Mental Wellness and Feeding

Published on: October 23, 2018

There are many difficulties and competing things to balance in motherhood. One mom shares her challenges and insights from her breastfeeding journey.

By Jana Carlson


As I write this, World Breastfeeding Week is drawing to a close, and I am currently sitting in an empty classroom at work, pumping breastmilk for my 7- month old daughter.

I am pondering the delicate links between our mental wellness and our ability to feed our babies as friends’ feeding stories flash through my mind: mastitis, bottle refusal, nipple confusion, clogged ducts, silent reflux, constipation, lactose intolerance and that earth-shattering, all-encompassing exhaustion that takes over us all.

I … had been led to believe that my worth as a mother and a female was directly linked to my ability to breastfeed.

I want to share my own feeding story in the hopes of starting a conversation around mental wellness and feeding our babies.

A tough start

My son never latched and so I never directly breastfed, and I was shattered. His birth had interventions I had neither planned nor wanted and he was fed formula in the NICU without my consent.

I was a clueless first-time mum who had never considered giving my baby formula and had been led to believe that my worth as a mother and a female was directly linked to my ability to breastfeed.

Several visits from midwives, lactation consultants and doctors couldn’t get him to latch but I desperately wanted him to drink breast milk.

For a grueling five months, I pumped breast milk every two hours around the clock, even though I had returned to full-time work at three months postpartum. I struggled with supply issues and exhaustion the whole time and all the oats, brewer’s yeast and domperidone couldn’t help.

Pumping at the expense of my mental health

Somewhere around that five-month mark, I began to realize that my extreme focus on pumping breastmilk was diminishing my ability to enjoy my baby.

I was pumping breastmilk at the expense of my mental health; I was stressed, overeating, tired and irritable. I resented pumping and the position I was in where I had no choice but to go back to work.

…my mental health was suffering in the pursuit of breastfeeding.

Eventually, I realized that what my son needed, more than breastmilk or anything else was a mummy who could be present for him.

I began mix feeding him with formula and, despite bouts of guilt, I knew it was the right choice for my family at that time. He transitioned to full-time formula and, of course, was a healthy, thriving baby.

A second chance

When I was pregnant with my second child, a daughter, I was determined to make the best possible attempt that I could at directly breastfeeding. A few minutes after delivery she was placed on my chest and her little head bobbed around, finding my breast all on her own and our latch was successful.

A wave of relief and vindication washed over me after months of stress and worry about my decision to homebirth and my ability to breastfeed.

Yet despite our successful start breastfeeding, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. Once again, I had to return to work at three months postpartum. In preparation, I pumped over 12 liters of breastmilk, anticipating supply issues once I was back at work.

The unwanted and unwonted mental anguish

Sure enough, the stress, being away from baby, my first period, and a bout of nipple thrush all coincided and at only my second week back at work I was virtually pumping air.

We need to … lift up and support each other as we raise and feed our babies — even if we take different paths.

This did nothing but escalate my stress and once again my mental health was suffering in the pursuit of breastfeeding. It seemed that despite my determination and efforts, things were never as smooth as I would have liked.

In some ways, it can feel like regardless of how you choose to feed your child, it’s wrong. There are critics in every corner denouncing public breastfeeding and ridiculing those who opt (or are forced into) formula feeding.

I felt compelled to write this article because part of the mental anguish the first time around was feeling like I was the only mother encountering problems.

We need to stop censoring motherhood and start normalizing conversations about birth, breastfeeding, and parenthood.

And, more than anything else, lift up and support each other as we raise and feed our babies — even if we take different paths.


About the Author

Originally from Sydney, Jana moved to Bangkok in 2014 to pursue love and sunshine! She completed her Masters of Education at the University of Western Sydney in 2011 and has been working with children for seven years. Jana is passionate about early years education and is a K1 teacher at Berkeley International School. She lives with her Khmer husband Sorm, and son Hero.

The views expressed in the articles in this magazine are not necessarily those of BAMBI committee members and we assume no responsibility for them or their effects.

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