Breastfeeding a newborn for many new mums represents the ultimate maternal connection.
However, ongoing concerns including whether our babies are getting enough breast milk, whether it’s latching on properly, or worries about blocked milk ducts as a result of breasts becoming too full of milk can be frustrating for some.
While it can take time for new mothers and babies to adjust to breastfeeding, a recent survey by Priory Group shows that eight out of ten parents say problems arising from breastfeeding may contribute to depression in new mothers.
Why are new mums stopping breastfeeding?
Many new mothers across the UK understand the benefits of breastfeeding a child, however a report from the British Science Association (BSA) has placed Britain at the bottom of the list when looking at the amount of women still breastfeeding after 6 months and 12 months.
A worrying 80% of parents from 1,000 surveyed said they believe when breastfeeding is unsuccessful or painful, it can cause depression in new mums.
This would suggest that much more needs to be done to ensure new mothers and babies are getting the advice and support they need to feel encouraged enough to continue breastfeeding.
The survey revealed several reasons why women may stop breastfeeding:
- There can be great highs when everything’s going well as well as lows when things don’t go according to plan. If breastfeeding is part of the problem, then giving up might seem like the answer in order to avoid additional stress.
- Despite the great strides made in promoting breastfeeding, many of us still feel embarrassed or unwelcome in public places.
- Although generally seen as positive and helpful, we may describe the hands-on approach of midwives and breastfeeding counsellors as crossing personal boundaries.
- Breastfeeding can symbolise a loss of independence, particularly if the pregnancy or labour has been difficult. From some of us, breastfeeding can be draining and quite literally rid us of our energy levels.
- Successful breastfeeding can be seen as a powerful symbol of our new roles as mothers, but if it doesn’t happen, it can lead to great feelings of disappointment.
What can be done?
While the survey’s findings are worrying, it shows the importance of understanding the reasons new mums stop breastfeeding.
Priory’s Dr Kathryn Hollins, a UK expert in parent and child mental health, believes mums should be encouraged to explore all reasons as to why breastfeeding might not be working for them.
Describing how social pressures to breastfeed can have a negative impact, she says:
“I am convinced that many mums would be breastfeeding their babies happily and for longer if early help from professionals and experienced mothers was available at the exact moments when mums are faced with a screaming, hungry baby who hasn’t quite worked out how to ‘latch on’.”
With the right practical help and emotional support, which may include perinatal psychotherapy which aims to ease the emotional distress and symptoms of depression after birth, we may be able to see a shift in social stigma surrounding breastfeeding difficulties, creating a society which supports new mums when it’s needed most.
Being brave on the journey towards successful breastfeeding
Dr Hollins added: “It’s also vital to talk about breastfeeding struggles and not to be afraid of asking for help, whether from your midwife, GP or health visitor – or even being brave and requesting more specialist advice and support.”
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression associated with breastfeeding problems, it is important to know that you are not alone.
Breastfeeding drop-ins, cafes and centres are a great way of meeting likeminded mums who may be going through the same issues as you, while the National Breastfeeding Helpline is available throughout the day for any concerns you have if you don’t wish to leave your home.
The Priory Group has also opened the latest in a series of high-street Wellbeing Centres, in central London, which can help you gain quick access to appropriate mental health treatment.
The new central London clinic (located on Harley Street, W1) offers a parenthood, pregnancy and family service for antenatal and postnatal depression and anxiety, as well as other issues such as a traumatic birth and difficulty bonding.