Shanice’s Story: Addressing My Mental Health Improved My Breastfeeding Journey
Shanice Linnen, South Carolina
Editor’s Note: Black Breastfeeding Week is celebrated August 25-31, 2023. This year’s theme is BBW 2023: We Outside! Celebrating Connection & Our Communities. For more information about this week and planned events, go to blackbreastfeedingweek.org/.
All my pregnancies taught me valuable lessons in perseverance and reaching out for help. I have two girls and two boys, and as the saying goes, every child was different.
My daughter, bright eyed and weighing eight pounds even, was born after 41 weeks of pregnancy. After developing pre-eclampsia after my daughter was born and struggling with anxiety and depression for years prior, I was in disarray. Breastfeeding was the least of my concerns. For my new baby girl, breastfeeding was not up for debate. As soon as they placed her in my arms, she began to smack her lips. All of the nurses gasped and told me to quickly see if she would latch. After giving birth and being pulled and tugged on all night, I honestly just wanted everyone out of the room and to just get some sleep. I laid my daughter on my chest for some skin to skin, and in return she buried her face in my chest as if she were demanding I get with the program.
The first week of cluster feeding sent me into a postpartum frenzy. She latched on perfectly just about every time. A breastfeeding mother’s dream. About two months later, I relocated to South Carolina. I was pretty much alone because my husband worked all the time. Looking back, moving to a new area away from my support system took a toll. As a new mother, I never took into consideration how mental health plays a part in breastfeeding. I had no idea how important it is to get proper rest, sleep (definitely two different things), eat and keep hydrated. I struggled with all those things during this postpartum time. After about four months of struggling, I finally threw in the towel.
My breastfeeding journey with my boys was just as eventful. After baby number two, I was told at my postpartum appointment that I was anemic and my Vitamin D levels were very low. I remember the nurse asking me how I was able to function with such low levels. I developed high blood pressure as well. I was told the prescriptions they gave me would not affect my breast milk. It didn’t affect my production, but it apparently affected the taste. I can laugh now, but I remember bawling my eyes out because every time I would try to latch my son, he would turn his face away in disgust. If only I had the courage to reach out for help. Instead, I persevered alone in silence.
My second baby boy was like a dream. Even during (the Covid pandemic), I managed to stay active by continuing to run every day and kept a massive appetite. This was the easiest pregnancy and delivery out of them all. I also had no health complications after delivery for the first time. Although he was my smallest baby at delivery (6 pounds, 14 ounces), he grew much faster than my first two. I was able to breastfeed him the longest without supplementing. This was a huge win for me. He grew so big so fast. It still amazes me how well he eats now as a toddler. This kid has yet to find a food he doesn’t like other than cake of all things. Although my pregnancy was during the pandemic, I felt like I could breathe for a second. The world was forced to stop, and in return I gave myself grace and help from a therapist. The pandemic gave me time to reflect and focus on my mental health. This pregnancy gave me the revelation of the importance of mental health during and post pregnancy.
In September of last year, I accidentally gave birth at home. I sat in my recliner beating on the walls all night to time my contractions. At the time, I was not looking forward to going to the hospital, just to be sent back home. Just as my husband woke up for work, I explained to him I had no idea I had been beating on the walls for hours! He began to frantically pack everything when suddenly I got down on one knee. He turned to me in terror because he knew it was too late. As I began to yell for him to catch her, I looked around the bedroom at my other three children and thought, “Oh my goodness, this is really happening!” After struggling to unwrap the umbilical cord from around baby’s neck, my husband delivered our 7-pound, 2-ounce daughter right in our bedroom. She, like her sister, latched on immediately! Even after dealing with tongue-tie and me struggling to maintain an appetite after having gestational diabetes, she still managed to continue to latch. I felt like all my struggles had come full circle and I was persevering through it all with the help of great friends and family. I will never underestimate my strength after that experience.
All four of my children taught me how important it is to reach out for help. Most of the women in my family breastfeed for at least a year. However, no one spoke about the importance of mental health while breastfeeding. After feeling like a failure several times throughout my breastfeeding journey, I have concluded that we all struggle in some form or fashion. After experiencing struggles from depression and anxiety, issues with eating after having gestational diabetes, to tongue-tie, I realized very late that there is someone else out there who has or is going through something similar. My only hope is that organizations such as La Leche League continue to grow and prosper to ensure that women who are struggling can find a safe space to find help with struggles and to spread awareness to others who may think they’re alone.
Please send your story ideas to Amy at [email protected].
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