I recently read a great article in Mothering Magazine called “Breastfeeding Beats the Blues” by Kathleen A. Kendall-Tackett. The author did a fantastic job of using research to bust common myths surrounding postpartum depression and breastfeeding. This piece hit especially close to home, as I vividly remember watching my friend struggle with and pull herself out of the depths of this awful illness. It was both heartbreaking and inspiring to see her overcome PPD and any information that can help make this difficult time easier on new mothers is priceless.
So here are the myths that were addressed:
1. Breastfeeding moms cannot take antidepressants. It’s not safe for baby.
Wrong. Any medication a mom takes will pass through the milk to baby, but several antidepressants (also known as SSRIs or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are compatible with breastfeeding. According to Dr. Thomas W. Hale, author of Medications and Mother’s Milk, the choices for treating breastfeeding mothers that least affect baby (in order) are Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Zyban), Sertraline (Zoloft) and Paxil. A 2004 edition of Medications and Mother’s Milk is available online at the KellyMom website and an updated 2010 edition is available for purchase at the Hale Publishing website.
2. Moms with postpartum depression should wean their babies so others can help by taking over feeding.
Just supporting a mother’s decision to breastfeed can be a great help. People should not undermine her ability to breastfeed if that’s what she’s chosen for herself and her baby. Family and friends can help in practical ways by preparing meals, washing dishes, playing with older children, etc. They can assist in making it possible for her to breastfeed by alleviating other stressors and that is a wonderful way to ease a difficult time. Remember, breastfeeding can actually HELP a mother with her depression.
Kendall-Tackett had this to say:
“Breastfeeding protects women’s mental health because it lowers stress. For example, a study of 43 breastfeeding women found that breastfeeding significantly decreased women’s levels of stress hormones.1 Further, hormones related to breastfeeding, such as oxytocin and prolactin, have both anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects.2″
She cites studies that prove what breastfeeding moms around the world have known forever: Breastfeeding has a calming effect on moms. This is HUGE for someone who may be feeling despair and suffering panic attacks.
Furthermore, breastfeeding protects baby! Of course there are countless benefits to breastfeeding, but especially for the baby of a depressed mama. There are studies out there that show how postpartum depression can negatively affect a baby, but there IS something moms can do about it!
According to Kendall-Tackett:
“Breastfeeding protected babies because depressed, breastfeeding mothers touched, stroked, and made eye contact with their babies more than did depressed, non-breastfeeding women 3… Non-breastfeeding, depressed women are more likely to disengage from their babies and less likely to respond to their cues. Such disengagement leads to many of the negative effects of maternal depression.”
3. Moms with postpartum depression should forgo nighttime breastfeeding and supplement with formula so baby will sleep longer and mom will sleep better.
It is widely accepted that the more sleep the mom gets, the better, especially since PPD can make it even more difficult for mom to get to sleep and stay asleep. However, the idea that formula feeding will increase mom’s sleep is a myth. It sounds right, I guess. Breast milk is much easier to digest than formula, so formula might keep them fuller and asleep longer. It kind of makes sense, but studies have shown over and over again that this is not the case. Kendall-Tackett mentioned several such studies in her well researched article, one of her most telling statements was:
“Most recent is a study of 2,830 women at seven weeks postpartum. The researchers found that disrupted sleep was a major risk factor for postpartum depression. But, here is where it gets really interesting: Mothers who were not exclusively breastfeeding had more disrupted sleep and a higher risk of depression.” 4
She goes on to say:
“In sum, advising women to avoid nighttime breastfeeding to lessen their risk of depression is not medically sound. In fact, if women follow this advice, it may actually increase their risk of depression.”
I am thrilled beyond words that someone has FINALLY taken the time to objectively look at the relationship between postpartum depression and breastfeeding. Everyone has heard someone say “You’ve got to take care of yourself before you can take care of another.” It is an especially accurate statement when applied to new mothers. Breastfeeding is a fantastic way for a mom to take care of both herself and her child.
For a much more indepth look at these issues as well as great postpartum depression resources, check out Kathleen A. Kendall-Tackett’s full article in the September-October 2010 issue of Mothering Magazine.
I think it’s a “must read” for women (and the people who love them) dealing with postpartum depression.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. I’m a mom sharing info I found interesting. Only you and your doctor can decide what’s best for you and your baby’s health.
1. M. Heinrichs et al., “Effects of Suckling on Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Responses to Psychosocial Stress in Postpartum Lactating Women,” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 86, no. 10 (2001): 4798-4804
2. E.S. Mezzacappa and J. Endicott, “Parity Mediates the Association Between Infant Feeding Methods and Maternal Depressive Symptoms in the Postpartum,” Archives of Women’s Mental Health 10 (2007): 259-266
3. N. A. Jones, B. A. McFall, and M. A. Diego, “Patterns of Brain Electrical Activity in Infants of Depressed Mothers Who Breastfeed and Bottle Feed: The Mediating Role of Infant Temperament,” Biological Psychology 67 nos.1-2 (October 2004):103-124
4. S. K. Dorheim et al., “Sleep and Depression in Postpartum Women: A Population-Based Study,” Sleep 32, no.7 (July 2009): 847-855