Breastfeeding Mothers: With Lower Risk of Postpartum Depression

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Having a baby can trigger a mix of overwhelming emotions, including excitement and joy, fear and anxiety. But there are instances when it also gives an unexpected feeling, such as depression. Most new mothers experience postpartum “baby blues” after childbirth, which describes mood swings, worry, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping that the mother experiences. Baby blues typically start within the first two to three days after delivery and usually resolve independently within a few days.

However, some mothers would experience a more intense and longer-lasting type of depression known as postpartum depression. It’s a common issue among mothers affecting 11 and 20 percent of women who give birth yearly in the U.S. Since there are 4 million births annually, this equates to almost 800,000 women with postpartum depression yearly. Postpartum depression is considered the greatest risk factor for maternal suicide and infanticide, prompting immediate treatment and interventions to help manage its symptoms and the bond between the mother and baby. 

With this, a study published in the journal Public Health Nursing suggested that breastfeeding may be linked with a reduced risk of postpartum depression among mothers. It is the first study to investigate current breastfeeding status in association with postpartum depression risk utilizing a large, national population-based dataset of 29,685 women living in 26 states and derived interesting findings that will be explored in this article.

Investigating Breastfeeding Status and Duration In Reducing Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression among women may lead to negative outcomes when left untreated, including bonding difficulties, providing childcare, thoughts of harming themselves or their infant, and being at a heightened risk of substance abuse.

Further, women with experiences of postpartum depression have a 50 percent more chance of suffering further episodes of postpartum depression in their next deliveries. Additionally, they have a 25 percent higher risk of suffering further depressive disorders unrelated to childbirth up to 11 years later. Postpartum depression is also linked to increased cardiovascular disease, stroke, and type-2 diabetes risk. These distressing implications of postpartum depression on mothers warrant cost-efficient and effective preventive measures. 

Hence, several previous studies looked into the potential of breastfeeding in reducing postpartum depression. However, much of the results are focused on the impact of postpartum depression on breastfeeding and failed to substantially establish the relationship between breastfeeding and preventing postpartum depression due to several limitations of the studies conducted.

The researchers of the new study aimed to fill this limitation by examining the potential link of breastfeeding in reducing postpartum depression using a large population national dataset from the 2016 Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) questionnaire and considering significant covariates, including age, race, marital status, education, cigarette smoking, among others.

The analysis of the researchers resulted in the following findings:

  • Postpartum depression is a crucial health issue among American women, with almost 13 percent of the sample being at risk.
  •  Breastfeeding women at the time of data collection had a significantly lower risk of postpartum depression than women who were not breastfeeding.
  •  Breastfeeding duration and the risk of postpartum depression have a statistically significant inverse relationship.
  • As the number of weeks women breastfed increased, their postpartum depression decreased.

The study’s findings suggest that breastfeeding is a cost-efficient and healthy behavior that can decrease a woman’s risk for postpartum depression. The researchers further stated that nurses and physicians have a significant role in educating and promoting the benefits of breastfeeding in mothers and infants, such as providing necessary nutrients and protecting them against allergies, diseases, and infections.

Key Takeaways

The study infers that breastfeeding can be linked to positive maternal mental health. However, its experience and process can be quite challenging, especially for new mothers, for various reasons. Hence, mothers who may be struggling with breastfeeding should be able to seek help from a doctor and be supported by their families.

A new mother’s mental well-being also directly impacts her baby, so it is crucial to consider that mothers are supported, heard, and well informed of the benefits breastfeeding has for them and their babies. This way, they are empowered to make informed decisions for themselves and their babies.

Journal Reference

Toledo, C., Cianelli, R., Villegas Rodriguez, N., De Oliveira, G., Gattamorta, K., Wojnar, D., & Ojukwu, E. (2021). The significance of breastfeeding practices on postpartum depression risk. Public Health Nursing, 39(1), 15–23. https://doi.org/10.1111/phn.12969 

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