When I was pregnant, everyone warned me that my life would be totally different after I gave birth. "You'll never sleep again," they all said. "Your life is over." But they always softened the blow by hastily adding, "But it's all worth it," or, "But having kids is the best thing ever." So I thought that motherhood would be difficult, but manageable. After all, it seemed like most moms found their footing after a few months, and they seemed happy. I thought I would be able to do the same.
I was wrong. From the moment I gave birth, nothing went according to plan. I'd planned to have a drug-free vaginal birth, but I ended up having a c-section; I'd planned to sleep-train, but I ended up a totally sleep-deprived wreck; and perhaps most importantly, I'd planned to breastfeed, but I ended up exclusively pumping for an entire year instead.
I was depressed, overwhelmed, and anxious. Motherhood was nothing like I had thought it would be. When I was finally diagnosed with postpartum depression, my feelings started to make some sense. But I suspect that my PPD was worsened by the fact that I put so much pressure on myself to exclusively pump for a year.
I didn't set out to exclusively pump for a full year. Like many moms, I'd initially wanted to breastfeed. So within the first hour of my daughter's birth, I immediately tried to get her to latch. But the nurses told me that she had low blood sugar levels and needed to eat formula until her condition stabilized. After a few days of formula, she got so used to drinking from the bottle that she never latched again.
I was devastated that I couldn't breastfeed my daughter. But after chatting with other moms and nurses on my floor and doing some Googling, I discovered that I could still provide milk for her by pumping. I vowed to myself that I would pump milk for her for a full year.
I often thought about how much I missed my life before having a baby, which made me feel incredibly guilty.
I had naively assumed that pumping would be easy, or that it would allow me to sleep more. I thought I could skip a few feedings and my husband could help at night. But in order to maintain my supply, I not only had to pump when my daughter napped, I also had to wake up in the middle of the night and pump for her as well.
I was completely overwhelmed. New moms don't get much sleep as is, but because I had to pump at least seven times a day, I felt like I was getting less sleep than I ever thought possible. Getting up multiple times a night for a full year to pump was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
Needless to say, at a certain point I started feeling depressed. I kept thinking I was just going through a phase, but every day I just got more anxious and sad. My mind was always racing with the things I had to do, and I often thought about how much I missed my life before having a baby, which made me feel incredibly guilty. I felt like a terrible mom. On top of all of these feelings, I was anxious about not making enough milk or keeping up with my pumping schedule.
I confided in my husband that I thought I had PPD. But somehow, I let months pass by and my depression only got worse. I didn't want to leave the house. I felt like the world was on my shoulders and I just couldn't keep up with everything going on around me. It took me a long time to seek help.
"Maybe I really need to give up pumping," I thought. "Especially if it's preventing me from getting the treatment I need."
During a routine physical, I spoke to my doctor about how I was feeling, and he diagnosed me with PPD. But he didn't want to prescribe me antidepressants as long as I was still pumping, because there's some evidence that the medications are transmitted to the baby via breast milk.
"Maybe I really need to give up pumping," I thought. "Especially if it's preventing me from getting the treatment I need." Still, I continued, mostly because I felt selfish for wanting to quit in the first place.
Months passed by. I dealt with my PPD in silence.
Eventually, I was able to wean my daughter. Then, during a routine visit to my gynecologist, I casually mentioned that my doctor had diagnosed me with PPD. He was shocked, and said he would have recommended that I go on antidepressants immediately. "You could've gotten treatment all along," he said. "You shouldn't have suffered through this."
Looking back, I wish I had gotten a second opinion, and I also believe that exclusive pumping made my PPD worse. While at least one study has suggested that breastfeeding can serve as a protective measure against PPD, there's a ton of support available to breastfeeding moms, but there's virtually no support for moms who are exclusively pumping.
Looking back now, I wish I had taken better care of myself and pumped a little less.
No one seemed to understand what I was going through. I had to plan my life around my pumping schedule, and every single day I wanted to quit. But my milk supply increased every week, and even though I was incredibly lonely and frustrated, I felt too guilty to stop now that I was producing enough to keep up with my baby.
Being a new mom is stressful enough as it is. Putting pressure on myself to exclusively pump was just another thing for me to worry about. I ignored my own needs and spent more time with the pump than I did with my daughter. Looking back now, I wish I had taken better care of myself and pumped a little less. I wish I had spent more time with my daughter instead of pumping. I wish I had gotten help sooner, and I wish I had supplemented when I felt too overwhelmed, because giving my daughter breast milk was not worth my sanity.
If you are struggling with postpartum depression, seek professional help or contact 1-800-PPD-MOMS.