Written by: Cally Worden
A recent study of 14,000 new mums in south-west England has revealed that breastfeeding can halve the risk of developing post-natal depression (PND). While this is great news, the study also cautioned that of those women who wanted to breastfeed but found themselves unable to do so, the risk of developing PND more than doubled. So what gives? Could¬† breastfeeding help with depression or not?
It is already known, and this study appeared to support the fact, that on average 10% of new mums will develop PND. Anything that can assist with the avoidance of this debilitating condition must surely be worth looking at.
This new study, which was published in the Maternal and Child Health journal, found that of the women included who wanted to breastfeed and were able to do so, the risk of PND dropped by 50% (so presumably only 5% of breastfeeding mums ultimately suffered – still too many, but a significant improvement). It is thought the drop is due to a variety of reasons, including the release of feel-good hormones during breastfeeding.
However there is a fairly weighty ‘But …’ to be inserted here. In those women who actively wanted to undertake breastfeeding but couldn’t for whatever reason, the risk of developing PND rocketed to a level more than double the normal average. This may stem from deep-seated frustration, and perceived feelings of inadequacy learned from a society that can quickly adopt a position of superiority on the subject. Many mums who can’t breastfeed are made to feel like they have failed in some way.
What Have we Learned?
It has long been known that the chemical formula of the mother’s breast milk is optimised for baby. Formula blends have advanced significantly in their complexity and sophistication in recent times, but the scientific message remains clear – breast is best.
You can’t fly in the face of science, but personally I think no woman should feel pressured, and should do only that which feels comfortable for her and her baby. Breastfeeding is not for everyone, and formula fed babies fare perfectly well thanks very much. But still, the breast-brigade bang their drum, and fair play to them for that.
Better support is essential
It is perhaps inevitable then, that mothers who seek to follow this learned advice but fall at the first hurdle are going to suffer a mental and emotional blow. What I think this study highlights is the need for a greater awareness of the pressures faced by women who choose to try and breastfeed. The support systems in place for them need to be more robust. And those women who struggle should have better access to help and assistance, and not be made to feel bad for seeking it.
Breast feeding stigma
There is still a stigma attached to breastfeeding problems – after all, it’s the most natural thing in the world, right? Where’s the problem? What a naive view.
Any mum who has tried in vain to get their baby correctly positioned and establish a comfortable feeding rhythm knows it simply sometimes isn’t that easy. My heart goes out to these women and I hope that the healthcare profession is given the guidance and resources necessary to be able to help mums beat their breastfeeding demons if that is what they wish to do.