Postpartum depression and breastfeeding: Lessons learnt from the tragic case of Florence Leung

The unfortunate suicide of Florence Leung, 32, a new mother and a registered nurse is a grim reminder that the pressure to breastfeed can cause untenable harm.

When Florence and her husband Kim Chen first discovered that they were about to become parents, they were delighted. They went through the usual routine that parents-to-be go through – sifting through literature, probably joining pre-natalcouple classes and having endless discussions on how to bring up the baby. Little did they know that soon all their plans would go awry.

On October 25, 2016, Leung went missing. It had just been a month since she had birthed her baby. Her body was discoveredon November 16, 2016 in the waters near B.C.’s Bowen Island. Suspecting no foul play, the police closed the case saying that she had committed suicide.

Showing anxiety and signs of depression after birth

According to Leung’s husband, Kim Chen, she had been showing signs of anxiety post-delivery. She had also been seeking treatment for depression. The spot where her abandoned SUV was located was ironic as well. It was at the exact spot where her husband had taken her to uplift her spirits after her discharge from the hospital. As her husband later recollected, it was the first time in days that he had seen her smile.

When Chen was asked the reason why he thoughtLeung took her own life, he said that the only reason he could think of was her inability to breastfeed their newborn child. There were times when the young nurse,deadbeat from the rigors of raising a baby, said that she could take it no more and wanted to quit.

With studies everywhere proving that postpartum depression (PPD) is as real as it can be, it is time that societal pressure to breastfeed be acknowledged as one of the factors that could lead tothis condition.

Every mother is different. However, the inability to exclusively breastfeed their newborn child makes some new mothers feel that they are not maternal enough putting them under a lot of stress. Even though Leung was a registered nurse herself, she faced difficulty breastfeeding. And she internalized her failure as a major letdown towards her goal to be a good mom.

It is okay not to breastfeed, that’s why there is formula milk

Much of the pressure that new mothers face related to breastfeeding comes from the standard medical literature. Whether it is the maternity ward or the clinic where the parents-to-bego for routine check-ups or consultations, they are inundated with posters advocating breastfeeding. Even yoga and other pre-natal classes for expecting mothers focus on the same causing mothers who are not predisposed to breastfeed to feel as if they are not normal.

Coping with the stress, bouts of melancholia, and mood swings that come with postpartum depression may exacerbate the feeling of failure at being a good mother. If a new mother is unable to breastfeed, it is okay. That is the reason why formula milk was made.

Even certified midwives and nurses are of the opinion that though “exclusive breastfeeding” is good for the baby, if one has difficulty breastfeeding, for whatever reasons, they can always supplement the baby’s nutrition with formula milk. The most important point to remember here is that this does not make them bad mothers. It is also crucial for the family to understand that they need to support the mother and help her cope with her new responsibilities. They also need to ensure that they are aware of a medical provider near about should the need arise.

Struggle with breastfeeding a trigger for aggravating postpartum depression

There are many women who struggle with breastfeeding but there is a key difference between those who suffer from postpartum depression and those who do not. In those who struggle with only breastfeeding, the struggle is external, whereas for those suffering from postpartum depression, the pain is deeply internalized. There is a sense of guilt and often the inability to breastfeed could seem like a matter of life and death. Physically and mentally fatigued because of lack of sleep, confused and disoriented, new mothers suffering from postpartum depression tend to eat lesser than before compromising their milk secretion. Slowly, they get caught in an endless cycle compounding both their inability to breastfeed and the resultant postpartum depression.

Recognizing the signs and seeking help

A new mother may experience baby blues, a sort of milder version of postpartum depression, also known as postnatal depression. Baby blues typically start after childbirth and may continue for two weeks after childbirth. However, if the symptoms are severer and last longer, then the new mother may be experiencing postpartum depression.

The most common symptoms of postpartum depression include:

  • Excessive crying
  • Severe mood swings
  • Extreme irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Changed eating patterns
  • Changed sleeping patterns
  • Wanting to just “give up”
  • Severe anxiety or panic attacks
  • Feeling of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Restlessness and the feeling of inadequacy

Remember, postpartum depression does not make a new mother weak or a bad mother. Timely recognition of the symptoms and seeking prompt help can improve the symptoms providing relief.

As America commemorates August as National Breastfeeding Month, look around and closely observe the new mothers around you. If you feel that they are struggling with breastfeeding and are displaying any of the above symptoms, talk to them and seek immediate medical advice.

At Medical Concierge, we understand that postpartum depression is a serious mental health condition, but at the same time, it does not define you. We offer a holistic treatment program comprising evidence-based interventions like medications, counselling sessions and alternative therapies. These help a new mother or father manage their symptoms and bond better with their babies.

For more information about our depression treatment programs, call our 24/7 helpline 877-636-0042 and talk to an admission counselor. Alternatively, you can also chat online with our representative.

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