Postpartum depression: Can nursing lessen its impact?

I experienced mild depression after the birth of my first two babies. It seemed to resolve as breastfeeding became established, around six to eight weeks postpartum. I had severe clinical postpartum depression after my third baby. I tried to endure the panic, sleeplessness and tears until around nine weeks when I finally asked for help. Can breastfeeding actually help prevent postpartum depression, or at least lessen its impact?


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Postpartum depression "baby blues" hits between 50 and 80 percent of all mothers. When these issues begin to interfere with a mother's ability to take care of her baby and her daily tasks, it is time to seek professional help. It takes a toll on everyone, especially the baby, who may also begin to show signs of depression, keeping his chin down on his chest and avoiding eye contact.

Breastfeeding may indeed decrease the rate of PPD, or lessen its impact.

It is known that abrupt weaning (or not nursing following a baby's birth) can cause drastic changes in a mother's hormone levels, which may bring on sadness and even depression. Weaning should be done gradually, especially in mothers who are prone to PPD.

The breastfeeding relationship can be especially important for a mother experiencing PPD. She may feel that it is the one thing she is able to do right.

Counseling and medication, if needed, can help a mother effectively deal with her depression. Many mothers also find support from Postpartum Support International (1-800-944-4PPD). This organization provides education, information, and referral for women and families coping with mental health issues through pregnancy and the postpartum period.

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