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Woman Who Couldn't Breastfeed Kills Herself

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Postpartum depression turned deadly for one first-time mother.

breastfeeding--suicide.jpg
It's been determined that a British mother who committed suicide last year in New York had suffered from postnatal depression four months after having her son. Katy Isden's depression, says the report, had been due to her having trouble breastfeeding her infant. Sadly, Isden, in a depressive haze, jumped out of her 20-floor apartment building.

According to the Daily Mail, Isden, 30, had an appointment to see the lactation nurse that morning. "She had seemed depressed about the feeding difficulties but had sought no help about that," states the coroners' reports.

OB/GYN Dr. Elizabeth Lyster says that she's saddened but not surprised by the tragic outcome of this story. "There is a tremendous amount of pressure on mothers to do things right. And if we internalize that pressure it's the quickest way to descend into a downward spiral."

Breastfeeding in particular is a hot-button issue among new parents, says Lyster, but it wasn't always that way. "The pendulum has swung towards breastfeeding at the moment. But 50 or 60 years ago it was thought to be disgusting to do it -- something you hired the help to do."

Lyster cautions her patients if they are having trouble breastfeeding, it might be their own  expectations for success that's the problem. "If you feel tense and stressed, it inhibits the milk flow and milk production."

Do you think there is too much pressure put on moms to breastfeed?



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33 comments so far | Post a comment now
Nina May 6, 2009, 1:38 PM

This makes me so sad. I suffered from horrible postpartum depression, which made breastfeeding difficult for me. I finally decided to give our baby formula at 6 weeks. However, instead of relief, I felt guilt over not breastfeeding. Through counseling, medication, and the support of my family, I recovered. My prayers are with this woman’s family. Postpartum depression is a real illness. If you are suffering from it, you are not alone. Please seek help. You are valued and needed.

Miranda May 6, 2009, 1:45 PM

What a tragedy. I think it’s sad that there is so much pressure on women to do things like breastfeed. While I lived in the city, I constantly saw women actually lecturing other women (whom they never met before) about what’s the “right” way to rear a child, and about how it is child abuse to not want to give your child the best start in life with breastfeeding. Hitting a child is child abuse. Giving them a bottle of formula is not. I think women need to learn to respect other women’s decisions and trust them to be able to raise a healthy, well-adjusted child.

KMom May 6, 2009, 1:47 PM

Definitely. After struggling the nurse both of my children for six weeks, I finally had to bottle feed for both their health and mine. You wouldn’t believe the dirty looks that other women shot me when I had to feed them in a restaurant or other public place. You’d think I was poisoning them!

Theresa May 6, 2009, 2:13 PM

I feel so sorry that this woman felt as pressured as she did. This was a senseless death that never had to happen. I feel for her child—a mother is irreplaceable. Maybe now people will think twice before they judge other moms.

Anonymous May 6, 2009, 3:49 PM

This makes me so mad and sad. I could not breastfeed at all with my last birth. I had no milk. I pumped and met with the lactation specialist….nothing. My doc said it was from the stress from my pregnancy (which was rough to say the least) and other factors I won’t get into. Even the doctor in this article says there is pressure to do the “right” thing. I mean breastfeeding is an option, but formula feeding is one too. Breastfeeding may not be the “right” thing for everyone. Starving a child is not the right thing. If their nutritional needs are being met with formula then that is a good thing.

Anonymous May 6, 2009, 6:13 PM

I struggled with breastfeed and caught more flack from “pro-breastfeeding” people. I was told I wasn’t trying hard enough and that if I REALLY wanted to I would make it happen. Well, if your baby doesn’t want to latch on, or can’t (because of nipple issues as in my case), then it’s not going to happen. But, I beat myself up for almost a year after my oldest was born. I felt like a deformed failure.

My youngest was born premature. When she was first born I didn’t have anything coming in. I was doing what the nurse told me to do and pumping anyway and was only getting pain and sore, nothing more. The NICU nurses were understand as to why I finally said I just couldn’t do it. I explained the previous experience and that since they were giving her formula anyway because noting was happening with me then we were just going down that route. Then I was checked out by the most opinionated, rude nurses ever. She ripped me a new one because I was a horrible mom for not breast feeding when I had a baby downstairs in NICU. I sobbed.

First, moms need to be prepared for the fact that sometimes, at no fault of theirs, breastfeeding just doesn’t work. You can read every breastfeeding book there is, like I did, and not one will tell you this. Second, these “pro-breastfeeding”, “if your not doing it your a bad mom” people need to keep their mouths shut; they are not the ones dealing with the struggle of trying with no success. They don’t know your issues so how do they have a right to judge you!?

Beth May 6, 2009, 8:31 PM

I spent five days in an ICU after the birth of my second child. We tried to make breastfeeding work because I really wanted it to. I was on, among other things, blood thinners, which wasn’t working really well with the pump. As in, there was more blood than milk being pumped. I was still determined to try when was released, but couldn’t due to medications while in the hospital. When I went home, my regular doctor told me, point blank, breastfeeding now would likely deprive her of a mother later. At that point it was an easy “choice” for me.

And yet, the roving educators feel the need to tell me what harm I’m doing by feeding her formula. It’s gotten to the point now that my husband buys the formula. He has ‘that way’ about him and no one would dare walk up to him and tell him how to do something.

I think a lot of people go way too far in their zeal and don’t truly understand the damage that they’re doing. I also find it amazing that many of them get irritated with me because I get offended — after all, they’re only trying to help and encourage. Grrr.

Jake Aryeh Marcus May 6, 2009, 8:48 PM

How about some evidence that this really had anything to do with breastfeeding? How about recognizing this as a tragic case, probably having to do with post-partum depression and nothing to do with breastfeeding. Concluding that this had anything to do with breastfeeding or pressure from people we don’t know were even in her life is absurd. It is also disrespectful to the many women who suffer from PPD. It is irresponsible and sensationalist to blame this on breastfeeding advocates - particularly given the report states she had not yet even attended the appointment with a lactation consultant.

Loreli May 6, 2009, 8:59 PM

i tried but it didn’t work (i couldn’t “make” it happen) but i got the dirty looks and the lectures, which as a new mom, makes you feel like the worst mother in the world. and for me it was my mother in law making me feel horrible about it….and she didn’t even breastfeed my husband!

Good grief May 6, 2009, 9:15 PM

Thank you Jake.

This tragic death has nothing to do with breastfeeding and everything to do with how difficult it is to transition to new motherhood. For whatever reasons this mother’s post partum psychosis (because this is far more than PPD) missed being diagnosed. This article says nothing about the birth, the pregnancy, the family, and whether or not this mother suffered from depression prior to the birth — all factors relating to adjustment.

Instead of jumping on the “I tried to breastfeed and couldn’t” train how about a real discussion about how difficult it is to have a new baby and how we can support new families.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting May 6, 2009, 10:02 PM

All of this talk about the “pressure” to breastfeed and no mention about the stigma of postpartum depression in the article?

The problem is not breastfeeding.

The problem is that women are embarrassed to speak out when they are suffering from an illness like depression. The problem is that people around them do not pick up on the signs and push them to get help.

Doctor Liz May 6, 2009, 10:17 PM

I am so impressed with the thoughtfulness of the comments posted on this sad story. I want to clarify that parents nowadays are often pressured to do the “right” thing - in quotes, somebody else’s idea of what is right - rather than being respected for doing what is right for them.


ame i. May 6, 2009, 11:03 PM

That is horrible! I wish someone had known how she really felt so they could have stepped in to help her.
I consider myself lucky. With the birth of my first daughter, I had an emergency C; the epidural failed, I felt every cut, clamp, and suture. After I finally woke up, I was too exhausted to think about trying to nurse my daughter. She had her meal from a bottle.
I didn’t think I wanted to breastfeed but half-heartedly tried 12 hours after she was born. I “tickled” her cheek and she latched on. My 2nd daughter had to go to NICU. I was able to nurse her 3 hours later.
Some moms have trouble producing, some babies have trouble latching onto mom but can latch onto the nipple of a bottle. A friend of mine was nervous which made her baby nervous and she wasn’t able to produce enough to satisfy her baby. She felt horrible and I felt sad for her.
I wish moms wouldn’t judge other moms if they aren’t able to nurse their babies.
The first baby I ever fed was my nephew (nephew #4 of 9, yikes) with a bottle. The look of contentment on his little face wasn’t any less than the look on my daughters’ faces when they were latched onto my breast.

Melodie @ Breastfeeding Moms Unite May 6, 2009, 11:26 PM

This is a very sad story but as a mental health professional, I can tell you that PPD is a real mental illness and cannot be “caused” by breastfeeding problems. Blame is on this woman’s health care system. Blame is on society that makes it hard for women to feel comfortable seeking help. If everyone’s health care system prioritized a new mom’s health and followed them to ensure breastfeeding success and check for signs of PPD, these thypes of things would be far less likely to occur.

maria May 7, 2009, 12:28 AM

How sad that the focus is put on breastfeeding when this sad story should be used to highlight PPD, the warning signs and what new moms can do to get help if they need it. Her death wasn’t caused by breastfeeding challenges, it was caused by PPD.

And if things like “If you feel tense and stressed, it inhibits the milk flow and milk production.” are the only support that new moms get for breastfeeding its no wonder there is so much frustration. I don’t think I’ve read less helpful advice, especially for an overwhelmed new mom. Clearly Lyster does not see breastfeeding as important. Its unfortunate to see a doctor so uneducated when breastfeeding is so important for both mother and baby. And its too bad when medical professionals trivialize it as though it were a trend.

Sarah May 7, 2009, 3:11 AM

I think the sad thing is that other people seem to think it is their “right” to pass judgement on others for something that is none of their business. If a mother wants to breastfeed then that is her choice, if she wants to bottle feed then that is her choice. NOBODY should have the power to pass judgement on that choice. Sad thing is we women seem to be the worst at passing judgement on each other instead of supporting each other.

a friend May 7, 2009, 1:59 PM

Jake/Good grief: you are bang on the money. Being very close to what happened with lovely Katy this has been sensationalised by the Daily Mail and the reporters involved have used their ‘journalistic licence’ to get some headlines.
The way the press have handled this has been with total disrespect to her family and without the full facts. A total disgrace.
To all those that have an opinion and are wide of the mark, spare a thought for her family who more than likely have read these pages and may not appreciate some of your opinions.
What you read in newspapers is not always the correct version of events.

Anonymous May 7, 2009, 4:05 PM

Anyone who says this has nothing to do with breastfeeding has their head buried way up where the sun don’t shine. Yes, her death was a suicide due to PPD. It was exacerbated by the breastfeeding. The straw that broke the camel’s back. And you all just don’t know how you can make a PPD mother feel: like a failure. Blame it all on PPD if you want but the breastfeeding played a role. Face it. To Jake, Good Grief, and a Friend: I hope you think twice before approaching a bottlefeeder to stick your nose in your business. You play a role in this kind of crap too.

Amber Johnson May 7, 2009, 9:27 PM

PPD and breastfeeding are totally entwined. I think it’s simplistic to try to separate them. The judgemental, unrealistic expectations put on new moms contribute to PPD—and a lot of those expectations revolve around breastfeeding, as part of what is “best” for baby. She couldn’t successfully give her baby what was “best”… how could that not contribute to depression? I experienced such feelings myself.

a friend May 7, 2009, 9:55 PM

-Anonymous: Your last comment makes no sense, and I can quite clearly advise that I do not play a role ‘in this kind of crap’. I have stated FACT that this was NOT just to do with Breastfeeding and there is no reason other than to generate a news story and sensationalise this that it should be made into a Breastfeeding issue. Every News story related to this has headlined that it was due to Breastfeeding, when that is not the full story. That is all I was saying. If you have not got anything constructive to say, keep it shut.


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