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Bipolar Took Away My Dream of Breastfeeding My Baby

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Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

It had been engrained in me that breast was best for my baby. Not every woman has that option, so I saw it as a privilege to breastfeed. I wanted to breastfeed my baby for the first few months and felt confident I could do it. I initially had gone off most of my psych medications so I thought it was possible. Later, I was in a research study for pregnant women with a mental health condition. During that program, I started struggling to manage my bipolar disorder, and ended up going back on my medication.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

My OB/GYN said I shouldn’t do overnight feedings for the first three months to avoid triggering psychosis and passing on my medication to my baby. This would mean I could not breastfeed. I was devastated. I decided to ask the doctor who was leading the study if I could breastfeed. He said since I had a relatively healthy pregnancy while on medications, it probably would not hurt the baby to be exposed through breastmilk. That was all I needed to hear. I was going to breastfeed and just have someone feed her what I pumped overnight.

My daughter was born healthy but early. She was small (5 lbs. 10 oz. I am a big woman, so this was a surprise) from the intrauterine growth restriction (IGR) she had experienced. Not sure what caused the IGR. Not sure if it was the medications or not.

The next morning my OB/GYN came to see me. We talked about feeding my child. She asked if I was breastfeeding and I said yes. She said, “I do not recommend you do that.” She seemed frustrated. She left.

A while later she returned and stood near the door. She said, “After reviewing your chart it is clear to me that you should not breastfeed.” I explained what the research doctor had said to me, but she was adamant. “You do not know if your baby was small because of your medications and what kind of long-term harm they could inflict,” she said. “I am telling you that if you choose to breastfeed your baby, I will no longer serve as your doctor. I feel that strongly about this.”

I had just lost the battle to breastfeed my baby. I acquiesced and told her I would bottle-feed my baby. She said “good” and left. I just sat stunned and cried. My wishes for my daughter derailed. I was sad for me and my baby. I hated being bipolar and that I needed to take medication. My medication makes such a difference in my life, but this difference I did not want. I just hated it.

I called the nurse in to bring me formula and I started bottle-feeding my baby. Soon after, a breastfeeding advocate showed up in my room. The woman asked me if I was breastfeeding, I told her no. She launched into a big speech about how important breast milk is for your baby and all the benefits. I stopped her and informed her that I’d been told I should not breastfeed. She was appalled and asked who told me this. I told her my doctor. She was adamant that regardless of what my doctor told me I still should breastfeed. I once again told her I was not because of medical reasons. She left saying she would see about that. She came back awhile later and said, “I understand you should not breastfeed.” She gave me a book on feeding your child and left. I was eager to read the book only to discover out of 30 pages, there was literally only one on bottle-feeding. I was appalled.

I received no instruction on how to bottle-feed my baby during my stay in the hospital and was never told how to keep my breast milk from coming in. That was a nightmare and very upsetting during what was supposed to be a joyful time.

The first night I had my baby home, my mother woke me up to tell me that my daughter had blood in her stool. I called the nurses hotline and they instructed me to switch her to soy formula, and that she must be allergic to milk-based formula. I switched her the next day. Unfortunately, she was also allergic to soy. Here I was, a mother with her milk coming in, but unable to feed her baby. I had to buy very expensive special formula for her. She got better, but I never got over my guilt of not being able to breastfeed.

I had to take my medication no matter what and that was so frustrating. I realize now that she was fine and got all the nutrition she needed. In the end it was not the end of the world. I bonded with my baby and loved on her just like any breastfeeding mother would. Breast is best in certain circumstances, but it is not for everyone. So do not feel bad if you need to take your medication. What’s most important is that your baby has a healthy mother to care for her. We do need to be mentally stable to care for our children. If we need help, we should acquire it and rely on others to help us. Often mothers think they must do it all on their own. That is not reasonable or possible. I was a single mother by choice, and I lined up as much help as I could find. You can do this if you take care of yourself. You can be a Mighty Strong Mother!

Getty image via arto_canon

Originally published: September 8, 2021
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