Beyond the Breast: Prioritising Mental Health

by | Sep 26, 2023

By: Katiso Ndumo – Occupational Therapist

It’s important to reflect upon the commendable efforts made to promote breastfeeding and educate mothers about its myriad benefits, along with the essential support required for mothers on their breastfeeding journey. Beyond its nutritional advantages, breastfeeding offers crucial protection against diseases by transmitting antibodies from mother to baby, as highlighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It doesn’t stop there; breastfeeding can also reduce the mother’s risk of certain diseases, such as breast and ovarian cancer while fostering a strong attachment and bond between mother and child.

However, have we adequately addressed the challenges that breastfeeding (or not breastfeeding) can pose to a mother’s mental health? Have we emphasised that breastfeeding is an option, significantly, when it may compromise one’s mental well-being? Unfortunately, these aspects remain relatively underrepresented in our discussions, leaving mothers struggling with low milk production, poor mental health, and chronic health conditions in the dark.

Regrettably, when a mother opts not to breastfeed, she often faces judgment from other mothers who can breastfeed effortlessly and from society without understanding the challenges and reasons behind her decision. Social media have increasingly influenced our culture in recent years, where many mom influencers glorify breastfeeding as the only option and celebrate increased milk production as a fashionable achievement. While we acknowledge the positive role of social media in encouraging breastfeeding and witnessing its positive outcomes, we must also recognise that we have a long journey ahead in depicting the actual reality of motherhood and breastfeeding.

Whether you’re a new or experienced mom, you’re likely riding an emotional rollercoaster. Hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, and the choices you make for feeding your baby can make your life and emotions feel like they’re in constant flux, which can be incredibly overwhelming. According to the Psych Central Weekly Newsletter, a mother’s mental health during breastfeeding can be influenced by various factors, including her initial feeding intentions, struggles with milk supply, medical conditions that may complicate breastfeeding, the level of support available at home and work, and the societal pressure stemming from the “breast is best” movement.

The newsletter also notes the positive effects of breastfeeding, such as releasing oxytocin, a chemical that reduces stress and promotes a sense of calm. Oxytocin also aids in strengthening the bond between mothers and their babies, fostering affectionate feelings.

However, there can also be adverse effects, including unhappiness, uneasiness, frustration, depressed mood, burnout, loneliness, and anhedonia. Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, caring for your mental health is paramount.

As a breastfeeding mom, it’s crucial to accept help and support from others. You can express milk and allow someone else to feed the baby with a bottle. During these moments, prioritise rest and sleep and let others prepare nutritious meals. Always communicate your needs.

For non-breastfeeding moms, remember that your role as a mother is just as valuable. Spending quality time with your baby to build bonds is essential. Seek assistance with bottle preparation, washing, sterilising, and chores. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from a family member, friend, or domestic worker.

In essence, we’re calling for a more compassionate and understanding society that refrains from passing judgment on mothers for their choices and offers more love and support. Most importantly, we encourage mothers to extend the same love and care to themselves, acknowledging and appreciating their unique journeys, regardless of their appearance.

Above all, remember that your mental health is of utmost importance. Your voice matters, your feelings matter.

Article by: Katiso Ndumo Occupational Therapist OT0101796 Social media page: @ot.boy.mamma_kat Blog: