Doubts Regarding Studies Concluding Breastfeeding Combats PPD

While it would be wonderful to unequivocally pronounce that mothers who breastfeed their babies suffer less episodes of postpartum depression, anecdotal evidence from my own twenty-one year perinatal specialty practice does not support this conclusion.

Over my years in practice, I have found both breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding moms who struggle with perinatal depression and anxiety. That is not to say there are not many health benefits for the baby and the mom associated with breastfeeding.

Some women report feeling relaxed when they breastfeed because of the hormone oxytocin that’s released during nursing. One study found that 50 percent of breastfeeding moms — as opposed to 8 percent of bottle-feeding moms — had higher amounts of oxytocin in their system and lower blood pressure.

But another researcher, Cindy Lee Dennis reported in the journal Pediatrics that the theory that breastfeeding combats PPD, while “it is compelling, rests on tenuous evidence.” Because of the way the particular study was conducted, Dennis said, “it’s impossible to tell whether depressed moms wean earlier, or moms who wean earlier develop depression.”

Dennis said that a review of 49 studies on breastfeeding and depression concluded, “Depressive symptoms are a risk factor for breastfeeding failure.” In other words, women with depression may shorten the length of breastfeeding, have more difficulties with nursing, and lack confidence in their ability to breastfeed.

As I’ve noted before, social support and healthy practices during pregnancy improve all outcomes, including breastfeeding. If the opposite is true — poor support and unhealthy behaviors lead to problems — it makes sense that those factors lead both to depression and early weaning.

Like most members of the health community, I support breastfeeding, but there is potential harm in promoting breastfeeding as a remedy for PPD, a condition already under-diagnosed and undertreated. And, if mothers with postpartum depression and anxiety disorders believe they aren’t at risk because they’re breastfeeding, there’s a danger they may delay seeking help.


~ by ppdsus on April 18, 2014.

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