Breast-feeding is best, except when it’s not

Law school isn’t supposed to be easy.

Brittani Harris, however, was faced with a couple of other challenges during her three-year stint at BYU Law. She discovered the first year that she had anxiety disorder with depressive symptoms and started taking an antidepressant. Then she spent her third year pregnant, giving birth to daughter Caitlyn at the beginning of March.

In spite of all that, she planned to breast-feed her baby.

“Who knows if I was going to pull it off but I really, really wanted to, because I know it’s better,” Harris said.

The Daily Herald ran an article on Monday detailing the whys and hows of why more women don’t breast-feed and how both culture and processes need to change to encourage more of it. Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that about three-fourths of babies have been breast-fed, and in Utah, that number is about 90 percent. However, most mother-baby duos don’t keep up the breast-feeding as long as is best for the baby; some don’t keep it up much past the first few weeks.

The reasons for that are more complicated than not having all of the information or not wanting to be inconvenienced, Harris pointed out.

She ended up squarely in the 10 percent that didn’t even try. She went to the Internet in search of information about what her antidepressant could do to a baby. She’d been taking a lower dose while pregnant; she and her doctor decided the smaller amount was well worth any risks because it allowed Harris to be much more functional throughout those nine months. However, the information about antidepressants in breast milk wasn’t as encouraging.

“I just didn’t want to take the risk that she’d have adverse effects from my medication,” she said.

Law school didn’t help either, which is what she told nurses who asked her why she wasn’t pumping.

Schedule is a factor for many women, as the number of working mothers rises in the poor economy.

“That’s definitely a barrier for breast-feeding,” said Christina Likes, a lactation specialist at Utah County’s Women, Infants and Children program.

Other factors mothers told her were that they didn’t want to be as tied down as they thought breast-feeding would make them or they didn’t feel comfortable breast-feeding.

None of that started out a factor in Brittany Downs’ decision to breast-feed, although she found the reality of it to be different than she’d expected. The Orem mother had difficulty breast-feeding Caelyn in the first few weeks; feeding was painful, even after she started using a nipple shield. She also found that her daughter wasn’t getting enough milk and would give her formula anyway.

After a few weeks, Downs stopped breast-feeding entirely and started pumping. Caelyn still gets breast milk, but she gets it from a bottle, which is especially helpful now that her mother is back at work.

She advised new mothers to stick through the first little while. Even pumping is helpful; the baby still gets the health benefits of breast milk, while Downs’ husband can get up in the middle of the night to feed her instead of Downs doing it every time.

“I’ve always really wanted to breast-feed,” she said. “It’s been frustrating, but I have always pulled through, and I just think it’s the greatest thing in the world. I love it.”

Harris recommended that mothers talk to their doctors and consider their specific situations. For her, pregnancy was hard, giving birth was hard, and doing it while in law school and struggling with anxiety made the whole combination seem impossible. Others are working similar routines, she knows, but for her family, this is what works.

“I was overwhelmed by it all,” she said. “It was the only way I can survive.”

She frequently falls back on what a doctor told her after she’d decided not to breast-feed.

“Everybody’s going to get after you for it, but it’s your baby,” the doctor told Harris.


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