An Open Letter To Lactation Consultants
I appreciate all that you do. Although I have only met four of you (in person, via phone and email) I have felt from all of you a level of care that I really needed.
As a first time mom and a mother with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety I have some unique concerns that I want to share with you. I realize that 'breast is best'. I want to do the very best thing for my son and I have fully embraced the message that that is breast feeding him for as long as possible.
As long as possible for me was only a couple of weeks. The pain got worse every single day. I didn't have mastitis or any other medical condition. My son wasn't tongue tied. I was producing - overproducing actually- but he wasn't gaining weight. When we did get what you all called a good latch I ended up sobbing from the pain.
The nipple shield helped him regulate how much he was getting but did nothing for my pain. Everyone said we just needed to find a better latch.
Now, I realize that you all became an LC because you want to help women and babies breast feed. There is a fine line between support and pressure andI feel that you crossed it. You did it unwittingly, but you did it.
It was my pediatrician who finally told me to stop. My son needed a healthy, happy mom more than he needed time at the breast of a sobbing one. And so I started pumping.
I was told, by some of you and by websites about breast feeding and pumping, that the hormones released during pumping would help regulate my PPD/A. I was told that stopping pumping could release a backlash of hormones similar to what happens after giving birth.
I was not told that some women HATE pumping. I was not told that sometimes it becomes abhorrent to the mother and the bane of her days. No one warned me that I could begin to resent my son for making me go through this hour after hour and day after day.
When I tried to speak to people about my situation I was told that if I had to stop, then I should stop pumping as slowly as possible because there was going to be a major hormonal shift. No one seemed to understand the loathing I felt while pumping or the fear that accompanied it. In my situation what I did not need was to feel even more crazy.
I finally decided to just stop. I decided to listen to my body and just let it go.
It was after I made this decision and while I was looking for advice on the fastest and least painful ways to wean myself from the pump that I discovered something amazing. There are many women out there who are just like me. There are women for whom the hormones released during breast feeding and pumping do not create a sleepy feeling of connection and well being, but an anxious and fearful feeling of being out of control. I am not crazy and I am not alone.
It was a lactation consultant who finally told me that this was a documented phenomenon. She warned me that I could expect the 'crash' to happen but told me to just be careful with myself, to listen to myself and to go ahead and stop.
Then I started to get Facebook messages and emails from women for whom breast feeding and pumping were nightmares that they endured for the love of their children. Each of them stopped furtively and guiltily or out of necessity and EVERY SINGLE ONE felt so much relief and so much guilt when it was finally over. There seemed to be a feeling, which I have shared, that the physical pain of engorgement is the price we pay for freedom from the pump. That we somehow deserve that pain because we are cheating our children by freeing ourselves.
Of course this is not your fault. Our culture has so many pressures and taboos surrounding motherhood in general and breast feeding in particular that it is amazing any mother survives with a shred of self esteem left. But I would ask you, no I am begging you to please learn more about Postpartum Depression, Anxiety and Psychosis. Please learn more about how to spot and help the 'outliers' like myself. There was no reason for me to suffer for 4 months. Did the breast milk that my son got for these months make up for all of the times he saw me curled into a ball and sobbing or the times I couldn't stand to touch him or the times I broke down and yelled at a tiny baby?
I don't know what the numbers are. Maybe for 99% of women breast feeding and/or pumping can be a joyous and life affirming way to nourish your child. For me it actively contributed to my illness and made it exponentially harder for me to connect to my child. I looked to you for answers and was told time and again that what I was doing, breast feeding and then pumping, were what I needed to be doing. They were not.
I am on the other side now. There has been no crash, although I am on the lookout for it. I am continuing to take my meds and talk to my counselor. My illness is not gone because I stopped pumping. I do, however, feel so much better. My body is starting to become mine again and I am starting to feel that I have more to give to my son.
As you teach your classes, as you visit new mothers, as you visit experienced mothers, please remember me. Please remember that each mother is desperate to do the best for her child. Please remember that each mother will take your words and your tone to heart, perhaps more than you know. Please take an extra moment to listen and an extra moment to explain. Please take an extra moment to study. Please take a moment to think of how you would feel if you were me.
Your work is amazing and wonderful. I am sure it can be as draining and exhilarating as motherhood itself. It is so necessary. We need you. All of us.