Why is there a link between the ability to breastfeed and postnatal depression?

The results of a major study of over 10,000 mothers by Cambridge University revealed that those who breastfeed are 50% less likely to suffer from postnatal depression (PND) than those who don’t. The study also found that those women most at risk of developing PND are those who plan to breastfeed but are unable to do so.

Nicole HighetDr Nicole Highet, founder of COPE in Melbourne, the Centre for Perinatal Excellence in Melbourne, agrees with the researchers that there is a complex relationship between a mother’s intention to breastfeed, her ability to breastfeed and PND. The researchers surmised that the the increase in PND may be attributed to a lack of hormonal activity associated with breastfeeding.

While Dr Highet says this may be so – but cautions further research is required to confirm a link – she emphasises that a really important factor in increase in PND amongst mums who can’t breastfeed is the direct impact of her disappointment, her feelings of grief, and the feelings of failure on her emotional and mental health. You can read Dr Highet’s full post here.

Guilt Free Bottle FeedingMothers who can’t breastfeed for whatever reason are often burdened by a terrible guilt that they are not doing the best by their children because the ‘breast is best’ message implies that formula-fed babies may turn out fat, stupid and unhealthy. Dr Highet agrees with journalit Madeleine Morris, the author of a new book called Guilt-Free Bottle-Feeding, that what the research actually shows is that while breast milk is best if circumstances allow, formula-fed babies can grow up to be happy, health and smart. The close examination Madeleine undertook of the research in this area for her book shows that the differences in quality nutrition provided are minimal. She goes through the research in some details in her book.