Maria Lactans

Maria Lactans
Maria Lactans (wikimedia commons)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Does a Mother Need to Breastfeed to be Considered Thoroughly Catholic?

Because this is a sensitive topic, I composed most if it before the Blessed Sacrament during Eucharistic adoration.  This post is my response to a letter I received a few days ago.

Breastfeeding is part of God's design for His children.  During pregnancy, a woman begins to produce colostrum and some are even able to express a bit of it.  Then after birth, a woman's body produces colostrum and then gradually mature milk (in most cases). If this were not the case, the human race would have died out long ago.  The manufacturing of suitable breast milk substitutes is a modern phenomenon.  Formula is a godsend for women who are unable to produce a full milk supply or even a partial supply and for those rare situations when breastfeeding is contraindicated or unavailable.

Several popes, including Saint Pope John Paul II publicly supported breastfeeding during their papacies.  Pope Francis I continues to support breastfeeding during this current papacy.  Also, several bishops and parish priests have publicly supported breastfeeding over the years including Fr. Sauppe with his Theotokos chaplet that he so beautifully composed and the Madonna chapel that he designed.

But is breastfeeding a moral duty?  Fr. Virtue makes this case in his dissertation, Mother and Infant. He states that "...maternal breastfeeding is the norm of nature to ensure good mothering and optimum development of the child, and hence a serious moral obligation of mothers."  What is meant by "serious moral obligation?" What Fr. Virtue means is that breastfeeding should not be trivially avoided, not that it is sinful to not breastfeed.  I believe that is the key here - breastfeeding is so important that the decision to breastfeed or not breastfeed should be researched, discussed and prayed about. Most pregnant couples attend a series of at least four childbirth class sessions, read birth and parenting books,  and spend time researching which car seat is best.  Shouldn't they seriously discern whether or not to breastfeed?

That being said, there are so many variables involved in whether or not a mother successfully breastfeeds her baby.  Support is a big factor.  Without support, many women give up.  That is one reason, the Catholic Nursing Mothers League was founded - to support and encourage Catholic women who breastfeed and to help parishes realize the importance of it.  Pam Pilch talks about these breastfeeding subgroups in her article at  Various breastfeeding challenges that come up can also affect the success of the breastfeeding relationship especially when healthcare providers give out outdated info or readily suggest substituting formula.  I, personally, had a doctor suggest that I stop breastfeeding my three month old baby, so I could take his first choice antibiotic (it turned out I really didn't need it).  When I objected, he gave me his second choice which was compatible with breastfeeding.  What if I was an inexperienced mother and had followed his initial advice?  In addition, some parenting practices can often help or hinder the duration of breastfeeding.  Also, those moms who need to work outside the house to provide for their families might face resistance from employers when wanting to pump during their legally mandated break times even though many states have laws protecting the right to pump. Then there is the situation of a woman who was previously abused and breastfeeding is just mentally and emotionally excruciating for her.  We can never really know what is in someone else's heart or really understand what they have experienced in one's life.

Breastfeeding is best for mom and baby.  It is what God intended for nourishing babies.  Science and the Church both agree.  Not only is it ideal but it is something you do not want want to miss out on!  I will treasure all those years I breastfed my children for the rest of my life!  If you, my dear reader, were unable to breastfeed your baby due to circumstances outside your control, know that you did your best and take some time right now to snuggle and love that little baby of yours!  Also know that even if you were unable to breastfeed one baby, does not automatically mean you will definitely be unable to breastfeed another baby (depending on the situation).

I, personally, do not believe one has to breastfeed to be thoroughly Catholic, because this issue is not
totally black and white like mentioned above.  However, I do think all Catholic mothers should research, discuss, and pray about the decision to breastfeed and not choose artificial breast milk substitutes for trivial reasons.  Your baby deserves the best!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is an especially difficult situation, because a new mom is not getting enough sleep and needing to be "on call" for her baby yet she cannot ignore the depressive feelings and thoughts she is having.  She might feel guilty about needing time to care for herself or feel guilty for her negative feelings and thoughts at such a joyful time of life.  However, postpartum depression is an illness that needs to be treated, so it is important to get help - contact your health care provider.  If you are feeling depressed, please do not feel guilty or embarrassed!  The transition from pregnancy to postpartum involves major hormonal changes.  Remember - a baby grew inside of you, entered the world and now you are nourishing him with your milk.  Adjusting to the first or even the tenth baby takes time.

A mom suffering from postpartum depression needs to be aware of what treatments are compatible with breastfeeding.  The good news is that breastfeeding reduces the likelihood a woman will have postpartum depression.  According to Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, there are a number of home treatments moms can incorporate into their lifestyle as a starting point before pursuing medication.  These home treatments may be all that are needed or they can be used in conjunction with medication prescribed by a healthcare provider.  Home treatments include: breastfeeding, exercise, omega 3 fatty acids, St. John's Wort, and cognitive therapy. Consult your healthcare provider before consuming omega 3 fatty acids and St. John's Wort, as they may not be appropriate taken with certain medications and/or in certain health situations.  Breastfeeding and exercise help reduce maternal stress and help with mood.  The other treatments listed, in addition to anti-depressant medication, decrease depression due to their anti-inflammatory effect.  If you ever a question about using a particular medication while breastfeeding, LactMed and Dr. Hale's InfantRisk Center are great resources.  Also, hormonal and thyroid issues sometimes exhibit as depression, so consider asking your health care provider about tests for these.

In addition to home treatment and possibly medication, a Catholic mother can pray for Saint Dymphna's intercession.  She is the patron saint of those suffering from nervous disorders or mental illness.  Also, some mothers find the rosary soothing, because of its chant-like quality.  Here are two book ideas that might provide comfort and practical help: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach and  Catholic Guide to Depression