Breastfeeding through Puerperal Psychosis was a very different experience to breastfeeding through Postnatal Depression. And to any mums out there who have had PP who are reading this, whatever your experiences and decisions were I respect them. I can only reflect on what mine were.
Unlike Nursling 1, Nursling 2 emerged hungry and fed very soon after birth, and has fed well ever since. For the first 6 weeks breastfeeding both girls was a great way of sharing my attention between the two, and began a bond between my 2 girls as well, as Nursling 1 would often be very affectionate towards Nursling 2 while they were sharing a feed together.
Then when Nursling 2 was about 7 weeks old PP hit. The emotional swings that came with PP very much impacted on my feeding. At times, breastfeeding became a magical experience and I felt like I had an amazing bond with my children, as if we were at one with each other. Then, although breastfeeding my girls had always been very important to me at times I was convinced my milk was harming them, and at other times I became very annoyed at having to feed the girls because I was forced to sit still and it kept me from doing very important other things (like cleaning the house and solving the worlds problems). Still, I had enough insight to remember how important breastfeeding really was to me and persisted.
Things became more complicated when I was admitted to Helen Mayo House. Firstly, because of how important sleep is to recovery from PP, it was decided that the nurses would care for and feed Nursling 2 overnight. I already had a pump and an abundant supply, so I would pump first thing in the morning about double what was actually needed and Nursling 2 had her breastmilk from a bottle overnight.
What really complicated things was medications. Some Psychiatric medicines are among the few things that are truly contraindicated (in lay mans terms a huge no-no) when breastfeeding. There are other psych drugs which are not recommended but breastfeeding can be possible under tightly controlled conditions. But the doctors were perinatal specialists, and kept me on medications that could be breastfed on for as long as possible, and alternatives were discussed, albeit they sounded more scary than stopping feeding, when it began to look like I might need the “not recommended ones”. We had in depth discussions with the doctors and pharmacist about a particular drug, lithium, and whether it would be possible to continue to breastfeed on it, but thankfully were spared having to make that decision when the antipsychotic I was on started doing the job.
Being separated from Nursling 1 was tough as well. Breastfeeding became an important point of connection between us when she visited, and helped in the transition to home as well.
As if psychosis wasn’t enough, PP is often followed by depression, and it can be pretty severe. For me, I experienced is much as a pendulum on an old clock swinging between mostly okay, perhaps even tending towards mania, and really down. Once again, breastfeeding became something I could always rely on to work, something that I was good at, and helped me to have a little self confidence, and importantly stay bonded with my girls during that time.
I’m still recovering, and I am so thankful that despite the challenges that we faced, that we managed to keep breastfeeding all the way through my experiences of mental illnesses.