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  • Writer's pictureKristina Atkins

Breast is Best, Except When It’s Not


Two weeks postpartum. Exhausted, but okay.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had my baby, Bean (not his actual name), on April 2nd. With my first two babies, I was induced with pitocin and had an epidural. I had great experiences both times, but this time I wanted to try having him without any medical interventions. Thanks to my amazing doula and support team, I was able to. It was a truly special experience and my favorite labor and delivery.

But that’s not what this post is about.

It’s about my decision not to breastfeed, and why it was the best possible decision I could’ve made. Even more than a natural birth. Even more than what pediatrician to take him to, or what hospital to have him in, or pretty much anything else.

I breastfed Turbo, my oldest, for almost 3 months before I called it quits to get back on meds. I was a mess with raging postpartum depression. But thanks to my bipolar disorder, I didn’t realize it was postpartum depression. I cried every day for six months (yes, even after getting back on meds), struggled with insomnia and urges to self-harm, dealt with countless hallucinations, and bent under the weight of crippling anxiety. Things got better once I weaned him, and I assumed it was the meds.

By the time I was pregnant with Nugget, I’d learned enough about postpartum depression to recognize I’d had it with Turbo. Not only are women with bipolar disorder prone to postpartum depression, but it tends to get worse with each pregnancy. But I was hopeful with Nugget. I’d been off meds for years and had learned a lot about lifestyle illness management. I also had a supplement formulated specifically for bipolar disorder that I could take while pregnant and nursing. The first week after Nugget was born, I forgot to take my pills because I was so tired. And in that time, my postpartum depression was even worse than with Turbo. And like with Turbo, once I got back on the pills (though not a medication), things got better. But not completely. In addition to the normal complications, panic attacks besieged me every time I nursed him. It was a hard, dark time, and I have a lot of memory loss around those months.

I had a goal to nurse Nugget until he was six months old, but at the end of his fourth month, I discovered my milk was drying up. Rather than try to increase it, I decided I was done. I weaned him, and a few weeks later, my milk supply completely stopped.

A cloud lifted. All of a sudden, I felt much, much better. Still not completely stable, but I could function again. My endless tear-filled days came to an end, and I remembered how to smile.

That experience made me realize that not only did nursing stress me out (because it’s freaking hard), but also that the very production of milk in my body wreaked havoc on my brain chemistry. So I decided I would never breastfeed again.

I questioned my decision several times over the next three years, but by the time Bean was born, I felt fairly confident. There was still some trepidation, but the pros outweighed the cons. Not only would I not be making milk, but I would be able to go back on meds. (Yes, I’m back on medication. Another good decision, and I’ll write a post about it soon.) Other people would be able to feed my baby, especially at night, giving me some much needed sleep.

But still, was it the best decision for my baby? It only took a couple days after his birth to realize that it was absolutely the very best for him, me, and the whole family.

Before my milk came in, I warned Kurt that the next few days would be hard. And that was an understatement. I was in pain from engorgement and couldn’t pump or feed my baby to relieve the pain. I just had to suffer through it. I was exhausted from labor and the stomach flu I came down with the day after Bean was born. And I was an unstable, weepy mess. I cried so much those three days. Because I was tired. Because I was in pain. Because my kids were too loud and I couldn’t handle it. Because my anxiety wouldn’t go away. Because no reason at all. I cried and cried and couldn’t stop.

And then the engorgement eased up, and I felt exponentially better. That was a sign to me that I’d done the right thing. But over the next several weeks, as my milk supply continued to dry up, I had more signs. Whenever I had a milk letdown, it was preceded by a quick, intense panic attack. Every. Single. Time. So it was like a reminder, over and over, that I’d done the right thing.

Other than that, I was happy. Exhausted, but happy. I’ve been a completely different mom this time. I screamed and cried so much during those first months of Turbo’s and Nugget’s lives. It hurts to admit it, but it’s true. I loved my babies, but I was miserable. This time, even though I have the stress of balancing three children–and dang, it’s not easy–I’m myself. I still have my moments. Anxiety still won’t go away. Insomnia still robs me of precious sleep. I deal with irritability, sometimes uncontrollable. But those moments are in the minority.

In a perfect world, breast is always best. But this isn’t a perfect world. I made a difficult decision, one many people–including myself–questioned. But when I filled out the postpartum questionnaire at the doctor’s, I was able to circle all the answers that pointed to mental stability. For the first time ever. Nothing beats that feeling.

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