Breast Is Not Best – A Happy New Mom Is

Leslie Kennedy reacts to the moving statement by Kim Chen, whose wife died after suffering from PPD, and urges us not to put unnecessary pressure on mothers to breastfeed.

breastfeeding and ppd

I have been very open about the struggles I had with my colicky daughter, my ability to cope, and my ability to bond. She came out screaming. She came out hating the outside world. She came out and made me question if I was a sociopath because I didn’t love her.

That’s right. I didn’t love my daughter. I was sleep-deprived and miserable, getting zero reprieves from a child that screamed 20 hours a day and slept in 45-minute increments.

The only thing that stopped her screaming was my breast.

I was committed to breastfeeding. Like every new mom who has stepped foot in the hospital for prenatal visits, I was bombarded with ‘Breast is Best’ posters everywhere during my pregnancy.

I distinctly remember night three at home; up for 20 hours straight trying to nurse a screaming baby, while I wept alligator tears, and my mother-in-law suggested I give the baby a bottle to give myself a break.

I wouldn’t even consider it. Words like ‘best’ and ‘nipple confusion’ ran through my head and I blew off the recommendation like I would the suggestion I let my baby ride in my arms in the front seat; a recommendation from someone who has old school ideas that are unsafe for my baby, and something no mom who cared what was best for her baby would do in 2009.

Turns out, she just had my sanity in mind. She saw me struggling. And I did struggle. If you look at pictures of me from those days, I look haggard and miserable.

If you look at pictures of my daughter, she was emaciated, in spite of me going to breastfeeding clinics and having the public health nurse in to help.

Maybe that’s why the headline on yesterday’s Global News website hit me right square in the gut. “Husband of Florence Leung releases emotional statement about PPD, pressure to breastfeed.”

I don’t know if I had big D depression, but Florence Leung did. She was being treated for Post Partum Depression when she took her own life, leaving her husband and 2-month-old baby behind.

Her husband spoke out this week, seeking support for women and a rethink of the way we shove ‘breast is best’ down pregnant women’s throats.

“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. 

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,” he pleaded on Facebook.

“Apparently, the hospitals are designated “baby-friendly” only if they promote exclusive breastfeeding. I still remember reading a handout upon Flo’s discharge from the hospital with the line “Breast Milk Should Be the Exclusive Food For the Baby for the First Six Months.”

I also remember posters on the maternity unit “Breast is Best”. While agreeing to the benefits of breast milk, there NEED [sic] to be an understanding that it is OK to supplement with formula, and that formula is a completely viable option.”

He sounds like my mother in law. Only he has the sad proof that we need to encourage women to do what they need to do to get through the early days with their sanity, and life, intact.

I’m not going to argue the merits of the science or the importance of breastfeeding. That’s not what this is about. It’s about understanding that the pressure that ‘breast is best’ puts on women is what makes many of us feel like we are less than, or failures if we can’t or just don’t want to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding made me stressed. It made me feel used and abused and as a human pacifier. I tried cutting out foods, cutting out dairy, and doing whatever I could to make the crying stop.

But nothing worked. I continued to be a failure as a new mom. I didn’t want to quit (though my parents and in-laws encouraged me to) and I didn’t want to fail at doing what was ‘best’ for my baby because I was told over and over again that that breast was best.

Breastfeeding kept me from bonding with my baby. It kept me literally attached to a screaming human who hated me and the breast that soothed her; resenting her, resenting my breasts and their ability and inability to make her happy.

Is breast best if mom is depressed? Is it best if baby is hungry? Is it best if mom can’t bond with her baby? Is it still best even then?

That Ms. Leung’s husband took to social media to talk about this very topic screams to me, and should to everyone, that pressuring new moms can have dire effects.

Clearly, this was something with which she struggled. As Scarlett Ballantyne so eloquently said when news of Leung’s suicide broke late last year, her death should be a wake-up call to us all.

Had I not been told ‘breast is best,’ had I listened to my mother in law telling me on day three that a bottle of formula is okay, had I allowed myself to do what was best FOR ME, perhaps I would have bonded sooner, had a less miserable introduction to motherhood, and would have been a better mother—which actually would have been best for my baby.

Had Ms. Leung not felt pressured similarly, perhaps she’d still be here today.

In the great words of Dr. Spock, “What good mothers and fathers instinctively feel like doing for their babies is usually best after all.”