Mental Health And Being A New Mom
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Mental Health And Being A New Mom

Therapist Frances Victory shares about her personal experience--and what she learned about the pressure surrounding new moms to breastfeed.

Dr. Frances Victory
Dr. Frances Victory

On May 26, 2018, my husband and I became parents. I remember the moment the doctors handed our son over for me to hold. My husband and I just looked at him as he cried. We couldn’t believe it. We were now responsible for this little human. I had had a schedule c-section and was soon transported into the recovery room. I was enjoying the happy feeling from all of the pain meds. Little did I know that soon the meds would wear off and the physical pain would begin. Something simple as walking to the bathroom was a painful obstacle. While trying to recovery from surgery, I was responsible for the needs of this little person.

When we found out I was pregnant, my husband and I agreed that I would breastfeed. There was no question about it. Prior to giving birth I had purchased everything I would need for breastfeeding and pumping. We even went to a class. I read plenty of articles about all the foods that would magically help increase your milk supply. I was going to be the breastfeeding queen!!

I was in the hospital for five days. For the first three days, I had lactation nurses showing me how to breastfeed and get the proper latch. Once I had gotten the hang of it, it was the most amazing feeling. My body was able to provide nourishment for our son. However, our baby seemed to always be crying. We couldn’t figure out why he always seemed to be unhappy. We assumed he was just a newborn who was trying to understand his new world.

My son never seemed to sleep. I remembered seeing babies sleep in the nursery. When I asked the nurses “Why are those babies sleeping and my son won’t sleep?” She responded, “Because these babies are formula fed.” I couldn’t believe it. How could mothers be feeding thier newborns with formula? Didn’t they know all the amazing benefits of breast feeding? How could they be so selfish and not use their bodies to feed their babies? It just didn’t make sense. From everything I had read before giving birth, I had been programmed to think, breast feeding was the ONLY way to feed your child.

One night a doctor came in and told us that our son was losing weight. He went from 9 pounds 3 ounces to 8 pounds 1 ounce. They suggested that we put him on formula or I could use a hospital grade breast pump. After the first time of using the breast pump, we soon realized why our baby was always crying. He was very hungry. My body was clearly not producing enough breast milk. While trying to heal from the pain of a c-section, I was pumping every three hours. I was physically and mentally drained, but I still set my alarm for 3am to pump. I sat in the hospital chair in excruciating pain and began to wonder “why the heck am I doing this? Is my son’s life going to really be THAT much different with breast milk?” I quickly reminded myself I wanted the world for him and promised myself I would do everything and anything in my power to make sure he was happy and healthy.

When we got home, my husband and I decided to give him formula and the little bit of breast milk that my body was actually able to produce. I remember crying while going online to order formula. I was supposed to be breast feeding. I had always planned to breast feed. It was supposed to be the best thing for my baby. There was so much research that showed the benefits of breast feeding. Everyone I knew was either breastfeeding their babies or had breastfed their babies. A few days after being home, I went to a lactation consultant with my son. We worked on the latch and talked about the different foods/homeopathic ways to increase my milk supply. She made me feel horrible for not being able to figure it out. Once we left her office, I began to cry. Breastfeeding was too hard. My son wasn’t latching on right and my supply was never going to be enough. I remember looking at my son and thinking “you deserve a better mother.”

Adjusting to the first few months of motherhood was quite an experience. My son barely slept at night. He never napped more than 30 minutes during the day. The only thing that kept me sane was the amazing support from our families and friends. Every day I had someone visiting so I could take a shower, nap, or actually sit down to eat a meal. My husband and I even had a few date nights! For the first three months, my mother basically lived with us. She lives 1.5 hours away, so she would stay with us for 3-4 days a week. I was so thankful that other people could feed my son. I couldn’t imagine being his only source of nourishment. My husband would always do the bed time bottle. My mother would do some of the overnight feedings. I kept pumping 3 to 5 times per day. Drank lots of water and put oatmeal in everything. Tried different vitamins to increase my supply. Nothing worked. My supply wasn’t increasing. Each time I sat down to the breast pump – I felt like a failure as a mother and most of all as a woman. But I pushed myself and kept doing it. Didn’t I want the best for my son? What kind of mother would give up on pumping just because they didn’t like it?

By the time my son turned 4 months, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I felt miserable and defeated. My husband kept pushing me to pump. It was supposed to be best for our son. He kept telling me all the benefits he had read. Tension began to develop between us. He didn’t seem to understand that I was miserable, defeated, and unhappy. Finally, I sat my husband down and calmly explained that I couldn’t do it anymore. Our son needed a strong and happy mother who was able to take care of all of his needs.

My son turned 6 months at the end of November and now I realized that when I stopped pumping, it was the best decision for him and me. It was just way too much. Not only physically draining but mainly mentally and emotionally draining as I would feel like a horrible mother every time I would pump and barely get any breast milk. During the first few months, every time I gave him a bottle of formula, I thought I was harming my son and that he was always going to be inferior to his peers. Now I realize I was a woman who was physically recovering from major surgery. My hormones were all over the place. I was severely sleep deprived. Most of all I was trying to understand this new human being and motherhood. I would have never been able to survive without the support of my husband, our family and friends.

It is already hard enough to adjust to motherhood. Your body is recovering from pregnancy and delivery. In addition, the stress of:

  • Getting rid of your baby weight;
  • Trying to put your child on a schedule;
  • Making sure that your son or daughter has enough day and night time sleep. Deciding whether or not to sleep train;
  • Being sleep deprived;
  • Making sure he or she has everything that they need (best toys, books etc). Worried if they are hitting their milestones;
  • Maintaining your marriage after having a child;
  • Developing a secure attachment with your child;
  • Going back to work or deciding to be a stay at home mom.

The list of different stresses is endless. Whether it is a woman’s first or third child – there is so much to get used to. The new dynamic of your life and of your home. My son is almost seven months and every day is a new experience. My husband and I are just now getting used to the idea of being parents.

No one will deny that the benefits of breastfeeding are endless.

  1. Protects your baby from lots of illnesses and allergies;
  2. Boosts your son or daughter’s intelligence;
  3. Prevents your child from becoming obese;
  4. Lowers the risk of SIDS;
  5. Reduce your level of stress and prevents postpartum depression;
  6. Reduces mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer;
  7. Helps create a strong physical and emotional bond between mother and child;
  8. Helping mother’s lose weight.

How is a mother who can’t breast feed suppose to feel when she reads this list of benefits? How is she supposed to feel, strong, empowered, and ready to handle all the challenges of motherhood when she realizes she can’t provide her child with all these advantages?

The benefit that I find absolutely offensive is “helps create a strong physical and emotional bond between mother and child.”I think my son and I have an amazing bond. The rest of the list also offends me because there are PLENTY of other ways to provide your child with the same benefit NOT just from breastfeeding.

To the friends and family of a couple who just had a baby. Words cannot describe the importance of helping out in every and anyway possible. Make sure you ALWAYS support their decisions and remind them that they are doing great. If you live nearby – offer to watch the baby even just for an hour. If you don’t live nearby, maybe offer financial support so that they have one less thing to worry about.

To the woman who just had her first or third baby but can’t breastfeed or decided for logistical reasons to use formula: you are doing great. You have just a brought a baby into this world. Don’t let anyone ever doubt your decisions. Your child is lucky to have a mother who only wants the best for him or her. It takes a village to raise a child. Find your village and never feel bad asking for help.

My grandmother used to always tell us that we caused her gray hairs. Now I am starting to understand what she was talking about. When a woman becomes a mother, she finds out exactly what she is made of. Remember you are amazing and you know what is best for your baby. Your son or daughter needs a happy and healthy mommy. If you are feeling stressed, anxious, nervous or depressed – make sure to get the help that you need so that you can be the best mother for your baby.

Frances Victory, Ph.D., C.P.C., is a Developmental Psychologist, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Speaker, and Certified Life Coach at Victory Coaching LLC. For more information about her services, please check out her website: www.drvictorycoaching.com. She can also be reached at victory.frances@gmail.com.

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