How you choose to feed your baby is an intensely personal decision for a family to make. Considerations to take into account might be financial, available social support, mental health status, along with countless other factors. This is often a decision that is made during pregnancy and is an idealized one: meaning that before it can be experienced, goals and ideas are created with the subtle (and overlooked) expectation that falling short of this created ideal is the equivalent to failing your baby or being a failure as a mother.
Breastfeeding can seem like an enigma: the milk is expected to be there and to be plentiful to satiate a growing newborn’s needs. Because of the perceived lack of specific information while nursing, (for example, breasts don’t have ounce demarcations), it makes sense that some women will feel anxious about whether or not they are providing enough milk for their baby. Often, reassurance can be provided for this fear by consulting with a trained lactation consultant or even a weight check at your pediatricians where you weigh the baby, then feed the baby, followed by a second weigh in. (This is a common way to get a fairly good estimate of what your baby has consumed in a single feeding).
For some women, this reassurance does little to mitigate the fear and anxiety that comes up around breastfeeding. Despite the initial relief that their baby is growing as expected (or even surpassing expectations), a cycle of doubt becomes perpetuated once the weigh in has passed. Typically, this is where a trained mental health professional (or lactation consultant) might become suspicious about whether the anxiety is truly connected to the breastfeeding, or if it where (pardon the pun) it has latched onto. Given that nursing has an intrinsic level of doubt (as mentioned earlier), it is normal that a new mother would be concerned about her supply initially. However, once breastfeeding has been established and is comfortable for the pair, the lingering concern that the baby isn’t getting enough tends to be linked to anxiety that has taken root with nursing rather than an actual problem with feeding.
I often see new moms in my office who have decided to stop nursing as a way to combat the anxiety on their own: the thought being, “if I know how much my baby is getting, I won’t worry that he or she is starving.” What becomes surprising to these moms is that their anxious feelings do not abate, and rather, they start to mourn what often is a premature end to breastfeeding. The anxiety is transient and takes on another form—perhaps about how the baby sleeps, whether the baby is breathing, is the baby safe with his or her care provider, or fears about going back to work.
Anxiety that occurs postpartum is surprisingly common and is on the rise—currently, it is more frequently diagnosed than its cousin, Post-partum depression. It is estimated that 1 in 7 new moms will suffer from anxiety within the first year of having a baby, compared with the nearly 1 in 10 who might experience post-partum depression within the same time period. Either warrants immediate help—often which is conversation based—that can lead to feeling better.