To say I was nervous about breastfeeding would be a severe understatement. Then again, as a first-time mom I was nervous about damn-near everything, from how I was going to feed my child to leaving the hospital to sleeping. Still, the specific anxiety I faced when preparing to breastfeed was an entirely new demon, and it took me by unpleasant surprise. In fact, there are more than a few things I wish I knew about breastfeeding anxiety before I experienced it, if only so I could have been kinder to myself as I learned how to nurse my infant son.
Like a lot of feelings new moms have, I think my breastfeeding anxiety was downplayed by most everyone around me. From moms who breastfed without a problem, to child-free adults who assumed they knew what nursing was like, to my partner, how anxious and unsure and nervous I was seemed to be one of those "new mom, hormonal things" I was expected to get over, instead of face head on and discuss openly. As a result, I was left feeling alone, isolated in my own feelings, unsure of how "normal" my anxiety was and if, already, I was somehow failing my son.
Turns out, breastfeeding is rarely, if ever, as easy as we're told it will be or as we assumed it would be. Feeling anxious as a new mom is typical, although issues like postpartum anxiety are serious and require the attention and care of a medical professional. Instead of being hard on ourselves, new moms need to know that this whole parenting gig is tough... and nursing is no exception. We need to be armed with realistic, adequate, and factual information about any potential roadblocks we might face when attempting to reach our nursing (hell, parenting) goals, and that includes knowing a few things about breastfeeding anxiety before we experience it. Things like, for example, the following:
Turns out, Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflect (D-MER) is a very real thing, and is often responsible for anxiety around breastfeeding. "D-MER is a 'glitch' in the milk ejection reflect — the mechanism that allows breast milk to flow — and can cause negative emotions for anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes to milk letdown," Alicia Macrina Heise, a lactation consultant in Naples, New York, tells The Bump.
It's Not My Fault
Any new mother can tell you that the pressure put on women to breastfeed their newborns is otherworldly, and often relentless. It's hard not to feel as though your abilities as a parent hinges on your breastfeeding success and, well, that can make the entire situation scary as hell. If the expectation of breastfeeding is making you anxious, it's not your fault. After all, you didn't create that pressure.
And if you have something like D-MER, well, clearly you have no control over how your body responds to nursing.
Talking About It Helps
When I finally discussed all the stress and anxiety I felt when I was breastfeeding, I realized I wasn't alone. We all want to put on a brave face as parents, especially new parents, and that often means hiding the not-so-glamorous parts of parenthood. But in my experience, it only takes on person having an honest discussion about their feelings to open the flood gates and remind us all that we're not alone. And while you hope that everyone else's breastfeeding experience runs smoothly, there is strength in solidarity.
There Are People Who Can Help
From speaking to a medical professional to a lactation consultant to a therapist to a trusted friend or partner, there are people in the world willing and able to provide you with the support you need and deserve. If you have D-MER, you won't necessarily need to rely on any medical treatment to fix the problem, either. Generally, according to The Bump, once a woman knows that her "situation is temporary and not founded in reality" she is better able to cope.
I Don't Owe An Explanation To Anyone
While I am all for #NormalizingBreastfeeding and want to #FreeTheNipple as much as the next feminist, the backlash that I received from some breastfeeding advocate "friends" was brutal... to say the least. I felt a need to explain away my feelings so that they would either stop judging me or at least cease to assume my troubles with breastfeeding automatically meant I resented my baby. I definitely wanted them to stop blaming my choice to have an epidural during birth, a request I soon found to be futile.
But in the end, I realized that I didn't owe an explanation to anyone. We're all on our own journeys as parents, and just because mine doesn't look like someone else's doesn't mean it isn't valid or that I am somehow flawed.
I'm Still A Good Mom
Feeling anxious every time I breastfed didn't mean I was a bad mom. Choosing to supplement with formula after seven months of struggles didn't mean I loved my child less than any other mom loves hers. My abilities as a loving mom didn't hinge on my breastfeeding relationship with my baby.