Study Says Breastfeeding Reduces Postpartum Depression-With A Twist

Breastfeeding Reduces postpartum depression
As research continues to confirm that breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk that new mothers will experience postpartum depression, the Maternal and Child Health Journal report looked at information from more than 14,000 mothers and has some surprising information to add.

To better understand the connection between breastfeeding and PPD  researchers looked at the mothers’ expectations for infant feeding in addition to their feeding choices after birth. One of the first of its kind to include such data the analysis found that, while women who expected to breastfeed and were able to do so successfully had a much lower risk for depression, those women who were unable to breastfeed but had plans to nurse their babies after birth actually had a higher likelihood of PPD.

For mothers who were not depressed during pregnancy, the lowest risk of PPD was found among women who had planned to breastfeed, and who had actually breastfed their babies, while the highest risk was found among women who had planned to breastfeed and had not gone on to breastfeed. We conclude that the effect of breastfeeding on maternal depression is extremely heterogeneous, being mediated both by breastfeeding intentions during pregnancy and by mothers’ mental health during pregnancy. Our results underline the importance of providing expert breastfeeding support to women who want to breastfeed; but also, of providing compassionate support for women who had intended to breastfeed, but who find themselves unable to.

The study also turned up another unexpected result.

Interestingly, among the group of mothers who had not planned to breastfeed, the risk of depression was higher among women who went on to breastfeed.

However, the study does state that “for previously depressed mothers, there may also be a protective effect from breastfeeding when mothers had not planned to breastfeed.”

It is also interesting to note that the study analyzed data from the Avon Longitudinal Survey of Parents and Children from the early 1990s in Bristol, England — raising the question of whether the results, which weighed maternal expectations so heavily, would have been different if more recent and geographically diverse data had been used.

Our results underline the importance of providing expert breastfeeding support to women who want to breastfeed; but also, of providing compassionate support for women who had intended to breastfeed, but who find themselves unable to.

An important takeaway of the research in this article is that it is so very important to support postpartum mothers, regardless of their breastfeeding or not. Whether they want to breastfeed and they can’t, or they don’t necessarily plan to breastfeed but they do and may not be as informed as if they’d planned, it’s clear that postpartum support for mothers is imperative.

If we’re looking to increase breastfeeding rates, we also need to know how postpartum depression can affect those rates. We don’t just need to encourage women; we need to educate them and follow up with them postpartum, and we need to support them in what they need.

Yes. We’d love every mother to breastfeed, and every baby to benefit from their mother’s milk. But it’s not always feasible for that to happen, and that can leave mothers guilt-ridden and shamed. Follow-up is key, and support can make all the difference in postpartum rates.

Photo: Syda Productions/Shutterstock





7 thoughts on “Study Says Breastfeeding Reduces Postpartum Depression-With A Twist”

  1. I had PPD and PPA and while I planned to breastfeed (and did) I had a lot of issues – thrush, flat nipples, raynaud’s, tongue tie, lip tie, dairy protein intolerance, high lipase…I get legitimate anxiety when I think about breastfeeding this time around (I’m currently pregnant and planning to breastfeed again) and just hoping it goes better than last time.

    I know, without a doubt, that my breastfeeding issues directly contributed to my PPD and PPA and I will not hesitate to add some formula bottles this time if things go the way they did the first time (go ahead, slam that if you want, I think my mental health is more important than EBFing, yeah I said it).

    Thank you for posting this article.

    1. I see nothing wrong with that. I also had issues. In my case I had almost no milk for my baby. No matter how often I tried to feed her, she was always hungry. There was nothing there for her. After ten days trying to make it work we switched to formula because she was practically starving. A day or so later, I suddenly had milk like crazy, but my baby wouldn’t go back. She’d already learned that there was nothing in the for her and wouldn’t try any more. Sometimes you have to do what works for you and no one should shame you for that.

      1. CeeCee, that must have been a very disappointing experience. When my second daughter had her baby, he was not getting enough milk. Although I had breastfed 4 children, I couldn’t see anything she was doing wrong. She consulted a lactation specialist who showed her how to get the baby properly latched on, and this worked for her. She had given him a few bottles but he was willing to try again. Did anyone suggest using a pump to get the milk started? You could always put your own milk in bottles, though it’s a lot of trouble.

      2. It sounds like your baby quickly developed nipple preference, at that point it becomes a matter of whose will is stronger. My dd did not go to the breast until 8 weeks old and had nothing but bottles up to that point. I took my que from the adoptive bf’ing side at that point and quickly got her to the breast but she was not at all happy at first and would scream bloody murder wanting her bottle. I won and very quickly she came to accept the breast but it was a very difficult week getting her over to the breast from bottles. By 4 months she was a little boob addict and went on to nurse for a very long time:) If it happens again just hang in there and look into using an SNS or cup feeding until your milk comes in. It sounds like maybe you had a piece of retained placenta or something which can prevent milk from coming in.

    2. I see nothing wrong with supplementing with formula, as long as you keep your sanity. Don’t get discouraged, I think that with your second you’re going to be more prepared, and you can see what you might expect with a newborn. Good luck girl

  2. I became deeply depressed after my efforts at breastfeeding failed, especially since I tried so hard for the first two months. My expectations did me in. It took at least a year to recover.

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