Do natural childbirth and lactivism cause postpartum depression?

Frustrated Mother Suffering From Post Natal Depression

It’s serious problem, but sadly Avital Norman Nathman dares not speak its name.

Norman Nathman wrote an entire piece on the detrimental impact of “idealized representations of ‘perfect’ motherhood” on the development of postpartum mood disorders without naming or acknowledging the most important culprits: the natural childbirth and lactivism industries.

In a piece entitled What impact does the ‘Good Mother Myth’ have on postpartum mood disorders?, Norman Nathman writes:

… For the most part, many of us are able to push through these idealized representations of “perfect” motherhood, but for others the inundation of these types of images can have a more drastic and damaging effect.

The period of time immediately after having a baby — especially if he or she is your first — can be an incredibly fragile one… It can be even more challenging when faced with images of “ideal” motherhood everywhere you turn…

She speaks with an expert:

Dr. Jessica Zucker, a clinical psychologist specializing in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health explains the impact that these idealized notions of motherhood can have on the mental health of new mothers. “Cultural ideals surrounding motherhood serve to stimulate shame and secrecy when it comes to postpartum challenges,” Dr. Zucker told me. “As a result of media’s portrayal of idyllic early motherhood, women who don’t fit perfectly into this ubiquitous image often report feeling like “failures” and take their troubles underground.”

The media’s portrayal of idyllic early motherhood? While the media may play a part, the primary culprits in promoting “cultural ideas surrounding motherhood” are the natural childbirth and lactivism industries.

What are these cultural ideals surrounding motherhood that stimulate shame and secrecy?

These claims include:

  • Women who have pharmacologic pain relief in labor have “given in” and put their own needs above the “risk of exposing their babies to drugs.”
  • Women who have C-sections have “failed” at birth.
  • Women who follow their obstetrician’s advice and have inductions are personally responsible for the “cascade of interventions” that led to their ultimate failure.
  • Women who have pain relief can’t bond to their babies.
  • Women who have C-sections have ruined their baby’s gut microbiome AND changed the baby’s DNA in harmful ways.
  • Women who don’t have enough breastmilk are either failures or liars, since “every woman has enough breastmilk.”
  • Women who give a baby even one drop of formula have permanently destroyed the baby’s microbiome as well as sabotaged the chance for a successful breastfeeding relationship.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

Leave aside for the moment that none of these claims is supported by scientific evidence and most of them are lies. As Norman Nathman points out, such idealized representations (even if they are lies) have the power to harm fragile new mothers. Who would be so cruel as to promote these accusations to a new mother? Not anyone who cared about women’s mental health, right?

Yet new mothers are bombarded by these accusations, either directly or as insinuations, before, during and after giving birth.

Why? Because there are entire industries that PROFIT by monetizing the shame and guilt thus created.

Follow the money!

The natural childbirth industry, encompassing midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, and lobbying organizations such as The Childbirth Connection, Lamaze International and the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN), not to mention purveyors of books and DVDs promoting natural childbirth, PROFITS by insisting that these purely arbitrary, and thoroughly idealized representations of birth are “better” for babies.

They PROFIT by demonizing epidurals.

They PROFIT by convincing women that a C-section is both a personal failure of the mother and a health risk for the baby.

The lactivist industry PROFITS by convincing women that breastfeeding problems are their own fault.

They PROFIT by convincing women that every breastfeeding difficulty can be solved by a $100/hour lactation consultant.

They PROFIT by hijacking government public health policy to promote breastfeeding (which, in industrialized societies, has real but trivial benefits) and then using those same policies to harrass and humiliate women who can’t or (heaven forbid) don’t want to use their breasts in the way that lactivists think they should.

Norman Nathman writes about potential solutions to this problem of maternal anguish:

One way to help combat this range of detrimental representation is to provide safe spaces for mothers to talk without judgment…

Another solution is to provide a much more varied and diverse picture of what motherhood truly is about… Dr. Zucker agrees, suggesting that, “Maternal images that include the full spectrum of lived experiences would better serve women and their burgeoning families.”

Great! Who’s going to tell the natural childbirth and lactivist industries that they ought to provide a much more varied and diverse picture of what GOOD motherhood is truly about?

Sadly, it won’t be those who bemoan the effect of “The Good Mother Myth” on postpartum depression, but dare not mention the names of the industries who gain the most from the myth: the natural childbirth and lactivism industries.