I often report on the benefits of breast-feeding. For both mother and child. For the child, breast-feeding protects against infectious diseases during early life. And, as I reported in a recent Daily Dispatch, it appears to protect the child against obesity and chronic diseases during adulthood.
Breast-feeding also appears to protect the mother from developing breast cancer. In fact, according to a 2009 study, women who breast-fed were 25 percent less likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer than women who had never breast-fed.
Plus, in a more recent study, researchers found another benefit to breast-feeding. New mothers who breast-feed are less likely to suffer from post-partum mood disorders.
In the April Insiders’ Cures newsletter, I report on depression. But I did not address the problem of “post-partum depression” and anxiety. With this troubling condition, mothers of newborn infants suffer from anxiety and depression. With potential deadly consequences to both mother and child.
For this most recent study, investigators conducted interviews with 1,123 mothers of healthy newborns over a three-year period. And they performed follow-up interviews at two weeks, two months, and six months.
They found that anxiety is far more prevalent than depression in the early post-partum period. In fact, seventeen percent of the assessed women suffered from anxiety during their post-partum stay in the hospital. But only 18 percent of that group continued to show anxiety after two weeks. And at two months and six months, anxiety rates ranged from six to seven percent.
The percentage of women who suffered from depression remained steady for the first two weeks at about six percent. It dropped to less than three percent by two and six months.
And just four percent of women had both anxiety and depression post-partum. But this difficult double-diagnosis was three times more common in women who underwent cesarean section for delivery. As opposed to women who experienced natural childbirth.
There was also a significant link between mothers who did not breast-feed and the need to use hospital services for mood disorders.
Unfortunately, this study does not determine the cause of the mood disorders.
The researchers seem to imply that mood disorders cause the reduced attempts at breast-feeding in anxious and depressed mothers.
But we should also consider the opposite position.
Perhaps lack of breast-feeding contributes to the development of mood disorders. Breast-feeding is a symbiotic relationship. Meaning, it benefits both the mother and baby. Maybe one of the benefits for the mother is protection against anxiety and depression.
To be sure–pregnancy, labor, and breast-feeding cause massive hormonal changes. They can even cause hormonal imbalances. But oxytocin–released by the mother during breast-feeding–has profound influences on emotional bonding. And it can boost a mother’s sense of well-being.
This study shows that depriving women of the experience of natural childbirth strongly relates to higher rates of mood disorders. It would make sense that depriving women of the natural experience of breast-feeding also results in more mood disorders.
Women are wise to avoid antidepressant drugs while pregnant or lactating. Or really, under any circumstances. Plus, we have many natural and non-drug alternatives. To learn more about these natural alternatives, look for a full report in the April issue of the Insiders’ Cures newsletter. If you haven’t become a subscriber yet, you can get started here.
1. doi: 10.1542/peds.2012-2147