Late last year the world lost a beautiful soul to postpartum depression. Although I didn't know Florence Leung personally, her story has touched me very deeply and I tear up almost daily at the thought of the agony that she endured in her final days.
As a Birth and Postpartum Doula I have seen firsthand the devastating effects that postpartum depression can have on moms, their newborn babes and their partners.
Just a few days ago, Florence Leung's husband posted a statement on their public Facebook page stating that he feels the pressure to breastfeed was just too much for his wife.
When asked to do an interview with Global News on the subject, I began to question if we are putting too much pressure on new moms to breastfeed. Here's what I've come up with.
As educated birth professionals it is our job to provide evidence based information and care to our clients. Research does show that breast is best with benefits ranging from better immunity against infections, protecting baby from developing allergies and lowering the risk of SIDS. And it's not just better for baby but for mom too, i.e. shortening her postpartum healing time and lowering her risk of certain types of cancer. These are all wonderful benefits and what mom wouldn't want to breastfeed knowing this.
When meeting with our clients prenatally we often discuss the most ideal scenarios for the childbearing year. We provide tidbits of information in the event that the ideal doesn't pan out and then of course we deal with things when the ideal just doesn't happen. Although we hope for every mom that breastfeeding comes naturally it's not often the reality. In fact nearly 70% of our clients face one or more issues with breastfeeding, ranging from cracked nipples, slow infant weight gain, low milk supply, poor latch or tongue and lip tie. It's enough to make a mother cry....and they do!
A Few Tips for Setting Yourself Up For Success:
Hire a Doula! Studies show that women supported by doulas experience a 28% decrease in the risk of c-secion, 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin and a 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with their birth experience - all of which can have a direct impact on how you feel both emotionally and physically after your birth. Support from Postpartum Doulas can increase your success rate in breastfeeding and can lower your risk of postpartum depression.
Choose a breastfeeding friendly care provider that provides home visits after your baby is born. It's enough to get yourself dressed and showered in those first few days, so why should we expect new moms to get dressed, pack up baby and leave their home to make an appointment. Have them come to you! Midwives are a great option for this type of care.
Build Your Village! Don't wait until babe is born to start mingling. There are many groups throughout Vancouver and North Shore that support expectant and new moms - La Leche League, Breastfeeding and Postpartum Group and various Postnatal Programs. Don't let cost be a barrier as most of these programs are free!
Hire a Lactation Consultant! Ask your friends, doula or midwife for a referral to a trusted Lactation Consultant that provides non judgemental support, someone who will listen and lift you up. My personal fave is Shahrzad Tayebi! She is down to earth, laid-back, teaches instinctual breastfeeding and has plenty of experience under her belt.
When Is Enough Enough?
In my many years as Birth and Postpartum Doula, I have had clients use formula because it was the right choice for them in that moment. In most cases it is used as a bridge to get through a particularly rough time. When I see a mom that is really struggling, her confidence is shot and her sleep and mental health are starting to suffer, I completely support her in her decision to use formula. Perhaps she will supplement to help with a slow weight gain and when babes weight is up and mom has peace of mind then she can slowly wean baby off of formula. Some moms have to work at building up their milk supply and until they are feeling that they have enough for their little one, "top ups" can be the answer for them in the meantime. And in more severe cases, when mom can not overcome the struggles after exhausting all options she may need to bottle feed her babe formula full time. And for this mom, she needs to know that she is making the best decision for her and her baby.
Bottle feeding or breastfeeding; it's not my decision to make. All of my moms are heroes in my eyes and I'll support them in whatever decisions they make! They are strong, resilient, dedicated and loving. Their only flaw is that they're too hard on themselves!
Are You Suffering From Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Psychosis?
You are not alone! Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth. Up to 1 in 7 women experience PPD. For half of women diagnosed with PPD, this is their first episode of depression. Only 15% of women with postpartum depression ever receive professional treatment. Postpartum psychosis affects 0.1 to 0.2% of new moms and often requires immediate treatment.
If you are concerned about your mental health and wellbeing and the physical safety of you and your baby, please read through these signs and symptoms to see if you identify with them. If so, reach out to family, friends, your neighbour, your care provider, your doula or your lactation consultant. Perinatal mood disorders are TEMPORARY and TREATABLE with professional help.
For support in the Greater Vancouver Area contact the Pacific Postpartum Society - toll free 1.855.255.7999.