The other side of breastfeeding: panic attacks, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum depression.

My breastfeeding story includes such a wide range of emotions. I loved it. And I absolutely hated it. I breastfed my two babies (now 7 and 5) for 14 months each. It’s been two of the greatest accomplishments of my life. It was definitely easier the second time around having more confidence and wisdom, but I really struggled with my first baby.

I had a c-section with my first, and was in the hospital for 5 days since my baby had jaundice. My milk did not come in until Day 6 postpartum. It was a long, tearful, and scary 6 days not being able to feed my crying, screaming baby. I was so lucky that he latched on right away. It felt like winning a gold medal! He was always ready to eat, but I had nothing to give him. I used an SNS (Supplemental Nursing System) tube to help feed a small amount to formula to him while he was latched onto my breast. This ‘hamster feeding tube’ as I quickly nicknamed it was a life saver. It helped satisfy my baby without pulling him away from my breast. It felt like a huge victory!

On Day 6 postpartum when I milk finally came in, I felt a wave of burning energy, heat, and anxiety flow through my body. It was very intense, scary, and I did not know what was happening. I felt like the ceiling was crashing down on me, and that there was not enough air in the room to properly breathe. I was literally gasping for air. I tried to take a shower to relax, but I felt like I was drowning standing up in the water. I had to open every window in my house, even though it was December and very cold outside. My body temperature was burning hot. I could not sleep, could not drink water, could not swallow any food, and I constantly felt like my heart was going to explode. I would feed my baby, and would feel so claustrophobic I would have to put him down the second he was done eating. It felt like I was constantly suffocating. And I was in so much pain from my c-section, that I wanted to claw the skin off my body. Now that it’s been 5 years, and I can look back at that time with 20/20 vision, I now know it was the start of my postpartum anxiety and depression.

I had so many triggers that would cause postpartum panic attacks, and unfortunately breastfeeding was one of them. However, I was so determined to breastfeed my baby, like it was the greatest mission of my life, that I silently struggled through these feelings, and learned how to pretend like everything was ok. I would breastfeed my baby and look at his face and love everything about those special moments. He was my miracle baby and I loved him so much. But then 10 seconds later, I would put him down and not want to hold him again, and felt the urge to run away. I would constantly ask myself what kind of mother am I to feel this way? How could I want this baby for so long, and then feel like I had to run away all the time? The guilt was tremendous and all consuming. I felt like I was truly an unfit mother. Then the freight train of emotions and thoughts truly began. I doubted my ability to care for my newborn, I doubted my marriage, I doubted every decision I made.

These panic attacks were consistent during the first 6 months postpartum, and I continued to breastfeed through them all. I then started to feel more joy breastfeeding, and less claustrophobic. I felt more connected to my baby, and the urge to run away was less. But my feelings shifted to more anger, rage and frustration. I was so mad that no one was helping me. That I asked for help from my OB and I was completely overlooked and forgotten. I was mad at the moms that seemed to have it all figured out. I was mad at the sight of my breast pump. I was mad at my husband for not making me feel better, and for not understanding what I was going through. I was so alone, and so sad. Around 9 months postpartum I was convinced my husband and I were going to get a divorce. I could not stand to even look at him. And this was so unsettling because I truly loved (and still love today) my husband, and thought he was the greatest man alive. We were able to work through it, and after my son’s first birthday, I started to see a sliver of hope for myself, and my marriage.

I decided to wean my son when he was 14 months, and luckily we both had a smooth transition. My anger began to subside, and I gained more confidence in my ability to care for a small human. I felt like I was finally able to enjoy the small things I used to before, like simply going outside for a long walk. I was able to look at my son and see that he was thriving. He was a happy, outgoing, loving kid, and it was the reassurance that I needed that everything was going to be ok.

Today my son is 7 years old. I look back over these past years, and it truly feels like the longest, shortest time. I am thankful that I was able to breastfeed him, and I feel so proud for finding a deep strength from within to overcome all the obstacles along the way. It ignited a deep love and understanding within me for all women, in all situations. We are all so different, and everyone has a story of struggle and triumph. And everyone’s story matters. The beautiful gift about being a woman, and now being a mom, is that I can hopefully help other moms with unconditional love and support. We all need each other.

Post Author
Amy Tucker
Amy Tucker's experience (and huge challenges) having her own two children ignited her passion for supporting moms during the vulnerable postpartum transition. She suffered severe postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of her first child. It was this difficult experience that shifted her path from working in the corporate world to helping moms throughout their postpartum recovery. She is a certified Placenta Encapsulator, Postpartum Doula, and owner of Mama Peace. She specializes in helping moms struggling with Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs).  Amy volunteers with The Pregnancy and Postpartum Health Alliance of Texas (PPHA) as an Advisory Board Member, Speaker, Educator and Postpartum Doula. Amy lives in Austin with her husband and two children. You can find Amy at Mama Peace.