Postpartum depression (PPD) is real, and according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affects between 11 and 20 percent of women with symptoms. Postpartum depression puts almost 800,000 women at greater risk of suicide and in higher-risk categories for infanticide. New research suggests that breastfeeding could possibly reduce the risk of PPD.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University looked at breastfeeding status and the association with PPD risk, using a large, national population-based dataset of nearly 30k women across 26 states. The researchers and collaborators worked out of the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing.

Prior research studies have not been as expansive in a dataset, nor in generalizability, and therefore have lacked statistical power for helping women understand the difference breastfeeding can make in their and their baby's life.

There are nearly 4 million births a year, so this research could affect nearly 800,000 who are affected with postpartum depression symptoms.

The study was published in the Public Health Nursing journal. Findings showed women who were breastfeeding at the time the study data was collected had statistically significant lower risks of PPD than did women who were not breastfeeding at the time. More, the research team found a significant inverse relationship between the length of time one breastfed and the risk of PPD. The longer the women of the study breastfed, the lower their risk of PPD waned. Surprisingly to the research team, there was no significant difference in PPD risk among women who had different intents to breastfeed (they were, weren't or were unsure they would).

Dr. Christine Toledo is the senior author of the study and an assistant professor in FAU's Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing. She said that women who suffer from PPD do so within four weeks and up to 12 months after childbirth. They face feelings of anxiety, sadness and fatigue that make it hard for them to live daily life. When they are not treated, there are also possibilities of negative outcomes for them and their babies, which include bonding issues and care for their children as well as the risk of harm to themselves or their babies. They're also at greater risk of substance misuse.

Additionally, women who experience PPD have a 50% increased risk of more PPD conditions in subsequent deliveries. More, they have a 25% increased risk of suffering from other depressive disorders that aren't childbirth-related up to 11 years later.

The research team collaborated with researchers from the University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies, the University of North Carolina School of Nursing, Chapel Hill, Seattle University of Nursing, and The University of British Columbia School of Nursing. They looked at data from the 2016 Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) to look at the association of breastfeeding with relation to age, race, marital status, education, smoking, abuse before and during pregnancy and other factors.

They found that breastfeeding is a cost-efficient and healthy behavior that can decrease a woman's risk for PPD, and nurses in particular play a vital role in preparing mothers with education and support.

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