Several months ago, I read Blair Shackle’s story of postpartum psychosis in the unlikely place of MinnPost’s website. One thing I noticed was that she continued to breastfeed. In fact, breastfeeding was a lifeline for her. Given how much I’ve written about how breastfeeding can indeed be compatible with, and even integral to, supporting mothers’ mental health, I reached out to Blair to see if she could share more about what breastfeeding meant to her, and here’s what she had to share.
It has been 15 months since I was in the dark depths of postpartum psychosis. And it has been 15 months since I began breastfeeding my son…and we just weaned last week (sigh).
Those 15 months were the hardest and most joyful months I’ve ever been through. They weren’t lying when they said motherhood is a roller coaster of emotions.
Let me take you back…I had my baby boy, River Robert in March of 2014.
He was healthy, beautiful, snuggly, and downright perfect and I was scared, exhausted, running on adrenaline, and in perma-shock. Little did I know at the time, I was dancing dangerously close with a postpartum mood disorder. Even so, I was totally engrossed in making sure I breastfed my son.
Breastfeeding was something I always wanted to do. I was so proud when he easily latched on immediately after he was born…I couldn’t believe how naturally it came. Then of course, the new mom confusion sets in and you wonder if this crying little bundle of joy (sometimes) is getting enough milk, latching correctly, “Why is my nipple shaped like that after he unlatches,” “He wants to eat how many times per day?” You know the drill…new mom anxiety is a doozy.
For the first week of his life, I was filled with all those high-intensity emotions that a new mother experiences. The good: my milk was plentiful and the not-so-good: my hormones were on overdrive, and my mind was being weakened by the hour by the relentless anxiety and nervousness about motherhood. Due to this, I did not sleep for nine (yes, not one wink of sleep) days. This is enough to make the strongest person weak, but add the title of first-time mom in the mix and it is enough to be deadly. And it almost was.
On the ninth day, I was hospitalized with postpartum psychosis. You can read all about my postpartum story here.
I was only away from my baby for about 36 hours, but it was enough to make me feel like I was the worst mother on earth. What would my son (and well, everyone around me) think? But throughout that whole time, I knew I still wanted to breastfeed my son even though so many were encouraging me to stop for my health. They wanted me to sleep as much as possible and focus on being a healthy mom first.
I completely knew where they were coming from and I completely understand that many women who go through a postpartum mood disorder need to stop breastfeeding. I do. I promise. But for me, it was a connection that kept the bonding alive in my relationship with River. I needed it. I needed to feel him close to me. I needed to feel like I was doing something right by him. He needed me and I craved feeling the love swirl between us. It was one of the only places I could find genuine connection and belonging. I am so happy I kept going. The amazing thing is too…I did not nurse him in the middle of the night until he was about eight weeks old and my supply stayed plentiful. Stay tuned for a followup post about how I kept my supply healthy…hint: you eat…a lot.
Another big factor I had to think about while healing from postpartum psychosis and breastfeeding was being on medication. My postpartum healing story involved prescribed medications for only a short time. I was on an anti-depressant for a few weeks (in my experience, it did not support my system) as well as an anti-anxiety for a few months, mainly at nighttime when I was not feeding River. I did have concerns over the medicine getting through to River, but we noticed no difference in his behavior or physical nature. Of course, every mama and baby are different. Please talk with your doctor about what medications you are or are planning on taking.
I love Kellymom and they put together a great resource on breastfeeding and medications that I utilized throughout my postpartum period (I was also taking a lot of herbal supplements to help heal as well). Don’t be afraid to breastfeed and take medicine or herbal supplements while under the care of a western or alternative medical professional.
River has given me so much and has changed my life in such amazing ways that I could never have imagined. First of all, I never thought I’d be such a freak about breastfeeding! After my initial big struggles and the typical pain/confusion that breastfeeding can bring in the first few weeks, I have flat-out LOVED it. I think it held such a promise to me that I meant something to my son. Especially for those experiencing a postpartum mood disorder, this is big. We want to feel like we have a purpose…or at least I did. I loved it SO much that I am now in training to become a postpartum doula (happy dance!) and am finalizing my birth doula certification as well.
For those struggling with a postpartum mood disorder and are confused as what to do, just be still (I know it’s hard) and listen to your voice within. Do what’s right for you and your family. There’s no right or wrong, but the most important thing as a mother is for you to simply BE there in your child’s life no matter what. Hold on, be present, surround yourself with a tribe of loved ones, and know that you will heal. Your child may never say it, but they will thank you for staying.
And if you’re breastfeeding and still are doing the slow dance with postpartum depression/anxiety/OCD/
You’ve got this, babe.
If you or a loved one experiences the symptoms of postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, psychosis, or PTSD, there is help available to you. Contact Pregnancy & Postpartum Support Minnesota if you are in Minnesota; reach out to Postpartum Support International in Minnesota and everywhere else.