How A Difficult Breastfeeding Experience Can Turn Into Mental Trauma

Here’s all you should know, from a midwife nurse and mama of four

how to cope with Breastfeeding Trauma
  • Save

Motherhood is one of the most transformative journeys that we will ever take. Becoming a mother means you place incredible importance on someone else’s needs.

As soon as you become a mom, the world criticizes how your baby sleeps, how you parent, and how you feed your baby.

As if the judgment isn’t enough, the mom guilt plagues us all. We always wonder, “Are we doing enough?”

  • Save

Being a mother isn’t easy, but breastfeeding has its unique traits. Whether through pumping, latching, or supplementing, most moms experience guilt in their journey to feed their baby.

Many moms are unable to exclusively breastfeed for the guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) or the World Health Organization (WHO).

AAP recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby's life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.“

WHO guidelines are similar, but recommend breastfeeding through 2 years old. While these recommendations praise the benefits of breastfeeding, many women face barriers. There are many physical, emotional, and psychological barriers.

I have four children. With my first, I was alone while his father traveled regularly. I spent three days where I slept four hours total because I was nursing every two to three hours.

After the fourth week, I started to feel exhausted and out of my mind. Every single thought whirling through my brain involved hydration, diapers, and breasts!

Finally, a week later, I brought my baby and a bottle of formula over to my mother and took a nap. He received both breast milk and formula.

I felt a lot of guilt about not following the guidelines and exclusively breastfeeding. However, my baby received nutrition and was loved. I still think I’m a loving mother.

My last three babies received exclusive breast milk, but my last two would only drink bottles for the first few months of their lives.

My breastfeeding journey has not been flawless nor as smooth as the books depicted. I have struggled with feeling like a failure along the way, even though I know I am doing what’s best for our family.

how to handle guilt and criticism while breastfeeding
  • Save

Lactation consultants have made me feel like garbage for ruining my baby’s guts by introducing formula. I have struggled with missing the bonding that is linked with breastfeeding directly.

I know what it’s like to have mom guilt– but letting that guilt fester is what interferes in your relationship with your sweet babe.

I see patients all the time who struggle with breastfeeding. They may have recurrent mastitis or not make enough milk.

Some moms have visited multiple lactation consultants without any success. We should celebrate mothers for what they are doing correctly and let go of their vision of the perfect breastfeeding relationship if it doesn’t work out.

When breastfeeding is problematic, it’s difficult not to get wrapped up in always thinking about it. I fixated on feeding with three out of four of my children.

The best advice anyone ever told me is that “you can’t take care of your babies unless you’ve taken care of yourself.”

If breastfeeding is interfering with your mental, emotional, or physical health, it’s okay to make modifications or let it go. You are her mother, and you are enough!

There is a fabulous article about Professor Amy Brown’s study at Swansea University regarding the emotions women feel when breastfeeding does not go as planned.

It is written by a well-known psychologist and doula in the UK who has a particular focus on perinatal depression.

The words used to describe these mother’s emotions range from guilt to failure to anxiety to shock. She brings up an interesting point regarding breastfeeding trauma.

effects of childbirth and breastfeeding trauma
  • Save

Many people understand trauma to be crippling fear attached to the occurrence, but trauma is any distressing feeling related to the triggering event. It can be fear, anger, frustration, or overwhelm.

It is essential to make peace with your breastfeeding journey for exactly what it is. The way you feed your baby does not define you as a mother.

I would go out on a limb to say that you are a good mother, with a strong family who is an expert at making your child happy.

If you experience childbirth-related trauma, you are more likely to have trouble breastfeeding.

Both breastfeeding and childbirth trauma have profound effects on your relationship with your child, your family, and possible longlasting effects.

It is critical to recognize the accompanying symptoms following trauma so that you can seek the appropriate assistance.

The signs of depression and anxiety include:

  • Do you feel sad?
  • Are you more irritable or angry with others?
  • Are you struggling to bond with your baby?
  • Are you feeling anxious?
  • Have you noticed any changes with eating or sleeping?
  • Are you fixating on distressing thoughts?
  • Do you feel “out of control”?
  • Do you feel like you should not have become a mother?
  • Have you thought about hurting your baby or yourself?

If you are suffering from signs of depression or anxiety, contact a licensed professional mental health counselor or your health care provider.

Postpartum Support International provides resources for help and knowledge about postpartum depression and anxiety.

Breastmilk is the ideal infant nutrition, but you should only breastfeed when it makes you feel comfortable.

If breastfeeding is consuming your life and casting a negative shadow on your early months with your baby, let it go. You are their parent, and you know what’s best for your child.

Look deep within your heart and make peace with yourself if breastfeeding doesn’t work out.

Some women put a lot of pressure on themselves to create the model breastfeeding relationship. But nothing about motherhood is perfect.

Becoming a parent is messy and beautiful, and it’s vital to protect your mental health along the way. The most important thing that you can give to your baby is you.

how to cope with Breastfeeding Trauma
  • Save

Written by Caitlin Goodwin

Caitlin Goodwin is a board certified nurse-midwife, runs the family travel and autism blog, Typically Twitterpated and is a mom to four children. In her spare time, she and her family follow a gluten-free diet and share a love of all things travel, especially Disney.