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"My doctors weren't that concerned. I felt dismissed, like it was up to me to figure out what was wrong. It was my son's pediatrician who finally got through to me."
I became anxious during pregnancy
We tried for a year to get pregnant. When I finally did, I was 35, which is right on the edge of being considered "advanced" maternal age – and which also meant I got a lot of prenatal testing and extra attention.
I realize now that even though my pregnancy was normal and healthy, all those factors made me very anxious. My OB was great and very supportive, yet I always felt like someone was going to tell me I was "doing" pregnancy wrong. The stakes were just so high.
Meanwhile, pretty much everything I read online made me feel anxious and inadequate. One big worry was that my baby was breech. I kept reading that I should try having the baby manually manipulated into a better position (a procedure called external cephalic version) rather than have a c-section. I felt like that was what I was supposed to want.
But I wanted a c-section. In the end, that's what I chose to do. The surgery went fine, and I had a healthy son.
Breastfeeding didn't go well
Then I had trouble breastfeeding. My son had a slight tongue-tie and a high palate. We knew it by the time he was 5 or 6 days old. It was extremely painful to feed him, and it got worse and worse.
But a lactation consultant told me that the tongue-tie was too slight to be much of a factor. She observed him and said he was chewing rather than suckling, and thought the solution was to help me "train" my son to nurse more effectively.
Friends I talked to and information I found online talked about laser surgery to fix the tongue-tie. I didn't know what to do with all the conflicting opinions.
Meanwhile, I was nursing for 45 minutes at a time and still my son wasn't gaining weight. Then I ended up with mastitis.
My son's pediatrician was the voice of reason. She simply "clipped" the tongue-tie, a quick procedure that immediately corrected the problem.
Because of the mastitis, I still couldn't nurse my son without pain, and I had a low milk supply. I switched to pumping. I tried all kinds of things to make more milk – herbs and special teas and lots of water. I pumped every two hours. Still my son's weight plateaued. In spite of all that work, I could manage to produce only about a third or maybe a half of what my son needed. I felt like a failure when we had to supplement with formula.
I was exhausted and obsessed with doing everything possible to make more milk. That's all I thought about.
My doctors were dismissive
My stepmom and my husband kept telling me I was probably depressed, but I couldn't see it – I couldn't get outside of myself. I also didn't know that having breastfeeding problems is a risk factor for postpartum depression (PPD).
The only way I can describe my feelings then is a total lack of joy. I couldn't envision the future. Everything looked bleak.
At my 6-week OB checkup, I was screened for depression. My results were borderline for PPD, but my doctors weren't that concerned. I felt dismissed, like it was up to me to figure out what was wrong.
What helped me when I was depressed
Again it was my son's pediatrician who finally got through to me. Because he had stopped gaining weight for a while we were seeing her every other day.
She recognized how bad off I was. It wasn't anything specific she did or said. It was more her sympathy and empathy that managed to break through my cycle of self-blame.
She's the one who emphasized that my well-being was as important as my son's. It's like I needed that permission, for someone to say that providing my son with breast milk – no matter what – wasn't as important as spending time with him.
It was kind of a shock to me at the time to realize that my own pain and suffering were important. All I cared about was feeding my son. I felt like when I was pregnant, I could protect my baby. But once he was out in the world, he was vulnerable, and I was panicking about being able to care for him.
When my son was about 4 months old, I started feeling like I'd turned a corner. He is 6 months now and things are so much better. I'm still pumping, as well as supplementing with formula. But now that I've recovered from mastitis, I've also gone back to nursing once a day.
I'm focusing on bonding with my son, which I now know is far more important than how I feed him.
What I wish other moms knew
There are many different ways to care for a baby, and no one way is perfect. Being there and bonding with your baby is more important than anything else.
There are so many aspects of the whole postpartum period that can bring on situational depression. You're exhausted. You're worried. Everything takes on a huge significance – especially breastfeeding problems, where all the burden is on you.
And all the while, your hormones are fluctuating. I wish I’d known sooner how much the hormonal ups and downs can affect your mood. It's better to be prepared for that and know that it might happen.
Read more moms' stories about depression during pregnancy and moms' stories about PPD.
At least 1 in 10 new moms suffers from depression. But many women don't get help because they're ashamed of how they feel or brush off signs such as fatigue or irritability as normal.
If you have symptoms of depression, tell your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Or contact Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773 for free, confidential advice and help finding a therapist or support group in your area.
If you're thinking about harming yourself or your baby and you need to talk to someone right away, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for free, confidential support.