When a mother brings home a newborn, one of her primary responsibilities is to feed her baby and ensure the baby has enough nutrients to grow. When something unexpected disrupts her ability to do that, it can be a devastating blow — not only because of concern about the baby’s health, but also because it can impact how a mother feels about her own capacity to mother.
The disruptions can range from breastfeeding issues such as improper latch or inadequate supply to health problems like reflux or absorption problems that can impact a baby’s intake. The result of these types of feeding issues may be poor weight gain or weight loss, failure to meet standard height/weight expectations, and slowed development.
Frazzled, suffering from lack of sleep, and worried, now a new mom may feel like there is something wrong with her; otherwise, her baby would be thriving. She wonders if someone else could do this better or if she has caused harm to her baby. All of this can provide fertile ground for postpartum depression or anxiety to take root.
I say this — not just as a therapist who works with mothers with postpartum issues — but as a PPD survivor whose own baby had feeding issues. My baby had reflux that went undiagnosed for her first five weeks of life. I was feeding her every hour and a half but she wouldn’t settle or seem satisfied; worse yet, my already tiny baby was losing weight. The day the doctor diagnosed her with failure to thrive was one of the worst of my parenting life; my baby was perfect so I was sure that the failure was all mine. I feel certain that these feeding issues — along with a bad case of thrush that took several months to shake — contributed to my issues with PPD.
If your baby has feeding issues that are causing you to question yourself, take the risks to your own well-being very seriously. Being consumed by guilt and having negative impressions of your own ability to parent undermines your role as your baby’s mother. Making sure that you have the support and encouragement you need during this difficult time can only help your baby.
Here are some things you can do to get help when your baby is diagnosed with a feeding issue that’s impacting how you feel about your mothering:
1) Get support from other parents who have experienced the same issues (colic or reflux, for example) via a support group or online forum.
2) Contact Postpartum Support International for resources around postpartum mood disorders. PSI has a warmline that allows you to talk to other survivors of PPD, resources for dads, specialized support for military families, and support groups across the nation and around the world.
3) Make an appointment with a therapist who specializes in postpartum support and intervention. You can find one on Psychology Today’s Therapist Finder.
4) Focus on researching the problem your baby is having with feeding, rather than getting bogged down by the guilt. Tell yourself, “Babies sometimes have health issues. There’s no one better than me to help my baby with this problem because I will go to the ends of the earth for her.”
5) Get sleep. It’s time to enlist the help of your partner, friends, family, or a babysitter so you can get a few uninterrupted hours of sleep. It’s too easy to let yourself fall downward into the abyss of shame and self-recrimination when you’re operating on a sleep deficit.
If you are having trouble with handling the emotional part of a feeding issues, please reach out for help. If you’re in the DC Metro area and would like to reach out to me, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 703-868-8609.