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Mind the Mother: How Does Breastfeeding Affect Mental Health?

By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC

Breastfeeding…if you don’t have kids, you might be freaked out by the idea of it. If you have kids, you might have tried it and had your own experience with it. Has it turned out to be more challenging for you than you initially anticipated? You’re not alone. No matter who you are, or what your experiences entail, you have likely heard someone share their opinions about it. Maternal mental health and breastfeeding have a “tight but mixed relationship.”

According to Lui, a family doctor, “breast milk is the optimal feeding choice for health benefits, but as a Mom, I know the extreme pressures that we are placed under as women to produce milk every time our baby needs it.” It’s a big responsibility, to say the least. Although there are many choices out there (exclusive breastfeeding, bottle feeding, mixed feeding, or formula feeding), most mothers feel as if they don’t have a choice from the options or various ways of ensuring their baby gets enough food. As mothers, we want to do what’s best for our baby, and if we don’t or can’t, there is fear of feeling like a “failure.” Sometimes, babies reject breastfeeding. Each baby will have their own personality and preferences that might not line up with yours – and that’s okay! However, not every baby is fit for a breast, and supplementing with formula is better than having a sad mommy. According to Marcoux, research shows that “a lot of moms are sobbing over this issue.”

One Size Does Not Fit All

When it comes to breastfeeding, and motherhood in general, one size does NOT fit all. It’s okay for us all to agree that there are in fact benefits to giving your baby breast milk, but we must support the understanding that it is okay to supplement with formula, and that formula is “a completely viable option.” Plenty of formula babies are in the 90th percentile! 

Breast is Best vs Fed is Best

Fed is best, not breast is best. “Breast is best” was initially a highly successful public health campaign but then it “created a maternal mental health crisis.” At the end of the day, mothers must make the choice that is best for them and their babies. After all, the mother knows better than anyone else what their baby needs. Although breastfeeding does make a difference, it’s not all about the milk! Nursing might not come easily to all mothers, but the guilt typically does! Support is best. 

Operating with the Mother in Mind

If you are coming from a place of operating with the mother in mind, you are considering previous maternal life experiences, as these are “significant factors on influencing the perception of motherhood.” It would also be wise to be sensitive towards the mother knowing that this is a controversial topic. When deciding to breastfeed or not, a mother is influenced by more than this though – social and cultural customs and norms play a large role as well.  

In summary, just because breastfeeding comes naturally for some, does not mean it will come naturally for all. There is no “normal” or perfect experience and it’s a scenario where “to each, their own” really applies fully. You get to decide what is normal and what isn’t for you because it’s your child. Your breastfeeding journey will not be the same as others, and respect for yourself and the journey of others. No one should be judged on what they decide is best for their baby – and that means you shouldn’t judge yourself either! The emotions that are attached to your struggle (or lack thereof) are valid. Good luck everyone: you’re doing better than you think! 


Marcoux, H. (2019). The pressure to exclusively breastfeed is hurting mothers’ mental health. Motherly. Retrieved from:

Campoamor, D. (2016). One thing every new mom needs to hear when she’s struggling with breastfeeding. Romper. Retrieved from:

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