Postnatal blues linked with trouble breastfeeding

Friday, 22 July 2011 11:33 AM

Women who have difficultly breastfeeding their newborn in the first two weeks after birth are more likely to suffer postnatal depression two months later, compared to women who do not struggle.

A new study analysing the link between breastfeeding and depression found women who said they disliked breastfeeding were 42 per cent more likely to experience postnatal depression at two months compared to women who liked breastfeeding.

“We also found that women with severe breast pain at day one and also at two weeks postpartum were twice as likely to be depressed compared to women that did not experience pain with nursing,” said Stephanie Watkins, from the University of North Carolina.

The idea for the study, published online ahead of print by the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, grew from the clinical experience of Alison Stuebe, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the UNC School of Medicine.

“We found that very commonly the same mums who were struggling with breastfeeding were also depressed,” she said. “There was a tremendous clinical overlap.”

From data collected as part of the Infant Feeding and Practices Study II, researchers assessed the postpartum depression status of the 2,586 women in that study with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.

Of those women, 8.6 percent met the criteria for major depression two months after giving birth.

Women who reported disliking breastfeeding during the first week were 1.42 times as likely to be depressed at two months. Women who reported severe breastfeeding pain on their first day were 1.96 times as likely to be depressed at two months.

For health care providers, this study shows that mothers with breastfeeding difficulties should be screened for depression and referred to counselling when depression is confirmed.

But the study also provides a message for mothers, said Stuebe.

“If they’re struggling with breastfeeding, they should seek help and tell their provider. If they don’t have joy in their life, if they wake up in the morning and think, ‘I just can’t do this another day’ – that’s a medical emergency. They shouldn’t just say, ‘I’m going to power through this and snap out of it.’ They should call their provider and say, ‘I just don’t feel right, I’m wondering if I could be depressed, can I come in and talk to you about it?’ ”

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