British Columbia

Lack of support for moms with breastfeeding difficulties 'really unkind'

“We may have to mind our own business and let the woman feed her child in a way she feels is most appropriate so long as the child is happy and healthy and the mom is happy and healthy.”

Experts say more support needed for new moms, and sometimes formula is better option

Florence Leung, 32, went missing from her New Westminster, B.C., home in October. She was found dead the next month. Her husband, in a Facebook post Tuesday, said breastfeeding difficulties may have been partly to blame for her postpartum depression. (New Westminster Police Department)

Kim Chen — whose wife, Florence Leung — died after suffering from postpartum depression, is urging other new mothers not to feel guilty about challenges with breastfeeding.

He said anxiety over breastfeeding could have been one of several contributing factors in his wife's postpartum depression.

Dr. Unjali Malhotra, a women's health specialist with the UBC faculty of medicine, says many mothers feel inadequate about breastfeeding difficulties.

"It's incredibly common," she told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn. "We have breastfeeding clinics all across the country for this very reason. Many women, up to 40 or 50 percent, may not have the breastfeeding experience they thought they may have."

Malhotra says a push from the medical system for mothers to breastfeed more often "may have gone too far."

"Any added stress or pressure that doesn't lead to encouragement or support of any kind is not going to end well," she said.

"We may have to mind our own business and let the woman feed her child in a way she feels is most appropriate so long as the child is happy and healthy and the mom is happy and healthy."

A mother breastfeeds her child during a rally to raise support for breastfeeding in New York City in 2015. A UBC expert on women's health fears pro-breastfeeding messages may lead to "added stress or pressure" on new moms. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Feelings of failure

Sheila Duffy, director of the Pacific Post Partum Support Society, says she hears of breastfeeding difficulties from a lot of clients and it can be associated with feelings of failure.

She told B.C. Almanac host Gloria Macarenko that if breastfeeding is causing undue stress, the mother might be better off stopping or supplementing with formula.

"There's so much pressure on new moms to be doing a perfect job, and so we want to see how we can really support moms and have a bit of gentleness around all of that," she said.

"If we keep saying 'breast is best' then people are going to feel terrible if that doesn't work out."

Teresa Pitman, former executive director of La Leche League Canada — a group that advocates for breastfeeding — says breastfeeding can reduce the chance of postpartum depression, but agrees problems with breastfeeding increase chances.

"I think we do something really unkind to women when we talk about how important breastfeeding is and how healthy it is for the baby and we don't provide them with good help when they run into problems," she said.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast and B.C. Almanac

To hear the interview with Dr. Unjali Malhotra, click the audio labelled: 40-50% of women don't have breastfeeding experience they expect

To hear the interview with Sheila Duffy and Teresa Pitman, click the audio labelled: Breastfeeding moms need more support when things go wrong, experts say