5 expert tips if you feel depressed due to breastfeeding problems

5 expert tips if you feel depressed due to breastfeeding problems

New research suggests not being able to breastfeed can fuel depression in new mums. If you are suffering in silence and need support, read on for a breastfeeding expert's useful advice.

mother breastfeeding baby

Image: Getty

A recent opinion poll of more than 1000 new mothers, commissioned by the Priory Group, found that 81% of those who recognised the pressure to breastfeed thought that this was a contributory factor to depression in mums, where breastfeeding was painful or unsuccessful.

A study published in the Journal of Maternal and Child Health supports the Priory’s findings about a link between depression and breastfeeding “struggles”, reporting that those who planned to breastfeed but had not managed to, were 2.5 times more likely to develop postnatal depression, compared to those who hadn’t planned on breastfeeding.

According to research, only 1-2% of women are physiologically unable to breastfeed, suggesting there are also psychological factors, as well as physical reasons such as mastitis.

But while society continues to urge women to breastfeed, Priory Consultant Dr Kathryn Hollins, a leading expert in parent and children’s mental health, says women are frequently unable to access the emotional and practical support necessary to achieve this goal and have a varied and complex scope of issues that affect the ability to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding issues include:

  • Life with a demanding and hungry new-born can be an emotional roller coaster - there can be great highs when everything’s going well as well as lows when things don’t go according to plan. If breastfeeding is part of the problem, then giving up might seem the solution to avoiding additional stress.
  • Despite the great strides made in promoting breastfeeding, some women still feel embarrassed or unwelcome in public places
  • Although generally seen as positive and helpful, some women describe the hands-on approach of midwives and breastfeeding counsellors as crossing personal boundaries
  • Breastfeeding can symbolise a loss of independence, particularly if the pregnancy or labour has been difficult. Some women – particularly if suffering from sleep deprivation and fatigue – describe breastfeeding as draining or literally “sucking their energy” away
  • Much is made of breastfeeding being “a powerful symbol of a new role as a mother” but if it doesn’t happen, it can lead to great feelings of disappointment or of “failing” to live up to their own expectations.

If you are finding these issues difficult to overcome, read on for Dr Kathryn Hollins’ five tips to help you remain positive.

Five ways to help overcome breastfeeding depression

Pick up the phone and ask for help

There are national and local breastfeeding helplines, online support, face to face peer support groups or drop-in sessions to help you with any breastfeeding problem, big or small.

Getting help straightaway can transform you and your baby’s experience into an enjoyable one for you both.

You may like to consider contacting the free National Breastfeeding Helpline, which is available every day from 9.30am until 9.30pm (by telephone 0300 100 0212; or online support)

Contact your midwife or health visitor

Let your midwife or health visitor know you are struggling with feeding and arrange to meet with them.

Find out about local support available with breastfeeding and bottle-feeding and consider meeting other mums locally with whom you can share the ups and downs of motherhood.

Accept support from those close to you

If you have a partner, a supportive mother, sister or friend, let them know what is happening and let them support you so that you can focus on making this work.

You need looking after so you can feed your baby, because getting feeding going is exhausting and time-consuming.

Focus on what matters most for you and your baby

Remember that what matters most to your baby is you: that you are emotionally available to connect, relate and start bonding with your baby.

Achieving this means being kind to yourself: drop the guilt if you feel it and if you can, and focus on what is important- loving your baby.

Whether you breast, or bottle feed is secondary in terms of your baby’s health and happiness.

Be honest with yourself about how you are feeling

Please get help for your mental health if you feel low, anxious, scared or overwhelmed by feeding or other issues during motherhood.

Have trust that it can be different and don’t let shame or fear mean that you suffer alone. Think about who you feel able to talk with first.

It may be family, one of the helplines above, your GP, or your health visitor.

You may like to ask about parent-infant psychotherapy if you are struggling with bonding with your baby or you may want to ask to be referred to a perinatal mental health team for any mental health problem during pregnancy or early motherhood.

Have suffered from depression due to being unable to breastfeed? Share your experience by tweeting us @GurgleUK or post a comment on our Facebook Page.

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