I'm a childhood sexual abuse and rape survivor. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and now also Post-Partum Depression. I am suffering with flashbacks, dissociation, and anxiety from being triggered by the breastfeeding. The resources I have found all support my choice to breastfeed or bottle feed, but I have not found many solutions for how to actually manage continuing to breastfeed. I do not want to wean. I have found pumping to be nearly as intensely disturbing without the benefit of bonding. I am able to bond with my daughter; and, though I do not seem to get the oxytocin rush from nursing, I am able to have enough sporadic connected moments to keep me invested in our nursing relationship. I have been trying guided mediation and focusing exercises, but I have not been able to effectively stop the PTSD symptoms while breastfeeding this way. Right now I am just suffering through nursing sessions so I can benefit my daughter. I am not currently taking any medication, but I do think that after 4 and a half months of suffering, it is time to try some Zoloft in the hopes that it may help both the PPD and PTSD. Can you offer any suggestions so I can keep breastfeeding? I would really appreciate your help!
Survivor Mama Seeking Breastfeeding Advice
I’m happy you are bonding and commend you for hanging in there. Your best bet for getting your hormones to behave a little the way they are supposed to is to get full skin-to-skin contact in nursing, and then gaze into each other’s eyes and make facial and finger play. You’ll want little or no upper clothing and baby should be barely clothed. You can cover both of you up for warmth if needed. Smile at her plenty as the two of you nurse together. Believe it or not, just putting your face into a smile makes your brain think you are happier. Add some soft lights and pleasant music when you can. Romance your baby and yourself. If it feels supportive to have your partner with you, encourage it when he can. If it adds to triggers, or distracts from your focus/intimacy with baby, make it just you and baby.
The Zoloft decision is certainly yours, and I understand the desire. It sounds as though you or your doctor are well informed about preferred drug options during breastfeeding.
Regular exercise and good nutrition are really important for helping you pull out of this phase. Finding a little more help and building bonds with other mothers should complete your recovery picture. It takes time to add exercise and healthy food prep to your busy mothering schedule, so you really do need a little extra support. While you should surely tap any family or friends who are congenial, sharing and trading childcare time with another mom or two can provide multiple benefits. How to find moms? Call a local La Leche League group, look through local “MeetUp” groups available, check Attachment Parenting International’s playgroup lists and those on Holistic Moms Network. Call area midwives or lactation specialists for suggestions if you’re not finding some good options. Go to the meetings and make friends; this is sure to raise your mood. Find someone to trade care with so you can have some time to care for yourself.
It has been quite some time since I received your reply. I am sorry that I was not able to respond back sooner. I did want to update you and ask again for some guidance.
My little girl is now 6 1/2 months old. I made it to my goal of 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding with no supplements. I chose not to take the Zoloft. I added omega-3s, more exercise, a suppor group, a mommy's group, and more individual therapy. While it has not been the easiest answer, and things are still shaky at times, I feel that it best fit our situation. I don't think that anything that I did really helped the hormones. I am wondering if the combination of issues I have (PTSD, PPD, and PCOS) causes a problem with oxytocin. I do feel love for my daughter and we have bonded, but nursing is a struggle no matter what. I tried the grooming, skin-to-skin, nursing in the bath, adding romance...those things lessened the anxiety overall but not the struggle to nurse in the moment. I have just learned to cope and tolerate the distress and discomfort for the most part.
However, our new issue is that she will not stop pinching and "biting". I put it in quotation marks as she has no teeth but is definitely biting down all the same. I have tried every suggestion that I have seen and I am still not able to get the behavior to stop. I am nearly ready to swaddle her for nursing sessions to avoid the pinching and scratching but that will not help the biting. For the biting, I used to give one warning. I would say no, unlatch, offer a teether to see if she needed to soothe her gums by biting, and relatch if she did not want it. After the warning, if she did it again, I would unlatch, put her in her down, and walk away. I would not nurse her again until she was calm. I don't give warnings anymore as it has been going on far to long to continue them. For the other behaviors, I have tried redirection (nursing necklaces, fabric to hold, toys), holding her hands, keeping myself covered, and now I have started having to use the same actions as the biting and end the nursing session. She just isn't getting the message. It seems to settle her to pinch and scratch. She does try to do it other times than while nursing and to other people, especially when she is tired or upset. So it makes sense she does it more while nursing, which is her soothing and comforting time. I am, of course, extremely triggered by this. I wind up in flashback often and dissociated or having to leave my husband to care for her while I cry and try to settle myself back down again.
I am a little at my wit's end and think it might be time to wean if she can't get the message that she can't hurt Mommy. Do you have any wisdom or advice to offer? After making it this far, I would prefer not to wean, but my mental health has taken quite a beating these past 6 months.
Thanks again for your support and guidance!
Oh my hat goes off to you. You’ve really persevered and surpassed your goals. You have a lucky little girl. I’m so sorry things didn’t really improve for you. You really gave it the best effort. Isn’t it interesting how at this age babies just can’t “get” empathy, or understand that they’re hurting you. They do get beyond it but it can be quite a tough wait. I was able to slip a finger in alongside my nipple without breaking my son’s latch. That way my finger would get more of the crunch from a bite than my more delicate tissues.
Yes, I think you are probably right about the effects of these conditions on oxytocin. There’s plenty of research on how oxytocin and stress regulating pathways are “permanently” messed up from detached or abusive parenting in infants. While this may be the most vulnerable time (and likely your infancy wasn’t all that peachy either?), I’m certain that it’s not all cemented in stone after that. I put “permanent” in quotes because some people are able to make some healing progress from this childhood damage, in adulthood. There is still time for you but it sounds as though it’s going to be slow. My biggest suggestion now is for you to find through your relations with your child that it’s never too late to have a happy childhood. Find what activities you both enjoy the most and then play hard and rejoice in these things along with her.
The vast immune benefits from breastfeeding reduce a little more every month and the bulk of it is completed by your daughter’s age although there are still measurable benefits at two years and certainly beyond. The introduction of solid foods (or formula) brings a large part of the drop in breastmilk’s ability to protect. This is something that has to happen for all babies of course and likely your daughter is already beyond this stage. I’m saying this because I do not want you to carry guilt if you decide that weaning is the best thing for you right now. Of course, I don’t ever suggest guilt at any stage, but especially not for you, not now. She’s gotten all the best! Solid foods can provide good nutrition for her without any kind of milk substitute, while organic formulas or homemade healthy smoothies from almond, soy, or hemp milk with added veggies or eggs can replace your milk to provide that warm, cozy nursing bottle. Neurological benefits from nursing can be largely maintained by nursing your baby with a bottle. You might find this more enjoyable than breastfeeding has been, making it a plus for both of you.
Just a quick update. My little girl is 18-months-old today and we're still nursing. I am going to come back and update this further in the hopes that any other moms who struggle with the issues that I did can find some support and solace in knowing that it is possible to persevere if the do not want to wean and to nurse full-term while healing from trauma and recovering from PPD. Thank you again for your support!