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Mikayla after the birth of her first daughter. Photos courtesy of Mikayla.

After an unexpected cesarean birth, first-time mom Mikayla found herself learning to cope with breastfeeding problems, postpartum depression, and anxiety.

Mikayla, who is now 31 and lives in North Dakota, eventually found help for her depression and anxiety. She also educated herself about breastfeeding—and in doing so, learned to help others too. She’s now a lactation counselor and postpartum doula.

In this edited interview, Mikayla describes her journey finding postpartum support.

ACOG: Tell us about your first experience as a breastfeeding mother.

Mikayla
Mikayla and her two children.

Mikayla: I had a long labor, and my daughter was taken briefly to the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit]. We didn’t have skin-to-skin contact right away, and they gave her formula in the NICU. I had hoped to breastfeed exclusively. Then when I tried to breastfeed her hours later, I couldn’t get her to latch. I was still dizzy and nauseated from the drugs, and I had trouble figuring out how to hold her. She was very small, only 4 pounds, 7 ounces.

ACOG: Did you get help with breastfeeding while in the hospital or after you went home?

Mikayla: The nurses tried to help, but it was still very frustrating trying to get her to latch. I was also struggling with all the emotions of an unexpected cesarean.

The nurses recommended supplementing with formula for a couple of weeks. But I had supply issues, and we ended up supplementing the entire time. After we went home, I went quite a few times to the well-baby clinic to get help with latching. It took about 2 months before I was comfortable doing it without help and to feel like I had enough of a supply for her.

ACOG: How did things go after that?

Mikayla: It was kind of up and down for the next few months. I was struggling emotionally with having to supplement, but also with being kind of happy to supplement because it meant my husband could feed her in the night.

About 4 months after the birth, I realized I was depressed. I’d had depression before, and I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t want to do anything or talk to anyone—just be at home with my baby. And issues with anxiety really kicked in.

ACOG: Did you seek help for the depression and anxiety?

Mikayla: Not right away. In the community where I grew up, you don’t talk about your feelings and you don’t ask for help. I didn’t even tell my mother about the depression, though she knew about my breastfeeding problems. Breastfeeding was easier to talk about.

It took my husband encouraging me to get help for me to do something. I went to my ob-gyn’s physician assistant. She was wonderful. She let me sit and cry for a long time. She told me this happens often—I wasn’t the only one—and talked me through all the options.

Although antidepressants can be passed through breastmilk, we decided starting one was my best option. It helped. I also saw a counselor. It helped having somebody to listen who is not going to judge you. You know that what you say stays between you and them and they’ve heard it all before. After about 6 months, the cloudiness and sadness lifted, and I started feeling better. I wish I had gotten help sooner.

[See Postpartum Depression]

ACOG: 6 years later, you were pregnant again. What happened after your second daughter was born?

Mikayla: I also had problems getting her to latch. I went to see lactation specialists, but they kept telling me it was OK to supplement. I said that I understood that, but I wanted to exclusively breastfeed if I could.

Eventually I took things into my own hands and took postpartum doula and certified lactation counselor courses. I wanted to learn all I could so I could help other women in my situation follow their wishes. I have found a new me with my experience—a passion for helping moms who need lactation and postpartum support. I’m grateful for the experiences I went through, so I can now use them to help others.

ACOG: What have you learned that helped you with breastfeeding?

Mikayla: The thing that has really become clear to me is that support is key. Having professionals who can walk you through any problems you are having makes all the difference.

If breastfeeding is painful, for example, a latch assessment can help. Lactation counselors will be able to help adjust the latch, evaluate the feed, and do weighted feeds so you know how much milk the baby is getting during a feed. Knowing that your body is making enough milk to provide for your baby can really put you at ease.

My biggest tip is education. Do your own research. Be confident in your decisions. You’ll be much more prepared and much less stressed if you have the knowledge you need.

[See Breastfeeding Your Baby]

ACOG: What advice do you have for new moms struggling with anxiety or depression?

Mikayla: Know that it’s OK to feel those emotions, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Talk with your doctor about options.

Every story matters. Share yours.

If you have a postpartum story to share – or a story about any aspect of women’s health – submit your story to ACOG.

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Published: October 2020

Last reviewed: October 2020

Copyright 2020 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Read copyright and permissions information.

This information is designed as an educational aid to patients and sets forth current information and opinions related to women’s health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care, nor does it comprise all proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for a treating clinician’s independent professional judgment. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.