Pregnancy

I Had To Stop Breastfeeding For My Mental Health — Literally

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breastfeedingRight off that bat, new mother and volley ball coach Linda Johnson says that she wouldn’t describe herself as the most relaxed and laid back person. The self-admitted overachiever and Type A personality considers this tendency in herself when describing her first forays into breastfeeding — long days alone without her husband, panic attacks, and occasions where her chest would tighten up with anxiety. Finally, after being diagnosed with postpartum depression, Linda realized that she had to stop breastfeeding her infant daughter for the sake of her mental health.

From the very beginning, Linda found breastfeeding to be an “uncomfortable” and “anxious” process. Being a modest person, she tells me that the very fact of having her breasts exposed in the hospital was nerve-wracking as she learned how to nurse. The evening before her husband was to return to work following the birth, Linda experienced her first panic attack. The symptoms worsened when her newborn daughter would cry for food, putting the new mother on edge for yet another attack.

“I just couldn’t face the idea that I was going to be alone day after day, the only one tending to my daughter with no break or rest,” she remembers. “It was incredibly overwhelming. I couldn’t take deep breaths and I was itching from the inside — almost like my body was clawing to get away from itself.  I was fidgety, shaky, nervous and unable to form complete sentences and coherent thoughts…nothing was in focus and I couldn’t look anyone in the eye.”

Linda’s husband suspected that his wife was suffering, but she herself remained in denial about her condition for about four months. It was then that Linda suffered a major breakdown while alone at night with her baby girl. After suddenly having visions of hurting her child, Linda called her mother and began sobbing. A concerned friend had a similar experience of uncontrollable visions and feelings and referred Linda to her counselor. She was shortly after diagnosed with PPD.

Her challenges with breastfeeding were weighed specifically with the reality of being her daughter’s sole provider — a fact that kept her from truly enjoying her new daughter.

“I am a Type A, make-a list-and-get-it-done type of person. I hated feeling tied to the bed, couch or chair while the laundry and housework piled up around me. Sure, my husband was helping out but he worked long days and when he got home he wanted to spend time with our daughter as a family. I would be anxious because I didn’t know how much she was eating and I was constantly worried that I wasn’t doing enough for her… I look back at those months and I don’t remember breathing,” the mother recalls.

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