The Breast Choice: Why I Won’t Be Breastfeeding
The decision to breastfeed is a hotly debated issue. The phrase “breast is best” has long been upheld and firm supporters have no hesitation in voicing their disapproval at the sight of a bottle. While there are advantages to breastfeeding, such as shared immunity and a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), it’s not always the best choice for everyone.
The decision to treat my bipolar or breastfeed
When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately stopped taking my bipolar medication. My psychiatrist had warned about the risks of taking lithium during pregnancy and emphasized the importance of being on birth control. I wasn’t through my first week of birth control pills and had gotten pregnant.
I stopped taking lithium on my own. This is NOT recommended because of the high chance of relapse. However, I was already afraid I had hurt my baby by drinking and smoking before learning I was pregnant and didn’t want the added risk. Since I have had my manic episodes in August the previous two years, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to stop taking lithium for the time being – February.
My psychiatrist was understanding when I told her about my decision to stop taking my medication. Her professional opinion was to resume lithium at a lower dose since the risk of heart abnormalities was only 1%. I also had the option to switch to a different medication. She explained it was risky to expect a manic episode in August because it’s never “set in stone.” Ultimately, it was my decision. Later that week, I met with my OBGYN who told me he prefers to keep his patients on lithium. I started to think lithium wouldn’t be the absolute worst thing for my pregnancy. I mentioned I had stopped taking it. He was also accepting of my decision but told me to watch for signs of mania.
Aside from the 1% risk of heart defects, taking lithium would mean I would not be able to breastfeed. Not only would my baby miss out on all the benefits of breastfeeding, I would never get the chance to share that experience with him or her. As someone who always wanted kids, this was heartbreaking.
I chose the risk associated with lithium over the risks of mania
In choosing to breastfeed, I wouldn’t be making a decision in the best interest of my baby. My previous manic episodes had been severe and required hospitalization. I realized it’s better to prevent mania with one medication than the many I’ll need to control it. I’ll also have to cope with the lack of sleep and inability to keep food down, ramifications of mania’s excitability. I would endanger my baby through the reckless behavior typical of my disease.
I continued to be lithium-free throughout the remainder of the riskier first trimester but resumed medication after. It was a tough decision to make, but it was the best choice for us. By putting my health first, I was also putting my baby first.
Some mothers worry bottle feeding won’t establish the same bonding that breastfeeding will. However, there are ways for you and your baby to be psychologically and emotionally fulfilled through bottle feeding. Just follow these three simple guidelines:
- Hold your baby skin-to-skin during feeding
- Maintain affectionate eye contact
- Talk to your baby
There are numerous opportunities to bond with your new baby besides feeding. Incorporate plenty of walks, massages, and play time with your baby.
For women who choose not to breastfeed because of medical reasons or personal choice, understand that it’s 100% YOUR choice. Take heed of your doctor’s advice, but you are ultimately in charge of making the best choice for you and your baby.