Breastfeeding doesn't come easily to every mother who tries it. It definitely didn't for me, but I was so unprepared to face any difficulties that I felt blindsided when things didn't go as planned. Those first few hospital feedings were disastrous, but I was convinced that with a little practice and patience, the issues would resolve themselves. In other words, I overlooked the subtle red flags my breastfeeding anxiety was a larger problem, hellbent on living up to what I believed nursing should look like. If I had trusted my gut, I would have been kinder to myself and postpartum life would've been much easier as a result.
To be honest, I knew almost immediately that something was wrong. When I was in the hospital, nurses and lactation consultants pressured me to practice certain holds and latch techniques, even when I doubted whether or not I even wanted to breastfeed. It was one thing to plan to nurse, but another thing to actually put those plans into action. After my daughter's birth I felt like I was a stranger in my own body, yet I was expected to breastfeed at any cost. I was uncomfortable, stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Still, I thought I owed it to my daughter to try, even if I suffered as a result.
I ended up suffering from postpartum depression, and I have no doubt that the anxiety breastfeeding caused played a part. It's one thing to support breastfeeding moms (we should!) but it's another to pressure moms to breastfeed and at the detriment of their mental health. So with that in mind, here are some subtle red flags I completely ignored when dealing with breastfeeding anxiety:
When I Was Restless & Irritable
While it's normal to feel restless and irritable after having a baby, I know what I was feeling was more than just stress. I couldn't sit still with my new baby in my arms and, when I did, I was angry about it. I passed it off as fatigue but, deep down, I knew it was because I didn't want to breastfeed.
When I Couldn't Sleep
The whole "not sleeping when you have a baby thing" is pretty common, but when intrusive thoughts or obsessions are keeping you from sleeping, even when your baby is asleep, there might be a problem.
I kept myself up stressing about the next breastfeeding session. I dreaded it, obsessed over it, and as a result I was a zombie the next day. I spent so much time worrying about breastfeeding that I couldn't obtain enough sleep to adequately function the next day, and that's not OK.
When I Constantly Worried
As a mother, worrying comes with the territory. But I worried to the point of madness, and it started to impact my life in a very negative way. Hell, I worried I wouldn't be able to stop worrying about breastfeeding long enough to bond with my baby. I worried before, during, and after each nursing session, and eventually I started showing signs of obsessive compulsive tendencies.
It may be subtle, but if you're worrying has no end point, it's worth checking out.
When My Mood Suddenly Changed
It's hard to know if your mood swings are a normal part of postpartum life, or if they're indicative of something bigger.
After my daughter was born my mood went from excited to sad. In fact, my mood seemed to be set at a constant low, honestly, and I never felt fully awake or present. I wasn't me at all. It wasn't until I got professional help that I started to feel like myself again.
When I Lost Interest In Things I Cared About
I wasn't interested in breastfeeding, or holding my baby, or really caring for my baby. I didn't care about self-care, or even dragging myself out of bed. This complete lack of interest in everything forced me to look at how breastfeeding was contributing to my undiagnosed postpartum depression.
When I Couldn't Stop Crying
There's nothing wrong with crying, of course, and shedding some tears postpartum is pretty par for the course. But when I couldn't stop crying, especially when I was breastfeeding, I should have known something was wrong.
When I Wanted To Isolate Myself
While it may not be all that subtle, breastfeeding anxiety that leads to withdrawal can be a serious sign of a postpartum mental health issue. It took me weeks to bond with my baby and, even when I did, that bond felt fragile and fractured. I had focused so much time and energy on breastfeeding that I lost sight of what really mattered. If I had it to do over again, I'd put myself first so that I could be everything my baby needed and everything we both deserved.
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