Can Breastfeeding cause Anxiety & Depression?
Updated: Aug 16
If you or other women in your family have struggled with depression or anxiety, you may be wondering what effect breastfeeding may have on your mental health. It makes sense that the hormone fluctuations, stress and lack of sleep that come with pregnancy and postpartum can increase women’s risk for postpartum depression and anxiety (or depression/anxiety during pregnancy). But you still may be wondering - what impact does breastfeeding have on a mother’s mental health?
There is good news! Studies show that successful breastfeeding experiences actually reduce rates of postpartum depression in women. There are health benefits for mom and baby and It can boost our self-esteem, make us feel empowered and improve our sleep. Breastfeeding releases endorphins that make us feel happy and joyful and can also help us to bond with our babies.
But let’s be real, breastfeeding can be difficult and at times, painful. Some women and babies really struggle with the process and this can lead to devastating grief, anger and anxiety. Unsuccessful breastfeeding attempts can lead to early and unplanned weaning, triggering depression and leaving moms feeling like a failure.
The studies are clear - there is one important mitigating factor in all of this, and that is SUPPORT. With support, breastfeeding is more likely to be successful and women are less likely to get depressed. Studies show that more than two thirds of women who stop breastfeeding in the first few weeks do so because their experiences were difficult or painful and they didn’t have access to the resources they needed. Resources might include: practical support and education offered by a lactation consultant, social support and connection with peers and counseling/psychotherapy.
According to Amy Brown, Professor of Child Public Health, Swansea University...
“Our research – conducted with 217 mothers who stopped breastfeeding in the first few months – shows where women were ready to stop, or stopped for reasons that they perceived to be positive, their mental health was not affected. But when they stopped because of pain, physical difficulties, or because they couldn’t get the support they needed, their risk of depression was much higher.”
As a new mom you also may be faced with the decision of whether or not to continue (or begin) using anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications during pregnancy and postpartum. According to Postpartum Support International, many of these medications are safe for both mom and baby. But these are important and individualized decisions and it’s necessary to consult with a medical professional about your particular situation, so that you can explore your various options and weigh the pros and cons of each. PSI also notes that doctors may not all have the same level of training and understanding about the unique needs faced by pregnant and postpartum women. PSI has an online provider directory where you can search for professionals in your area, trained in whatever speciality you’re seeking, including psychiatry. This can be a great place to start to find a provider who is knowledgeable and helpful about your unique needs.
Here at Charlotte Women’s Counseling we support all women, whether breastfeeding is going well, you tried it and learned it just wasn’t right for you, struggled and weren’t able to continue as you planned, or knew from the beginning that this wasn’t the right choice for your family. We are here to help you navigate these decisions and support you on whatever path you choose. And regardless of the path, please know that you are not alone. We are here to help, during this stage of life and many others!
Post written by Shawna Lauer, LMFT Book online with her today!
Breastfeeding resources in Charlotte:
PSI National Provider Database: