It’s in the news today that a major study has found that women who breastfeed are 50% less likely to have postnatal depression (PND) than those who choose not to, but those women who plan to breastfeed and are unable to achieve their breastfeeding goals, are twice as likely to get PND compared to the mothers who simply choose to not breastfeed.
I don’t think this will come as any surprise to anyone with experience of supporting breastfeeding and new mamas. Breastfeeding is incredibly emotional and I have seen, and felt myself, how a new mama’s emotional health can depend on how breastfeeding goes. Get it right and breastfeeding an be incredibly good for both mama and babe, even helping heal any hurts from a difficult pregnancy or birth. But if breastfeeding goes wrong, then a mama can be filled with grief, guilt, stress and exhaustion – a killer combo for anyone’s mental health.
I have several times come across mamas who blame breastfeeding, and not being able to successfully establish breastfeeding with a previous child, for past PND and who refuse to consider breastfeeding a subsequent child. I can see the logic. I can feel the fear of going there again. But I also think of the wasted chance to have a healing experience and reduce the risk of PND recurring.
In The Independent article, they say: “The researchers said that more support needed to be given, both to encourage mothers to breastfeed, and also support those women who find they are unable to “. I have so far been unable to find a press release or abstract to check whether this wording was accurate, but either way, I have a major issue with how it is reported.
Yes, support is needed. And yes, in the rare cases when a mother cannot breastfeed no matter what, that mama needs, and should get, lots of support.
But what is needed is support so that women who want to breastfeed CAN breastfeed.
Most women have the physical capability to produce milk to feed their baby or babies. But they need good support, at the right time, to make that a reality.
They need good antenatal education and support for their breastfeeding journey through birth and from the moment baby is born. They need balanced evidence based information on how choices for birth may affect feeding. They need good, nearly continuous postnatal support in the first couple of days to ensure exhausted, inexperienced mamas don’t start their breastfeeding journey on the wrong foot with nipple trauma from poor latching. They need access to properly trained breastfeeding supporters who can signpost to more experienced/qualified supporters as needed (*newsflash* HCPs are often NOT qualified in breastfeeding support!). They need fast, accurate diagnosis AND treatment for any issues, like tongue-tie. They need protection from so-called support that scuppers their breastfeeding relationship. They need a shoulder to cry on, someone to say “you’re doing great”, someone to feed them and look after their children.
If they had all that, then we would be considering “women who can’t breastfeed” in the correct context. Rare. Needing exquisite support. But not a common, inescapable reason for PND.
If you’re concerned about PND and breastfeeding, call in the troops. Get your support networks set-up. And have that healing, protective breastfeeding journey I wish all women could experience.