Due to its many proven benefits, experts, local governments, and international agencies recommend moms to breastfeed their baby exclusively for six months and are encouraged to nurse their baby for a year and even beyond. (Read about the Philippines' Milk Code here.)
Breastfeeding, however, is not always a walk in the park for many because of issues such as difficulty latching, low milk supply, engorged breasts, and even mastitis. While these challenges have solutions (read more here), telling the moms to “try harder” to breastfeed doesn’t relieve any of their problems. In fact, according to a commentary published in the journal Nursing for Women’s Health in May 2019, the pressure to breastfeed may lead to postpartum depression, isolation and inadequacy.
Experts in the United States are calling for more research into the effects of stress related to the pressure to breastfeed, and its link with postpartum depression. Though breastfeeding is more beneficial, not all women can successfully breastfeed, and these women need support as well.
“We think that for mothers, breastfeeding is the best option,” wrote Ana Diez-Sampedro, clinical associate professor at the Florida International University Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing & Health Sciences told The Huffington Post. “But that’s not the case for some mothers,” she added.
Maria Olenick, the chair of undergraduate nursing at Florida International University and a co-author of the commentary, shared that doctors’ approach to infant feeding has shifted. With her first child, it was a matter of how she prefers to feed her child. But when she gave birth to her second child 20 years later, it became about what doctors imposed in her experience.
Diez-Sampedro, Olenick, and their co-authors want to ensure that new moms who are having difficulty breastfeeding are assessed and supported physically and psychologically. They called for two changes:
Healthcare providers in the U.S. should be aware of the link between breastfeeding challenges and postpartum depression. They should also be prepared to offer emotional support.
On top of educating pregnant women about breastfeeding, moms-to-be should also be informed about safe formula-feeding practices. Doing so will at least let moms know it is an option.
“So long as a woman is provided appropriate education to make informed decisions,” the authors wrote, “clinicians must trust that a woman will choose to do what is best, even if the woman’s definition of best is different than that of the health care provider.”
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reported that women who couldn’t breastfeed as long as they intended often experience distress. They recommend that these moms’ feelings should be validated by their doctors and not judged.
One of the benefits of breastfeeding is it releases oxytocin, also called the “love hormone” or” “cuddle hormone,” and has a calming effect on the mo and protects her against stress. But studies have shown that women who planned to breastfeed but unable to were twice likely to become depressed. Experts have often blamed it on the lack of support the new mom received.