I’m Choosing My Mental Health Over Breastfeeding My Baby And I Refuse to Feel Guilty About It
After speaking with my doctors and doing research, I feel the best choice for me is to stay on my bipolar medications and feed my baby formula. Here's why this tough decision is best for me and my son.
During the good, stable stretches of time, I sometimes forget I live with Bipolar II disorder. My morning doses of Abilify and Lamictal slip down my throat as easily as a multivitamin, giving me what I need to function and more importantly, experience joy.
On bad days, the madness weighs me down and I am aware of my condition just as much as the fact that at night, it gets dark. It's that simple, and that guaranteed. It takes over and it's practically impossible to distinguish what is truth and what is the illness. I believe whatever it tells me—often something along the lines of, you serve no purpose. It has its own schedule and stays for an unpredictable amount of time.
Fortunately, the combination of medication and pregnancy hormones seem to agree with me, as I've been amidst a good stretch for at least 28 weeks now. Despite this, my condition is very much at the forefront of my mind, being that it's forcing me to make decisions I wish I didn't have to make, like whether I will breastfeed or not. While the situation makes me a bit angry, I've chosen to channel that anger into resolve. There is no time to be mad; there are decisions to be made regarding the baby I'm due to meet in July. And my purpose is clear these days: take good care of him; protect him; love him.
I've opted against breastfeeding for one reason. For me to raise my child with stability, control, and confidence, I need to remain on the medications used to treat my condition. After consulting with my doctors and doing my own research, I've learned there's a chance the medications I take—a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic—can get into breast milk. While the possible effects on a nursing newborn are not clearly known, reading about the possibility of things like breathing problems and anemia, I personally am not willing to take any chances.
I'm well aware that if I were to get off my medications, I could offer my baby "liquid gold" and potentially give him "the best start in life." I'm knowledgeable of the many benefits of breastfeeding—to him and to me. But I know the best way for my son to begin his life, and live his life, is to be under the care of a medicated mama who isn't worrying about whether or not my medication might be affecting him.
If I were to abandon my medication, I fear that even just the inevitable lack of sleep that comes with caring for a newborn would be enough to push me into a hypomanic state, possibly causing me to spend money I don't have, make irrational decisions, and chase unrealistic goals. I also worry the depression that comes when I'm off my medication would lead me to hibernate and miss out on once-in-a-lifetime moments with my son and put all the responsibility to care for my child on my husband.
And then there's the self-hatred that often comes when my mood spirals and that's not something my baby should have to witness, as it carries over into every aspect of my life when it strikes. It makes me doubt myself, my abilities, my purpose. And I don't—even for a second—want to ever question my purpose once this baby is here, as he is it.
But there is also a lot of insensitivity when it comes to mothers who choose not to breastfeed, and a lot of people who are quick to shake their heads, reminding you that "breast is best." This is an obstacle I will have to overcome, and I will. Because I know the decision I've made is best for my son and for me. He will be fed exclusively with formula because I am a mother who is choosing to treat her mental illness, rather than ignore it.
My task is to provide my baby with the nourishment he needs to grow and thrive, and I will not fail at that. I may have to deal with the guilt, the judgment, and the shame that others may force upon me for not breastfeeding, but I will try as hard as I can to dismiss it. This is my choice, and I will make no apologies.
As I embark upon motherhood and welcome my son into the word, I pray my mood remains stable for as long as it can. I pray the only extreme will be the thrill of this new journey—one where I hold my son close to my chest as I feed him, wait for his eyes to meet mine, and quietly tell him, "I've got you," because I've got me.
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Thank you. Thank you so much for writing this, and thank you Parents.com for publishing it. I’m 28 weeks pregnant today and live with major depression and general anxiety. Fortunately, I’m still able to take my primary medication during pregnancy and the experience - like yours - has been great so far in terms of my mental health. But, as I’m preparing for postpartum and new mom life, I know that I’ll need to start back up on a medication that I can’t take while pregnant in order to help stabilize my mental health. That also means no breastfeeding. It is what will be best for my daughter, myself, and my husband - we have zero doubts about that. But the breastfeeding cultural expectations are already impacting the way I view myself as a mother...and not in a good way. I have been reminding myself that a healthy baby needs a healthy mom. Some days I waver and think, “Well, what if?” Usually that feeling comes after talking with an EBF mom. And then I remember how I feel when I’m in a deep depressive episode, and I want to do everything within my control to not get to that point for the health of both of us. So, exclusively formula feeding it will be for us, with the support and encouragement from my midwives, my husband, and my mom.
All that to say: you aren’t alone, though I know it can feel lonely. And thank you again for sharing your story.Read More
Thank you for this article. It is honest and brave. My baby will be one in two months. I remember how some friends and close family was shaming me for not being able to breastfeed him. Some days I woke up feeling helpless and questioned myself about doing the best for him by feeding him formula. The truth is I couldn’t breastfeed him. I didn’t have any milk no matter how much milk maker tea I had or water throughout the day and other natural remedies I read about. I had to stand strong and remind myself that my baby is not the first baby having formula. Thank you for knowing I’m not alone.Read More
This article is a gift of honesty and hope to anyone struggling with bi polar disorder -or any other condition that requires taking medication to stay well and mentally or physically safe. Yes, breast feeding is a wonderful natural way to feed our babies- but in these cases, the health of the mother is just as/even more important and overides what benefits breast feeding provides. In theses cases, the mother's decision not to breast feed should be honored, respected, and supported. Kudos to the writer of this artcle.Read More
So agree with you! At the end of the day, our babies need us to be our best selves.