SELF – How The Pressure To Breastfeed Can Exacerbate Postpartum Depression

The pressure to breastfeed can be intense as a new mom. For many it isn’t easy – or even possible – and this struggle can tempt a mom to feel like a failure at a time when she is emotionally vulnerable. New father, Kim Chen, is bringing has brought new attention to this in a moving Facebook post where he describes his wife postpartum depression that ended in suicide.


While bringing a new baby into the world can be one of life’s greatest joys, parenting an infant can be emotionally and physically stressful the likes of which few new parents have ever experienced. But when is new parenting just stressful and hard, and when is it something scarier? SELF asked me to weigh in on the signs of postpartum depression, breastfeeding pressure, and what you can do to roll back the stress. I was very pleased to help with this great piece.


Licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., tells SELF that this anxiety can also trigger depression. “If there’s nothing you can do to solve an issue, or you feel that there’s nothing you can do to solve it, a real feeling of hopelessness comes over you,” she says. “That’s the core of depression. It’s what becomes postpartum depression.”

Clark says it’s crucial for women to reach out for help if they’re struggling. “Postpartum depression can spiral out of control,” she says. Help starts with talking to friends and your partner, if there’s one in the picture, and trying to get better sleep, which is of course easier said than done as a parent. But a lack of sleep can be especially damaging to new moms, she says. “You can get psychotic without sleep,” she says. “Without sleep, we lose touch with reality, hallucinate, or get confused.”

It’s also important to speak with a licensed mental health professional. Clark acknowledges it can be difficult for new moms to make it into an office without their child, but points out that she does phone consultations with mothers and their partners if they can’t make it to her office—it’s worth asking if someone near you will do the same.

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Alicia H. Clark, PsyD