GUEST POST: Breastfeeding mums less likely to suffer from PND, but WHY?{0}

This guest post is written by Dr Nicole Highet, the founder and Executive Director of the Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE) who also wrote the forward to Guilt-Free Bottle-Feeding.  One of Nicole’s many missions is to redefine the images of motherhood, to make them more realistic.

This post is reprinted with permission and you can find the original on the COPE website. 

I am intrigued by the number of articles that have been written in response to a new major study of over 10,000 mothers, which revealed that those who breastfeed are 50% less likely to suffer from postnatal depression (PND) than those who don’t.

Also the Cambridge University study found that women who are most at risk of developing PND are those who plan to breastfeed, but weren’t able to do so.  The article then goes on to say that there is a complex relationship between a mother’s intention to breastfeed, her ability to breastfeed and PND.

So far I’m thinking, yes…I’m on the same page.

Then however, there is much discussion around the topic that breastfeeding can help
antenatal depression and it is ‘believed that this is related to hormonal activity associated with breastfeeding.’  Following there are several quotes from women stating that their PND was exacerbated because of their inability to breastfeed.

Whilst this may be true (I am not a endocrinologist) at no stage do these subsequent discussions acknowledge that another key reason women experiencing breastfeeding problems have high rates of PND.

That OTHER reason is the direct impact of her disappointment, her feelings of grief, and the feelings of failure on her emotional and mental health.

Many mums who struggle to breastfeed describe feelings of guilt and failure – as not only are their own hopes and expectations of breastfeeding not met, but they are left feeling inadequate as mothers – unable to provide for their baby.

These feelings of failure are compounded by internal and external pressures.  Pressure we put on ourselves. Pressure from perfect media images.  Pressure and advice from family, friends and/or health professionals. Pressure we feel each time we are reminded that ‘breast is best’.

At a time when we are often at our most vulnerable – trying to create a new identity for ourselves as a mother and in need positive reinforcement in this new role, that our breastfeeding experience can have a significant impact.

It can greatly impact on  how we view and compare ourselves within the context of ever-pervading images of ‘natural’ and ‘successful’ and ‘perfect’ mothers. THIS can all impact upon our self-esteem, and contribute to increasing our risk of, or likelihood of experiencing postnatal depression and/or anxiety.

It’s time we took a close look at the social context of motherhood, and the impact that this can, and is having on our sense of achievement, our self-esteem and ultimately our perinatal emotional and mental health.

For more information on coping with breastfeeding challenges click here.

COPE: Keeping motherhood real.