This post is sponsored by The Breastfeeding Shop.
I was standing in the infant aisle at the commissary with my screaming six-week old baby boy when the shelves started closing on me.
Breastfeeding wasn’t going well. I’d gone through four lactation consultants, and they’d each said the same thing: “Your baby is lazy.”
It was a blunt way of stating the fact that he wasn’t motivated to nurse; he needed to be persuaded with a dropperful of formula before he would latch on. As a result, each feeding was a game of tug-of-war that left me feeling exhausted and defeated, but they urged me to soldier on with “breast is best” as my mantra.
Every time my newborn began to show the tell-tale signs of hunger, a wave of panic washed over me. I knew if I didn’t begin the lengthy process soon enough, he would start wailing – just like he was at that moment in the middle of a crowded grocery store.
It was my fault. I’d thought I had another container of formula at home, but I’d been mistaken. As I reached up to grab the item I needed, I did my best to remain calm while the heart-wrenching sound of my son’s cries rang in my ears.
Suddenly, my pulse began to race and I broke out in cold sweats. It felt like I was trapped inside of my own body and desperate to escape.
I have to get out of here, I said to myself.
Somehow, I managed to make it through the checkout line and back to the car to feed my child without crumbling into a million pieces.
As a rush of satisfying silence settled over us in the back seat, a tear slid down my cheek.
The cycle of anxiety and depression I went through multiple times a day during that season was a vicious one. Not being able to get the hang of nursing–a beautiful, natural thing mothers bodies are designed to do–had left me feeling like a failure, and it deeply affected the way I felt physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Over time, I found small ways to battle the symptoms of anxiety and depression I experienced while breastfeeding. I’m sharing a few tips with you today with the hope that they may help someone out there who is struggling the way I did.
Connect with a supportive community
It’s easy to isolate yourself when you have a new baby at home. It’s even easier when you’re doing your best to manage anxiety and depression while caring for another life. Even though it may feel like it at times, you aren’t alone in your battle. Simply being around other moms who understand what you are going through has a way of shining a light of hope into the dark places of our minds and hearts. Joining a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group at our military installation helped me find the encouragement, human connection and solidarity I desperately needed during that time.
Incorporate short walks into your daily routine
Moderate exercise is proven to be an effective treatment for depression, but it’s difficult to find the time and energy to work out after having a baby – especially when you are dealing with anxiety and depression. Simply making it a habit to go outside for a short walk around the neighborhood in the morning and after dinner was mood-altering for me. The fresh air and time away from the confines of our house helped me relax and gave me the boost I needed to feel better longer throughout the day.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help
When our bodies and minds struggle under the weight of anxiety and depression for an extended period of time, medication is often needed to balance us out. If you believe you’ve reached a point where no matter how hard you try, you are fighting to make it through the day, the best thing you can do for your baby and yourself is to get the help you need. Your primary care physician may be able to help you find natural ways to treat your symptoms or prescribe medication that is safe for you to use while breastfeeding.
Trust your gut when it tells you it’s time to stop
If getting your health back on track means taking medication that will make you unable to continue nursing, it’s time to weigh the pros and cons of switching to formula. Anxiety and depression have a way of piling on guilt. Remember, your mental health is vital to your baby’s overall well-being, and breast milk isn’t the only good way to nourish your baby. No matter where you are in your breastfeeding journey, you’ve done a great job, Mom.
Give yourself permission to simply survive
On the darkest days of life with anxiety and depression, it can feel like all strength has been zapped out of you. It’s okay to allow yourself to lean into your symptoms, rest and simply survive for a brief time. Do what you need to do to care for yourself and your child, and let the rest go until you regain you energy. Other responsibilities will be there waiting for you when you are ready.
By three months, my baby boy had begun to latch on with little effort. The first time we were able to make that connection right away, a tear slid down my cheek just like it had in the back seat of our family car weeks before. But this time, it wasn’t a reaction to the whirlwind of anxiety and depression I’d been experiencing; it was a symbol of relief, small victories and hope.
Now that my son is four years old, I still battle symptoms of anxiety and depression in particularly stressful seasons, but the small changes I learned to make in my daily routine and thinking patterns during those intense months of breastfeeding continue to help me cope today.
If you are in a difficult place right now, trust me when I say that you are not alone and that there is hope. We are good moms who fight hard battles day in and day out, and motherhood has a way of giving us the strength and courage we never knew we were capable of.
The Breastfeeding Shop provides name-brand, high-quality breast pumps and breastfeeding supplies. Catering to the military community, the Breastfeeding Shop’s quick and easy service ensures that TRICARE beneficiaries can receive breast pumps and supplies at no-cost to them.