartum depression and related illnesses persists. And worse, we know how much that stigma scares moms and makes them afraid to reach out for the treatment that can help them.

Today I was fortunate to be part of a Twitter chat with the March of Dimes focusing on postpartum depression in NICU moms. Imagine my surprise when a chat that was supposed to help raise awareness and provide support to mothers ended up creating stigma.

Someone officially representing the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, tweeted the following: “In the United States, postpartum depression is one of the leading causes of murder of children less than one year of age.”

I was stunned. I took a screen capture of the tweet, because I was convinced no one would believe me that a statement like that would be made. It’s not correct. It’s unbelievably stigmatizing. And it came from people responsible for health in our own government. People who should definitely know better.

Tweet from @HHS_OASHRegion2 at 1:32 PM EST on 11/18/15 -postpartumprogress.com
So let’s talk for a minute about perinatal mental health and real information about infanticide. If you are a mom who is sensitive right now, I would suggest not reading any further because data about babies and tragedy can be really hard to deal with when you’re struggling.

Okay? Trigger warning commenced. Okay. 

According to the National Center for Vital Statistics, here are the top 10 leading causes of death of children from 0 to age 1 in the year 2013 (none of these, you’ll notice, is homicide):

  1. Birth defects (congenital anomalies)
  2. Short gestation
  3. Maternal pregnancy complications
  4. SIDS
  5. Unintentional injury
  6. Placenta & cord issues
  7. Bacterial sepsis
  8. Respiratory distress
  9. Circulatory system disease
  10. Neonatal hemorrhage

According to the CDC, there were 23,440 deaths of children between the ages of 0 and 1 in 2013. Their data shows that a total of 282 of those 2013 deaths were homicides, but the data doesn’t drill down any further to offer information about who the perpetrator of the crimes may have been. If you read the infanticide report from Child Trends, a nonprofit nonpartisan research center, however, studies suggest that male caretakers are the perpetrators of the majority of infant homicides.

We can’t ignore, of course, that there is a 4% infanticide rate for women who experience postpartum psychosis. Postpartum psychosis occurs in approximately 1 in 1,000 mothers. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, occurs in 1 in 7 mothers. Thankfully infanticide due to psychosis is rare. It is a very serious illness that can lead a mom to suffer from delusions and/or hallucinations that may lead her to do things she would never otherwise do. This is why it’s so important that we take good care of these moms and that they get the professional medical care they need and deserve… something that is not happening in a lot of places.

Moms with postpartum depression are not likely to harm their kids. That’s the truth. But the fear that they will, or could, is one of the things that makes them afraid to reach out for help. This is what makes them keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, rather than tell another person. This is why that tweet matters. Because we want women who are struggling to reach out as soon as possible. The sooner they get help the sooner they get better, and that has a big positive impact on both mom’s and baby’s health.

The tweet has since been taken down. That’s important, and we’re glad. It’s a start. But just taking it down doesn’t address what led someone in Health & Human Services to think it was correct and should be shared in the first place. How do we as a community make sure that there is a better understanding of the facts of maternal mental health, and a better understanding of and how to communicate with moms that postpartum depression is common and that it’s important to get help? As the executive director of Postpartum Progress, I have reached out to the Office of Women’s Health and asked them to call us back. We know we can have a really great conversation together. We’ll let you all know what happens next.

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How an Adult Adoptee Experienced Postpartum Depression

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Editor’s Note: November is National Adoption Month. Postpartum Progress strives to tackle topics from all points of view, and today we have Chrissie Gaddis, a mom and adult adoptee, telling her story. It’s important in the discussion of motherhood, postpartum depression, adoption, mental health, and more. -Jenna

National Adoption Month: How an Adult Adoptee Experienced Postpartum Depression -postpartumprogress.com

I grew inside my birth mom’s belly without any prenatal care. She smoked and drank her entire pregnancy. At the signs of labor, she simply went to the ER. I was her second pregnancy, she knew the drill. Thankfully, I was born healthy. She walked out of that hospital the next day. I haven’t seen her since. Upon discharge from the hospital I was a ward of the state. Five weeks later I was adopted. My name was changed and my birth certificate was amended. The person I was for those five weeks was erased.

Growing up, the thought of being adopted never entered my mind. People always commented on how I looked like my cousins or other members of my family. My mom, divorced prior to adopting me, was caught off guard the day I asked why my father never came to visit me. I knew that she’d been married, but I couldn’t put that piece together. That was day I found out that I didn’t grow in her belly. I’m uncertain whether it was fear or shock, but I just decided that I didn’t matter. “I have a family, it doesn’t matter” was the mantra I’d secretly sworn to live by; and I did, until I was pregnant.

Before those two lines appeared on the test, I knew I was pregnant. I was scheduled for a massage, a Christmas present from my husband. I told them that I thought I was pregnant and they adjusted their body work accordingly. Laying face down on the table with no one in the room, I slid my hand under my belly and uttered the words, “Momma loves you and I’m never going to leave.” It was feeling I’d never felt before. A bond that I’d never experienced with a baby that I’d never met.

The more connected I became with this baby growing in my belly, the more I started to think about my birth mom. Did she feel this way about me during her pregnancy? If she did, how did she give me away? Perhaps she hated me. Though I’ve never understood how it’s possible to hate someone that you’ve never even met, it was the only means in which I could justify her giving me away.

In processing all of this, I expected to be angry. Surprisingly the feeling I felt wasn’t anger at all. And believe me, I tried really hard to be angry, but I couldn’t. The only thing I could find inside was grief. I missed this woman that I’d never met as if my best friend had suddenly died or moved to another country. Attempting to process all of these feeling and emotions, I did the only thing I knew to do to survive: I made a new mantra “I will be best mom the world has ever known and I will love every minute of it.”

Except I didn’t.

The morning of my 37 week appointment, I woke up feeling awful. Unbeknownst to me I developed pre-eclampsia overnight. I was admitted to the hospital and the craziness began. My blood pressure was stabilized, and I was going to be released to finish my pregnancy at home. Then my baby’s heart rate started dropping. At this point I’d been in the hospital for three days. The nurse walked in that evening with a smile on her sweet face and announced that I’d be having a baby tomorrow. She began to explain the process of inducing labor but all I wanted to say was, “Excuse me? I have three more weeks. This is not how it’s going to happen. I’m not ready. I don’t know how to be a mom. I’ve never even met mine.”

I’d chosen natural birth, because at the core of my being I needed to be fully present and in control of my body. When the nurse placed my baby on my chest, I had no feelings. I’d dreamt about this moment for weeks, 37 to be exact, and in that moment, I had nothing.

I’d later be told by my doula that I repeatedly asked my husband if he loved our baby. And he did, but I couldn’t find that feeling. I knew that I loved our baby more than anything. I’d talked to him, sang to him, and pushed his rear out from under my ribs for weeks. In my head I loved him, but with him sitting on my chest I had no emotion. I didn’t even cry.

Despite not having that feeling of love, there was a fiery passion inside me to protect him. He was mine. The nurses explained how skin to skin would enhance our bond and stimulate breast milk. Breastfeeding was difficult but I refused to quit. I would be everything that he needed. And I tried. I tried to the point of being clinically sleep deprived, on medication for anxiety and depression, and under the care of a therapist that specialized in Postpartum Depression.

I joined a support group that was led by my therapist; it saved my life. Being with other women who were also struggling with being a mom felt incredibly comforting. I went to that group for over a year. I needed to know that I wasn’t failing at my job as a mom because every day I felt like I was. But I didn’t quit.

If you’d asked me five years ago if adoption affected my PPD, I probably would have told you no—and I would’ve believed it with everything inside of me. Sure I had all those feeling during pregnancy and at birth, but I thought I had dealt with it in the moment and moved on. It has only been in the last year that I have truly been able to come to terms with the fact that being adopted does in fact affect me.

I’ve learned that being adopted creates a wound in your heart that never completely heals and that it affects even the most intimate relationships in your life. Like myself, many adoptees have an attachment disorder: an inability and fear of trusting and developing intimate relationships with others.

In retrospect I understand that inability to connect as the cause of the lack of emotion and bonding with my son when he was born. I wanted desperately to love him, but I was afraid and I didn’t know how. I thought that through breastfeeding and playdates it would change, but it didn’t. I thought that staying awake for days at a time, being a mom martyr, would prove how much I loved him; it didn’t.

And yet while there was a deficit of euphoric feelings, I wouldn’t let anyone else take care of him. I was terrified he would feel abandoned. Being adopted made me feel incompetent to be a good mom. My adoptive mom has never been pregnant or even had a newborn. She tried, but she couldn’t help me the way a birth mom would’ve been able to help. While she was sympathetic she lacked empathy, an understanding of my experience because she herself had experienced it. I couldn’t ask her questions about things happening in my body or compare labor or healing. I had to figure it all out on my own.

Five years later I still struggle with my feelings about being a mom. I’m constantly questioning if I’m a good mom. I’m still in therapy, and I’m okay with that. I constantly remind myself that every day that I don’t quit, I get a little stronger.

There is still an ache in my heart, a place that misses my birth mom. When I look at my son, I wonder if he looks like her. I wonder if she would be proud of the mom that I am, or if she even spends time thinking about me. I might not ever know the answers to those questions, and I’m okay with that.

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Support for Military Moms with Postpartum Mood Disorders

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On this Veteran’s Day, the Postpartum Progress community would like to send out a giant thank you to all of our brave and dedicated military men and women, as well as a special note of thanks to the families who continue to make sacrifices on the home front.

Support for Military Moms
Source: Defense Logistics Agency.

Military moms, including veterans, those on active duty, and the spouses of service men, can be at greater risk for postpartum mood disorders. So today, as we offer our thanks and support, please take this opportunity to think of the military moms in your life. Do you know a pregnant or new mom who has been in combat? Do you know a mom who’s spouse is currently on deployment? Does she seem to be struggling?

Are you a military mom yourself? Are you struggling?

It is vital to watch out for the symptoms of postpartum depression or other mental illness. Here are the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety in easy to understand language. Take a moment today to familiarize yourself and bookmark this page in honor of our veterans who need support.

If you recognize the signs in a loved one, it’s so important to reach out to them, and help them find professional support.

If you are struggling yourself, I know from experience that opening up about these feelings is very scary. You may be feeling like a failure as a mom. A few years ago, I know I felt that way, but please believe me, it’s not true. Reaching out is the first step to true healing.

With your military training, postpartum depression may also leave you feeling weak. Why can’t you just use your skills to pull yourself up and push through?! Because postpartum depression doesn’t work that way. It’s a genuine illness that needs medical treatment, just like if you were wounded in combat. A doctor must help you to heal. But please know, you are absolutely not alone in this battle and if you reach out you can win the fight.

Please keep this list handy if you or a loved one needs help and support.

Resources for Military Moms and Families

Military OneSource: Confidential Help Call: 800-342-9647

Veterans Crisis Line: Free Confidential 24/7 Support for Veterans and their friends and family. Call: 800-273-8255 and Press 1, or Text 838255. Online chat is also available.

PSI Support for Military Families

Are you familiar with other mental health resources for military moms? Please post them in the comments. 

Also, please don’t forget about our own Postpartum Progress Private Forum, a free peer-to-peer online forum for women with perinatal and postpartum mood disorders. Connecting online with others who “get it” has been a huge part of my own healing process, so I highly recommend it. Here’s how to join:

1. Go to this link: https://smartpatients.com/postpartumprogress
2. Underneath the Warrior Mom logo on the left hand side of your screen, input your email address and click “Request An Invitation.”
3. You’ll then receive an email from Smart Patients inviting you to join Smart Patients. Be sure to check your spam file if you don’t see it in your inbox. 
4. Click the link in the email and choose a name and password.
5. You will then be automatically added to the Postpartum community on Smart Patients. From that point on, clicking this link –https://smartpatients.com/postpartumprogress — will take you to the community

Thank you again to our Veterans and military service people. We support you today and every day.

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