Breastfeeding & Postpartum Depression

When a baby nurses every two hours and the latch is painful every time, and baby fusses and constantly pops off the breast, we start thinking “What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?”

We all know that breastfeeding has astronomical benefits for babies, but what researchers are just beginning to discover is that mothers may have just as much to gain from the nursing relationship. New studies indicate that women who breastfeed may profit from a reduced risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stress, and more recently noted, postpartum depression. It has been consistently recorded that women with prenatal depressive symptoms are less likely to initiate breastfeeding and those who do breastfeed discontinue about 2.3 months earlier than women who did not display symptoms of depression during pregnancy. What researchers are just now beginning to discover is that there is a bi-directional relationship between depression and breastfeeding. While depression may predict whether a woman continues to breastfeed, early breastfeeding may predict a lower risk of depressive symptoms as late as 24 months postpartum

What researchers are just now beginning to discover is that there is a bi-directional relationship between depression and breastfeeding.

Considering the implications of these studies, it is even more important for healthcare professionals to support new mothers in breastfeeding. Education and resources should be available for all new mothers, and special care ought to be taken for women who show signs of depression during pregnancy as studies show that frequent nursing up to 3 months postpartum can have positive long term effects in mental health. It is no wonder that statistics show that women with prenatal depression struggle with breastfeeding, especially in those first vital 3 months when breastfeeding is just getting established. Depression can lower a mother’s self esteem and confidence, and common nursing concerns such as latch, sore nipples, and milk supply can feel insurmountable. Stress and anxiety can affect milk letdown, making nursing even more difficult. Besides this, many antidepressants are not compatible with breastfeeding.

One study found that any breastfeeding at 3 months lowered the risk of postpartum depression, however, women who breastfed more frequently showed the greatest decline in risks. Breastfeeding exclusively, though it certainly makes a difference in infant health, did not indicate an increase in benefits for the mother when compared to women who both breastfed and formula fed. Mode of expression, whether by infant, hand, or pump, did not make a difference in overall results. It seems that frequent letdown is the key to triggering the appropriate hormones that protect a mother from depression.

Another study actually looked at mothers intentions to breastfeed and whether intentions had any effect on the overall outcome. Not surprisingly, among women who showed no signs of depression prenatally, those who intended to breastfeed were at a lower risk of postpartum depression compared with those who did not intend to breastfeed. Women who intended to breastfeed but could not were at a higher risk of postpartum depression than women who succeeded in breastfeeding.

These findings reiterate the importance of breastfeeding support, not only for the benefit of infants, but also for the sake of positive mental health outcomes in new mothers. Specialized support should be offered to mothers who had prenatal depression and also for those mothers who intended to breastfeed but could not. We put so much pressure on ourselves and each other to have perfect breastfeeding outcomes, when a little more compassion and a little less judgment would likely smooth the way to the practical and emotional support necessary for achieving positive mental health.

The Fayetteville Doulas support a mother’s choice to breastfeed for as long (or as short) as she wants. We want our clients to know it is OK to not breastfeed, or to breastfeed part time, to pump exclusively, or to offer formula. You won’t find judgement here. And if our clients are determined to breastfeed and are struggling we encourage short term goals, and lots of peer-led and professional support. Thankfully, our community has several resources for mothers searching for breastfeeding support.

Some issues that are often resolved quickly if help is sought early on:

  • painful latch
  • cracked, sore nipples
  • plugged ducts
  • compromised milk supply
  • baby is fussy at the breast87
  • baby latches and unlatches frequently
  • baby chokes on milk or is popping off the breast gasping for air

When a baby nurses every two hours and the latch is painful every time, and baby fusses and constantly pops off the breast, we start thinking “What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?” It is no wonder new moms who desire to exclusively breastfeed but are faced with any one or more of these issues are more susceptible to postpartum depression. Reach out! We’re here to help! 

For further reading, check out:

www.sscnet.ucla.edu/comm/haselton/unify_uploads/files/Hahn-Holbrook,%20Haselton,%20Dunkel%20Schetter,%20Glynn%20Does%20breastfeeding%20offer%20protection%20against%20postpartum%20depression.pdf

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/22204416/

http://m.jhl.sagepub.com/content/32/4/740.short?rss=1&ssource=mfr

http://m.jhl.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/12/03/0890334415619908?papetoc

http://0-web.a.ebscohost.com.mwrlibrary.armybiznet.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=c27d1e2d-76e2-4e47-a9a4-28f5f8b82d80%40sessionmgr4006&vid=6&hid=4001

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