Does Breastfeeding Reduce The Risk of Postnatal Depression?

If you look to read up on the link between breastfeeding and postnatal mental health, you’ll struggle to find much beyond claims that breastfeeding as a new mum will reduce your risk of developing postnatal depression. It is true that some studies have shown that those who exclusively breastfeed have lower rates of postnatal depression versus those who don’t breastfeed.

Still, these claims don’t do much to show the many different experiences of breastfeeding mums or address the challenges of navigating the tricky relationship between breastfeeding and postnatal mental health. 

Breastfeeding is an amazing experience, and is the best way to ensure that your little one is getting all of the goodness and nutrients they need to thrive. But, not everyone’s breastfeeding journey is perfect, and that’s totally normal! 

Being aware of these realities, being prepared for them, and knowing what to look out for can help new mums recognise any impact their breastfeeding journey has on their mental health, and get back on track breastfeeding their little one. Or, if you're looking for more information on all things breastfeeding, check out our main breastfeeding page.

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Recognising The Sometimes Lonely Side of Breastfeeding

When discussed online and in the media, it’s impossible to escape discussion of the magical bond between mother and baby regarding breastfeeding. It is convenient, free, and allows for a lot of one on one bonding time with your little one. But, while rewarding, breastfeeding can be an isolating experience at times, and it’s important to recognise signs of this. 

In the first few weeks, newborn babies are fed “on demand”, meaning that you need to be ready whenever your little one is hungry! While still recovering from welcoming them into the world, this isn’t always easy for new mums at first. For most little ones, this will mean feeding them between 8 and 12 times per day or more if they show more signs of hunger.

One thing that can help avoid a sense of loneliness while breastfeeding is to simply stop leaving the room to nurse, or feeling a need to ‘excuse yourself’ and sit alone while you do it. Breastfeeding is an amazing and natural thing, and there’s no reason you should need to hide away to do it.

If you’re socialising with friends and family, or even in public, don’t be afraid to stay in the room while feeding your little one. You should never be ashamed of breastfeeding your baby, or made to feel that way! If you’re worried about feeling exposed or don’t feel comfortable, invest in a good quality nursing bra. Head here to learn how to whip your boob out in public like a pro!

Recognising the Demands of Breastfeeding

Babies have unpredictable feeding schedules, often demanding to be fed every two to three hours, including throughout the night, especially when cluster feeding. This can be a lot! It often also means that mums can experience ongoing disrupted sleep patterns, leading to exhaustion and fatigue. 

Breastfeeding your little one might be your favourite part of the day, or you might find yourself dreading it at times. It’s perfectly normal to not look forward to every single feeding session! But, watching your baby grow and thrive, and knowing that your body is single handedly doing that, is an amazing feeling!

Partners, family members, and friends can contribute significantly to any struggles by helping with household chores, providing emotional support, and offering assistance with feeding and caregiving responsibilities. 

Promoting breastfeeding-friendly environments is also vital for those who own businesses, shops, cafes, or employ breastfeeding mums. This includes workplace accommodations and areas, and public spaces designed to make breastfeeding more accessible and comfortable.

When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Go To Plan

Most new mums begin their breastfeeding journey with high hopes and expectations. Having this positive outlook is amazing, and it’s always best to go into things positively. But, these expectations can make it very difficult for those who run into challenges with breastfeeding, and their journey doesn’t go to plan.

Some common breastfeeding challenges include:

Whether battling a low milk supply, or struggling to get a good latch, in some cases new mums decide to move onto alternative feeding methods. Making this decision can be difficult, and it's common for mums to feel like they’ve ‘failed’ their baby, or that they’re a ‘bad mum’. 

This is not the case, and at the end of the day, fed is best. As long as your baby is feeding, and getting the nutrients they need to grow and thrive, you’re doing an amazing job! Shaming new mums for their feeding choices does nothing but impact their mental health, and adds stress to an often difficult feeding journey.

Spotting The Symptoms of Postnatal Depression

Postnatal depression and other maternal mental health concerns, such as postnatal OCD, affect more than one in every ten women. One group that is disproportionately affected by these concerns are new mums who are struggling to breastfeed, or have made the decision to give up on breastfeeding.

It's important to seek help as soon as possible if you think you might be depressed, as your symptoms could last months or get worse and have a significant impact on you, your baby and your family. 

If you think you might be struggling, here are some helpful articles:

The Important Option of Combi-Feeding

Combination feeding, or mixed feeding, is where your little one has a combination of feeds on the breast and from expressed breast milk in a bottle, or a mixture of breastmilk and formula.

Many new mums think of breastfeeding as an ‘all or nothing’ journey, which can add to the already difficult mental struggles of navigating the world of feeding. Mums who struggle to produce enough milk for their baby or have other commitments causing logistical problems can quickly feel like they’ve failed on their breastfeeding journey. 

This doesn’t have to be the case. Combi-feeding offers a great solution to many breastfeeding challenges, allowing you to supplement your milk supply, take some time to yourself, and share the feeding responsibility with your partner or family.

Speaking on this topic, our expert midwife, Louise Broadbridge (@thehonestmidwife) said the following: 

"Like this article states, breastfeeding can be a really amazing experience. However, although I am a midwife, I am also a mum to two children and I formula fed my first child and exclusively breastfed my second baby. I am so grateful that they have both grown up to be happy and healthy children and have never regretted my feeding choices.  

If you do want to breastfeed, having a really good understanding of what the path may look like is so important.  It is not enough to just know it is good for your baby. This doesn't help at 3 o'clock in the morning when you can't get baby to latch. What is important is that you understand the physiology of breastfeeding, what the challenges are and how to overcome them and where you can get support.

Don't forget we run a really comprehensive infant feeding class which covers all of these things and will really help with your feeding journey - however you intend to feed your baby."

While stats promoting breastfeeding shouldn’t be ignored, it’s important to properly represent all sides of the coin, and avoid mums who are struggling from feeling alienated or alone. For more information on PND, read this guide on how to identify postnatal depression.

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Articles shown are a mixture of informative pieces, anecdotal accounts and professional advice from our panel of Bloggers, Writers and Experts. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official view of this site.