La Leche League’s ugly response to women struggling with postpartum depression: a badge!

Crying girl

Have you no shame, La Leche League?

Once again you cruelly posted this “badge.”

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I breastfed my baby through postpartum depression!

Never mind that women are literally killing themselves and their babies because of postpartum depression, and breastfeeding has been implicated in the suffering of these women:

Do you make a stick-on version of the badge that undertakers can affix to the coffins of new mothers who commit suicide?

Florence Leung killed herself in despair over breastfeeding difficulties.

Charlotte Bevan discontinued her anti-psychotic medication while still in the hospital because it was not compatible with breastfeeding. With her baby she went directly from the hospital to a gorge and jumped; both she and the baby died.

Mary Jo Trokey used a gun to kill her baby, her husband and herself. According to her mother:

A combination of stressful factors, especially breastfeeding and returning to work, “all compounded” and led up to the killings.

Inquiring minds want to know, La Leche League: do you make a stick-on version that the undertakers could have affixed to the coffins of these women?

But what’s more important than LLL continuing to profit from the business of breastfeeding? Certainly not women’s mental health, right?

It’s instructive to juxtapose LLL’s ugly indifference to the suffering of those struggling with postpartum depression to the response to a new movie depiction of postpartum depression:

“Tully,” a movie about motherhood starring Charlize Theron that doesn’t open until Friday, is already generating a heated conversation about its portrayal of postpartum depression, a subject rarely depicted onscreen.

Some women are upset by the film:

Ann Smith, the president of Postpartum Support International, a nonprofit group, said her organization has been fielding complaints about the film since March, when spoilers began to circulate…

“The mommy world is up in arms,” she said, referring to survivors of perinatal mood disorders, which are diagnosed in one out of every seven women during pregnancy or postpartum. “I can see why there’s a lot of anger out there, and I think they have a right to it.”

What bothered many survivors of postpartum depression is that the suffering mother never gets mental health treatment.

According to midwife Diana Spaulding writing for Mother.ly:

The reason that people are so excited about Tully is because they feel like it is the first time that true motherhood is being portrayed on the big screen—but this is not true motherhood. Motherhood is hard, yes, but it is not this. This is mental illness. Brushing aside her mental illness again refuses to give it the attention it deserves.

Marlo needs immediate mental health treatment, and there is no direct acknowledgment in the film that she is getting it. Yes, a doctor tells her husband that she has PPD. Perhaps we can assume that means she’s getting help?

Here’s the thing though—all too often in mental health we assume that someone is fine and getting the care they need. So we don’t do anything or say anything.

We need to create a culture that is done assuming and starts ensuring.

I don’t know about the movie because I haven’t seen it, but this incisive criticism makes a perfect rebuke to La Leche League.

Breastfeeding through mental illness is not something to celebrate with a badge. Postpartum depression is a form of mental illness and its sufferers need immediate treatment. Yes, the badge acknowledges the existence of PPD but it says nothing about appropriate care and treatment; indeed it sends the message that treatment is unimportant compared to continued breastfeeding.

LLL utterly ignores the fact that sometimes the best treatment for an individual woman involves stopping breastfeeding in order to get more rest or to be able to take antidepressant medications incompatible with breastfeeding. To those women the badge conveys the repugnant message that they are bad mothers at the exact moment they are struggling desperately to feel like good mothers.

It implies that the good mother is nothing more than a milk dispenser, not a valued person whose mental health takes priority over the trivial benefits that breastfeeding provides.

That message isn’t merely reprehensible; it could be deadly.

  • Peter Harris

    So Amy, what is your solution to post and prenatal depression?

    • Tiffany Aching

      Personnally I think that telling new mums that there are many different ways to be a good mum and that that breastfeeding is something you do because you enjoy it, not because you have to, would be a very good start.

    • MaineJen

      I’ll bet you have just the quack remedy for that!

  • Dr Kitty

    OT:
    Some of you may remember my friends had a 24week preemie.
    He’s coming home from hospital this week..
    Before his due date, no oxygen, no feeding tube and so far without evidence of any developmental issues.

    • Daleth

      Yay!

    • The Vitaphone Queen

      ❤️

  • BeatriceC

    OT: A week ago I got a text out of the blue from a woman I only knew because I bought something from her off FB marketplace. The item was bird related and we got to talking about birds, so she knows I take in birds from time to time. Anyway, the text read “Would you be interested in a cockatoo?” Me, being the sucker I am, asked for details. Long story short, Frankie moved in with me today. He has in improperly healed broken wing and a history of caffeine poisoning resulting in kidney disease, but is otherwise healthy. He’s been doing some recent barbering, as the reason he was needing a new home is that the young lady who had him was having a hard time giving him enough attention once she moved out of her parents’ house, and the parents wouldn’t take him back. Meet Frankie.

    https://i.imgur.com/6uP9jFQ.jpg

    • StephanieJR

      Hi Frankie!

    • mabelcruet

      You’re like a feathery fairy godmother! That looks like a luxury jungle gym for him to play on

      • BeatriceC

        My birds are a teeny tiny bit spoiled. I’m currently campaigning to get MrC to allow me to hang another manzanita play stand from the ceiling. He’s a kill joy and won’t let me put more holes in the ceiling. What’s hanging from the ceiling now is on hooks that were already there when he bought the house 24 years ago. Usually I know when I get get my way with MrC, but on this topic, I’m not sure I’m going to convince him to change his mind.

    • PeggySue

      He’s a cutie! Looks like a personality!

    • Empress of the Iguana People

      I welcome our new avian overlord

      • Empliau

        What Empress said! You have a way with words, your Majesty.

    • Gæst

      You have one of those rock fireplace walls I am so familiar with from living in California!

  • Tiffany Aching

    Wow. As someone who struggled with depression for most of my adult life, I find this badge downright dangerous. When you think you’re the worst person in the world and that you deserve nothing but contempt, this kind of words can literally send you over the edge.
    As much as I enjoy breastfeeding my 3 months old, I wouldn’t hesitate to wean him at the first signs of depression. It would just be too overwhelming to be solely responsible for all my baby’s feedings. It’s just not worth it.

    As always with the LLL (maybe because they started as Catholic organization), the more you suffer, the worthier you are. Breastfeeding is not about enjoying joyful moments with your baby, it’s about proving your worth as a mother.

    • Tiffany Aching

      The number of women commenting under LLL’s Facebook post to say how horrible and hard it was for them and wait for their pat on the back makes me really really sad.

  • Roadstergal

    “I got back my pre-pregnancy figure through post-partum depression!” I’m really having to go a long way to satire this mindset. I would have thought that damn badge was satire…

  • Gene

    OT: Amish midwives arrested for practicing medicine without a license.

    http://www.wane.com/news/crime/amish-midwives-charged-with-illegally-practicing-medicine/1157556452

    • swbarnes2

      HInt: if you are using vet grade medications, it’s because you aren’t responsible enough to treat humans.

      • Empress of the Iguana People

        Unless you’re the obligatory vet saving human lives during the zombie apocolypse 😉

      • BeatriceC

        A lot of vets are just sending prescriptions to regular human pharmacies. So many of the drugs they use are also human drugs, so sending the patients out with a paper prescription saves a lot of overhead. This may also reduce the availability of certain drugs for purposes they’re not intended.

      • PeggySue

        Well, maybe they were able to obtain some medications online that were intended for veterinary use. That would involve less questioning than trying to get an actual vet or physician to help them get drugs. Also, I am betting this is their common practice and they are nowhere near as “forgetful” as they seem under questioning.

    • Jennifer

      That is my hometown lol.

  • MaineJen

    Here you go, little lady. A nice pretty badge! Now go back to lactating and ignoring your feelings.

  • Squillo
  • BeatriceC

    Oh, wow. Where to start.

    I’m in the trenches every single day trying to make a difference in the lives of parents who are struggling with mental health issues. My group focuses on PPD/A, with other mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and OCD showing up occasionally. I personally think that mental illnesses are physical in nature (backed up by a number of imaging studies that show structural differences in the brain). That said, situational factors are absolutely capable of making things orders of magnitude more severe than they would have been otherwise.

    The breastfeeding issue is intense, and is one of the most common contributing factors to the development or worsening of postpartum mood disorders. People have internalized the “breast is best” message so thoroughly that even when the person knows logically and academically that formula is just fine, it still takes a lot of work to overcome the feelings of failure and inadequacy.

  • mabelcruet

    It’s so awful reading about women and babies dying over breast feeding- something that isn’t essential, isn’t life saving and can be very easily substituted by a basic supermarket product.

    In the UK there has been a huge media and public health educational effort in the last couple years about depression, and particularly about male depression, on the grounds that many young men kill themselves as a result of untreated depression because for years there was a perceived impression that ‘real men’ don’t have depression, or don’t talk about their feelings or emotions because that would be unmanly. I think at last that stigma is lessening and its recognised that depression is a genuine illness with an effective pharmaceutical cure, and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We need a similar educational programme for post partum depression. It’s like women are being told ‘you have a gorgeously cute wee baby, what are you complaining about? Be grateful your baby is healthy.’ I’m not surprised some mothers (and fathers, because they get PPD too) feel at a complete loss and don’t know where to turn or seek help.

  • Megan

    This is appalling. It totally ignores the impacts of PPD on babies. In many cases, mine included, the benefits of breastfeeding for my babies are far outweighed by the risks of my PPD. I do not engage my babies the same way with untreated PPD. If they really cared about children, they would acknowledge the literature regarding the effects of untreated maternal mood disorders on babies. This “soldier on no matter what” mentality is harmful to both moms and babies.

    • Michelle

      A dead mom can’t breast feed or give a bottle.

      • FormerPhysicist

        Very very true. But I really like Megan’s point that effects short of death are also significant and significantly negative.

        • Chi

          Exactly!!! It’s really difficult to be present and engaged with your baby when you’re starting to resent them for all the time they spend attached to you. Better a happy, well-rested mum who uses formula, than a mother losing her sanity and personal autonomy on the altar of ‘breast is best’.

      • MaineJen

        Maybe she might get a little out of her armpit, if she tries very very hard? /sarcasm

        • momofone

          After my mastectomies, some people (not close to me) asked if we were going to have any more children. My husband said of course not–she can’t breastfeed; how could she possibly be a good mother? (He was clearly joking.) The response was that “many women” (I’d love to see those numbers) are still able to produce milk, and the armpit was actually mentioned as a realistic option. There are not enough eye rolls in the world for that kind of thinking. (I also mentioned that if I was producing milk, clearly my surgeon had done an incomplete job, and left me at risk. Totally over their heads.) Obviously if you’re a good mother you let nothing stop you from breastfeeding.

          • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

            I am constantly astounded by the number of people who think it’s appropriate to ask casual acquaintances questions like this and then make unasked for suggestions…Do they not realize that someone who has gone through cancer surgery might have decided that they don’t want more kids(chemo and radiation play a part in the decision too sometimes) and it MIGHT be a sensitive subject ? Jeez!

          • kilda

            just for the hell of it, I did a little google research on breastfeeding after a mastectomy. I found articles saying you can breastfeed after a single mastectomy (duh, you still have one breast) and a post by a woman who used a supplemental nursing system to simulate breastfeeding after a double mastectomy. No articles on double mastectomy patients feeding babies from their armpits. I can’t prove that no woman, anywhere, has ever done it, but “many women”? Yeah, right.

          • momofone

            The whole line of thinking just cracks me up. Hmmmm, I don’t have breasts, or nipples (which seems like a significant thing when it comes to feeding), but hey–latch on to my armpit and we’ll figure something out!

          • LaMont

            To their credit, I don’t think they believe there is any way to latch a baby to an armpit, they’re just hoping that some breast tissue is hiding out there (which… maybe!) which could still provide milk. Of course, as has been pointed out, that means the surgery was incomplete and left you at risk of recurrent cancers! The fact that they are hoping for a failed surgery just so you can breastfeed is enough, we don’t need to allege that they believe in armpit nipples 🙂

          • Roadstergal

            When they surgically excised the breast cancer tissue, they should have established a line growing in a dish to secrete milk for your kid. I mean, it’s from a bottle, so it’s not the best, but it’s better than nothing.

            (I need an /s tag, don’t I? Hell’s bells, I need an /s tag.)

          • momofone

            I was actually just making a joke–totally agree on the main point of lurking breast tissue. 🙂

          • Gæst

            Lort, I have enough trouble keeping my armpits dry due to run of the mill sweating. I can’t imagine wanting to secrete milk from them too.

    • Tiffany Aching

      This. The benefits of breastfeeding are small. The benefits of a happy, healthy mother are invaluable.

  • Empress of the Iguana People

    Several women in Bea’s (and my) PPD group do bf their children with no problem, because it is something they feel like doing and it -isn’t- one of their triggers. Others of us, well there’s a reason why bf discussions have to be done very carefully. Can’t remember if they need trigger warnings; they might.
    Where’s my badge for making pb&js for my 4 yo? Some days that’s harder than giving an infant milk.

    • BeatriceC

      TW for lactivism, but not for breastfeeding itself. But we wait to approve breastfeeding related posts until one or more of the admins/mods are able to watch them closely.

      • Empress of the Iguana People

        Thank you for clarifying. I tend to still be twitchy on the topic so I don’t read those posts very closely.

  • Liz Leyden

    “Do you make a stick-on version of the badge that undertakers can affix to the coffins of new mothers who commit suicide?”

    Of course they don’t. Dead women can’t breastfeed.

  • namaste863@gmail.com

    As a mental health professional, Iam appalled. Absolutely nobody benefits when mental health issues are left untreated. I see this badge and the message I get is “Fuck you, you are a two-legged uterus and pair of tits. You as a person are no more valuable than the carton the milk comes in.”

    • namaste

      Actually less, because a milk carton is at least recyclable

      • Nick Sanders

        Wouldn’t that just be the same as having more kids?

      • Gæst

        I think it counts as recycling if you do one of those burials where a tree grows out of your remains.

        • Namaste

          Perhaps women are recyclable as Soylent Green?

    • StephanieJR

      ‘I lost my sanity being reduced to my bodily functions, and all I got was this lousy t shirt’

    • Cat

      “You as a person are no more valuable than the carton the milk comes in”

      It’s surreal, isn’t it? My family used to babysit regularly for a little boy whose mother was sectioned several times during his childhood. She just never really got better after suffering severe PPD when he was born. He’s nearly thirty now but his childhood shaped the person he is now. I very much doubt that anyone could make a case that his infant feeding method affected him one way or another.

      Short version: untreated PPD can ruin lives, formula feeding in countries with clean water really doesn’t.

  • Mel

    That badge is so tone-deaf it hurts.

    I thrive on external motivators; I will learn a new skill online simply to earn little badges that I only see. But even I wouldn’t want a badge for breastfeeding through PPD.

    Breastfeeding through postpartum depression isn’t a learnable skill for everyone – and the badge is more of a gut-punch to women who couldn’t breastfeed through PPD than a happy reward for those who could.

    • sdsures

      Exactly – a gut-punch!

    • Sheven

      And it is yet another whip to women suffering from PPD. Why would they do this?

  • sdsures

    Andrea Yates should also be mentioned in this article. :'(

    • Liz Leyden
      • Anj Fabian

        IIRC, Andrea Yates was diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder in prison. Women with a history of bipolar disorder are the ones highest at risk for PP moods disorders, especially PPP.

        Yates had a known history of PP mood disorders. Her asshole of a husband had a lot to do with her becoming pregnant against medical advice and ignoring warnings from her care providers. At the time of the deaths, Andrea Yates was supposed to be under constant adult supervision.