Have you heard the news that successful breastfeeding can help to prevent Post Natal Depression?
But didn’t we know that already?
Well not exactly. There was always the theory, that , women who were able to breast feed , were in some way different from those women who did not breast feed their babies. In other words, the breast feeders may themselves be less likely to get depression, or better supported or in some way helped by the hormonal changes associated with lactation. No study had ever really looked at the relationship between breastfeeding and postnatal depression and also taken into account previous depression , and most importantly , the mothers’s actual intention or plans for infant feeding.
The latest study from The Journal Maternal and Child Health has done exactly that.
They carefully studied 14,000 British pregnant women in the 1990’s , both during their pregnancy and for up to 3 years afterwards. All the women were tested for Depression on six separate occasions. Twice during pregnancy and at 8 weeks, then 18, and 33 weeks after delivery.
They found that between 7-8% of women were depressed during the pregnancy , and 8-13 % afterwards.
They then looked at the incidence of postnatal depression , at various times after delivery , according to the mothers stated intentions about feeding.
They compared the rates according to whether or not they were successful and whether or not they had been depressed during the pregnancy.
They found that although only 65% intended to breast feed, in fact 80% did try. But at 4 weeks of age only 56% of babies were at the breast , with 43% being exclusively breast fed.
They found, quite convincingly , that breast feeding your baby significantly decreased your incidence of postnatal depression, whether you had previous depression in pregnancy or not. The effects were most notable in those women who had intended to breast feed, and were also most dramatic at 8 weeks after birth. The effect was still obvious at 33 months , but less so. The reduction in depression scores were more in the women with no previous antenatal problems, but still significant in the previously depressed mothers.
However, it was not all that straight forward. Those mothers who did not intend to breastfeed , and then did breast feed , ended up with increased chances of depression. And significantly, so did those mothers , who wanted to breast feed and were unsuccessful.
What does all this mean?
Well, clearly, if you want to breast feed and you can , it appears to be good for your mental health and therefore additionally good for the health of your baby. This is so, even if you have been depressed before birth.
However, if breast feeding is unsuccessful , or if you try it after planning not to , you may be at extra risk of psychological problems.
Either way , it is a wake up call for all those of us who look after pregnant women and their families , to provide more help and support in those difficult days and weeks after childbirth.
Breast may be best, but not for everyone!