Not Being Able To Breastfeed Can Double Depression Risk

Breastfeeding — or not — may make a difference in whether a new mom develops postpartum depression.

Mother nursing newborn

Photo credit: KidStock/Blend Images/Getty Images

Postpartum depression is a serious condition that affects many new moms. A study found that breastfeeding reduces the risk of developing it, but it revealed something else that needs to be talked about — moms who try and are unable to breastfeed have double the risk of developing postpartum depression.

Breastfeeding and its role in postpartum depression

Researchers at the University of Cambridge studied data from nearly 14,000 mothers who lived in southwest England. For women who were planning to breastfeed their babies, they were able to show a 50 percent reduction in risk of postpartum depression.

However, if a mother wanted to breastfeed and was not able to, they found that her risk actually doubled. Researcher Dr. Maria Iacovou told the BBC, "Breastfeeding does appear to have a protective effect, but there's the other side of the coin as well. Those who wanted to and didn't end up breastfeeding had the highest risk of all the groups."

The study found that the benefit increased each week a mother breastfeeds, and maxes out at four weeks.

Implications of the study

This study brings several things to the forefront: one, that postpartum women need plenty of support, whether they breastfeed or not. And more attention needs to be paid to moms who wish to nurse their babies but struggle to do so. Early intervention for those moms can make a difference in breastfeeding success.

And for those moms who want to breastfeed and find that it doesn't work out for them, support in that instance is just as important. Health care providers should spend time assessing their patients for signs of postpartum depression, and they should know that breastfeeding cessation that was not Mom's idea can be a trigger.

New moms are already experiencing hormonal changes, sleep deprivation and changing roles at home — breastfeeding struggles on top of this can be really hard to deal with. Hopefully more care providers will be aware of these particular needs for moms who are suffering.

More about breastfeeding

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Typo in UK newspaper says breastfeeding causes cancer

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