A new study says the reason a woman stops breastfeeding matters in terms of her risk for developing postnatal depression. Here's how to check your risk.
"Women who stopped because they had pain or difficulty were at a greater risk of depression than those who stopped for other reasons, such as finding it embarrassing, not liking feeding in public or believing [it] didn't fit with their lifestyle," lead author Amy Brown, Ph.D., an associate professor at Swansea University in the UK, told Fit Pregnancy.
"If a woman feels that she has to stop breastfeeding because it is too difficult or painful it is likely she doesn't want to stop feeding," she elaborated. "She may feel upset or frustrated, which may increase her risk of postnatal depression, whereas for other reasons for stopping she might feel more in control, or that stopping benefits her."
Why women stop
Understanding why women stop nursing and its relationship to their well-being can help medical professionals support new moms to meet their breastfeeding goals, Brown says. "The right support from health professionals and also trained breastfeeding counselors and volunteers is really useful."
She believes more support is needed in general for women after they have a baby, since breastfeeding's relationship with postpartum depression is still unclear. "We cannot tell whether breastfeeding difficulties increase risk of postnatal depressions or whether postnatal depression increases risk of finding breastfeeding more difficult," she explains.
A cultural problem
Brown puts down this lack of support to a problem within our society. "In Western culture we have really lost sight of the support new mothers need, both with establishing breastfeeding and more generally in becoming a mother," she says. "Other cultures surround the mother after birth—mothering the mother as such—caring for her and allowing her the time to feed and care for her baby. In our culture we appear to value how quickly women can snap back to their former selves and show that they are coping on their own."
Brown hopes her research will act as a call to action to support nursing mothers so that breastfeeding rates rise, something she considers to be in the interest of public health. She says the key message for new moms is if you are experiencing breastfeeding difficulties or are concerned you may have depression, contact a health professional right away.