Earlier this week Kim Chen, widower of Florence Leung, the first-time mother who suffered from such severe postpartum depression that she committed suicide, took to Facebook urging new mothers to seek help. “For all the new moms experiencing low mood or anxiety, please seek help and talk about your feelings. You are Not alone. You are Not a bad mother.”
Beyond urging moms to seek help for postpartum depression, Chen also acknowledges the crazy guilt that many new moms feel when they end up unable to exclusively breastfeed and has a strong message to send to those conflicted moms: “Do not EVER feel bad or guilty about not being able to ‘exclusively breastfeed’ even though you may feel the pressure to do so based on posters in maternity wards, brochures in prenatal classes, and teachings at breastfeeding classes. Apparently the hospitals are designated ‘baby-friendly’ only if they promote exclusive-breastfeeding.”
Clearly his wife, like so many new moms, had felt an extreme pressure to breastfeed and he shares a critical message that every mother needs to hear, “While agreeing to the benefits of breast milk, there NEEDS to be an understanding that it is OK to supplement with formula, and that formula is a completely viable option.”
“Baby-friendly” policies by definition should be mother-friendly policies.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: The pressure mothers feel to exclusively breastfeed is outrageous.
I’ll never forget how hard I cried the first time I gave my son a bottle of formula. I was wracked with guilt, convinced I was a horrible mother because I couldn’t manage to exclusively breastfeed my son. It took years to get over the guilt and shame. While I didn't experience postpartum depression, I did suffer from postpartum anxiety and it was one of many reasons I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed my son.
I, like Kim Leung, do not wish to argue the value of breastfeeding, but I would love to destigmatize formula feeding. Almost every mom I know struggled with breastfeeding, especially in the beginning, and we need to put more emphasis on supporting mothers no matter how they feed their babies. Formula isn't poison, it isn't the devil, and for many babies and mothers, it's necessary for a happy and healthy life.
No one would argue that a baby is better off without a mother. “Baby-friendly” policies by definition should be mother-friendly policies.
In his powerful post Kim also shares an article about another new mother who had lost her battle with postpartum depression. The post was written by her best friend and while she didn’t go into details about her friend’s struggle with breastfeeding she did urge “those breastfeeding mothers taking Reglan (metoclopramide) to increase milk supply: stop and do research. Reglan has detrimental side effects such as new or worsening depression, suicidal ideation and suicide. Supplement with formula if needed. Your baby will be just as perfect and healthy with or without the breast milk. Having more breast milk is not worth sacrificing your mental health or possibly your life.”
A mother’s health and well-being should have just as much value and support as her baby’s. We need to relieve the pressure from new moms to exclusively breastfeed and spend some of that energy encouraging them to take care of themselves and get help when they need it. Sometimes that help comes in a powder—a wonderful nutritionally balanced powder—that helps their baby grow.
By now we should all know that breast isn’t always best. And that's absolutely OK.