Before you read this, this is my disclaimer. I am pro happy mums and happy babies. I am pro breast feeding and formula feeding and this post is in no way an anti breast feeding rant. It is hopefully a post to give others encouragement if they are struggling with breast feeding or switching to formula from the perspective of someone who also found it tough.
This is a post I never wanted to write. I wanted to breast feed both of my girls because I had not avoided the ‘breast is best’ message (how could you?!) and I felt it would help me to bond with my children etc. Let me ask you this, has there ever been another time when you have wanted the best for someone else more than you do for your own children? I would love to give Tigger and the newbie the very very best of everything in their lives and that wasn’t any different when it came to breast feeding. However things changed when I had my first. After 5 weeks of exclusively breast feeding, I felt I could do nothing right. Tigger wasn’t receiving what she needed from me mainly because I was completely exhausted, run down and overcome by anxieties about whether I was a good mum or not. I was ill. I didn’t know it at the time but I had started my journey with post natal depression.
The night I first gave Tigger a bottle, I cried so hard my husband called for back up in the shape of my mum! I struggled so much with the decision. It got easier don’t get me wrong but I still found it tough when I saw mums who were breast feeding. I felt like I had failed her. Why couldn’t I give her what she needed? Why was I struggling so much?
I had a lot of guilt around changing her feeds to formula. This wasn’t helped by the fact that everywhere you go people ask ‘Are you feeding her?’ This question is my pet hate as the answer is of course I’m feeding her otherwise she would be screaming right now, am I giving her a bottle or my breast is a different question and in my humble opinion is none of your business! Of course at the time this was not my answer, my answer was usually something along the lines of ‘No she was breast fed for 5 weeks at the beginning but it was really tough so now she’s having a bottle’. Why the justification? Why the need to share that she was breast fed to begin with? Guilt. Is there any other decision you make for your children which comes under such scrutiny? Not in my opinion.
Here’s the thing though stopping feeding was absolutely the best thing for me at that point. My mental health was rapidly deteriorating and I was struggling to just do the normal things in a day. Bottle feeding meant that on the worst days someone else could help me out. I also didn’t feel a huge pressure that it was only me who could provide leading me to feeling trapped on days I was struggling.
It was by no means the only aspect of being a new mum I struggled with and by no means the only thing that helped me feel better but it was one of them. That was my experience and here is my encouragement to you if you are struggling with breast feeding your baby, you feel like it may be contributing to you feeling unwell and the main reason you are not giving up is guilt related then please don’t be scared. It is important for you and your baby that you are well, formula is safe to give your baby and feeding your baby can still be a precious bonding time. Do not struggle in silence, speak to someone you know and remember spring is coming.
It’s been just over a year since I was properly diagnosed with PND so naturally I’ve reflected a little on the past year recently. In this year, I’ve realised a lot. I’ve realised that my PND started probably 3-4 months after Tigger was born or perhaps even earlier, I’ve realised that depression is so hard to live with for me and those around me, I’ve realised that as a naturally smiley, positive person i look like I’m coping even when I’m struggling. I’ve also realised there is no quick fix in this situation, probably the hardest realisation.
When I have a cold or a sickness bug, there is an assumption that after a few days of feeling rough each day will be better and eventually I will wake up snot or nausea free and continue as the same person I was before the cold or sickness set in. With PND it’s different, it’s not a steady incline to the top again, it’s an unpredictable, bumpy ride of ups and downs and I won’t necessarily ever be the same person I was before I got ill which is a bizarre thought.
I think as someone who likes to be doing ok, likes to be moving forward, doing new things and perhaps likes to be in control (haha) I find the unpredictability one of the toughest things to face. I like to make and keep to plans and I love seeing people, helping out where I can and being there for others. Depression makes this much harder. I don’t want to be someone who uses it as an excuse but my capacity right now is nowhere near what it was before tigger came along and I’m slowly having to adjust to this being the case.
I also would love to know when I will be better. When will I no longer wake up some days feeling like the simplest things are hard work? When will I not have huge anxieties over whether I’m good enough or not? When will I be able to drop down on my medication and stay there?
These are questions that no one can answer because every case and situation is different. Most of the time I’m ok with not knowing the answers but sometimes it is overwhelming to think how long this may be with me for but I also know that I am doing alright and I hold tight to the hope that one day I will be depression free and in the meantime my aim is be honest with others about where I’m up to and keep on going one day at a time.
As I mentioned in my first blog, I was diagnosed very late with my postnatal depression. This was partly circumstantial, partly because I didn’t know what feelings were normal after having a baby and partly because I loved my baby so much and felt I had a really good bond with her. Strange thing to say?
My ideas about post-natal depression were very different to my experience of it. In my head someone with PND hadn’t bonded with their baby, felt they wanted to harm their baby perhaps and/or could not cope in anyway with the change that had occurred. Although these can be indicators, this is definitely not a complete picture of all post-natal depression, there are lots of other indicators as well.
My experience was different. I bonded with Tigger right away, I loved her so much and my PND manifested itself in anxiety around whether as a mum I was good enough, whether decisions I made on her behalf with regards to food, sleep, things we did etc were going to have a huge impact on her life. Anxiety was a massive factor at the beginning along with a massive lack of confidence in my skills as a mum. Most mums feel ill-equipped in those first few days but this feeling continued for me and my anxieties were so out of proportion.
I also felt very little joy or had little interest in things I had always really enjoyed previously. I began to find it difficult to go to places I didn’t know something I had never struggled with before. I’ve always been a vivacious, fun-loving and outgoing individual with lots to say (too much sometimes) and a love of trying new things so this new me did not sit well. I also felt consistently tired but again this seemed normal for a new mum and everyone says how tired you will be or how tired they are but I now know that the fatigue was part of me being unwell.
Despite, all these things it took me at least 7 months before I began to worry about my mood. Seems silly now as it sounds so obvious but it’s funny when you are in it, there is a new baby to take care of who completely depends on you and you are desperate to look like you have adapted to mothering well, it’s easy to ignore all the warning signs.
You can find some of the warning signs here on the MIND website and also tale to someone on the PANDAS helpline if you are concerned at all about how you are feeling. Don’t feel that it can’t be you, don’t struggle in silence just share with someone that you are a little concerned about yourself and ask for help. Believe me I know this is hard but you will feel better for not being alone in it and remember spring will appear.