Sometimes it can take time before a new mother and her baby learn what to do. Sometimes there are physical complications, either with mum or the baby, that make breastfeeding difficult or impossible. Either way, some new mums simply can’t breastfeed their babies. Others choose not to, for a range of reasons.
Some new mums persist in trying to breastfeed but are unable to continue. Others have long and protracted difficulties. Either of these experiences can negatively impact a new mother’s emotional and mental well-being.
Whether the ability to breastfeed impacts on a new mum’s mental health depends on a range of factors, including what her expectations of breastfeeding were before becoming a mum. Some new mums who are unable to breastfeed their babies accept it and move on. For others, it can be hugely distressing and can contribute to postnatal anxiety or depression.
Breastfeeding and postnatal anxiety or depression
For a new mum who develops postnatal anxiety or depression, the relationship between her illness and her ability to breastfeed can be complicated. For example, if she is struggling to breastfeed her baby this might be one of the factors contributing to her illness. On the other hand, a woman may find breastfeeding stressful and potentially contributing to postnatal anxiety or depression if she feels that it:
- Is too demanding of her physically or emotionally
- Takes too long or wastes time (adding another layer of stress)
- Causes stress, discomfort or pain to herself or the baby
- Prompts feelings of failure or inadequacy
- Triggers anxiety about the baby being dependent on her.
Breastfeeding can also be a positive experience for a new mum with postnatal anxiety or depression. This can be true if she feels that breastfeeding:
- Is something she enjoys or at least feels she can succeed at
- Helps her care for her baby
- Helps her feel connected to her baby.
However, some new mums find breastfeeding to be a less positive experience or even a totally negative one and choose to stop breastfeeding (stopping breastfeeding is sometimes called ”weaning”).
"I really wanted to breastfeed my baby but the more I tried the more anxious I got. Once I stopped trying I felt more relaxed and felt like I could enjoy my baby.”
Here at PANDA we understand that every mum is different. So is every baby. For some women, breastfeeding can be a beautiful, nurturing, connecting activity. For others, it can trigger a range of negative feelings and emotions. The most important thing is that you choose the feeding option that is right for you and your baby. And if any aspect of breastfeeding is negatively affecting your emotional and mental wellbeing, especially if it impacts on your day to day living for more than two weeks, then it is time to seek support.
Medications and breastfeeding
Treating postnatal anxiety or depression may require some form of medication. Whether the medication you are taking will affect your ability to breastfeed your baby will depend on the type and combination of medication, so always seek advice from a trusted health professional.
Some medications are considered safe for breastfeeding. Others are not: these might require you to stop breastfeeding your little one. For some women, the inability to breastfeed their baby may cause them significant feelings of loss and grief. If this is you, you may find that speaking with a counsellor, family member or friend can help you process your loss.
Information and support in breastfeeding
If you are having difficulties with breastfeeding, you can speak to your maternal and child health professional or a lactation consultant. There is also support available through the Australian Breastfeeding Association.