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Breastfeeding may lower women's risk of postpartum depression, study finds

Experts say women’s mental health is positively affected the longer they breastfeed

Photo (c) FatCamera - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Florida Atlantic University suggests that women who breastfeed may have a better chance of maintaining good mental health.

According to their findings, breastfeeding may be associated with a lower risk of postpartum depression. The team found that women were less likely to experience postpartum-related symptoms the longer they breastfed.

“Women suffering from postpartum depression, which occurs within four weeks and up to 12 months after childbirth, endure feelings of sadness, anxiety, and extreme fatigue that makes it difficult for them to function,” said researcher Christine Toledo, Ph.D. “Women with postpartum depression who are not treated also may have negative outcomes, including difficulty bonding with and caring for their children, thoughts of harming themselves or their infants, and are also at an increased risk of substance misuse.”

Mental health benefits associated with breastfeeding

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 30,000 women enrolled in the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) study. The women answered questions about their breastfeeding status, how long they breastfed, and their mental health. The researchers also accounted for things like smoking history, age, education, marital status, and race. 

Ultimately, the team found a link between breastfeeding and postpartum depression risk. They learned that women breastfeeding at the time of the study had a lower risk of developing postpartum depression. The study also showed that the duration of breastfeeding can play a role in women’s mental health after giving birth. Women had a lower risk of developing postpartum depression the longer they were breastfeeding. 

The researchers say these findings are important because of the significant toll that postpartum depression can have on women’s physical and mental health long-term. Not only are women at an increased risk of depression unrelated to childbirth for years to come, but they are also at a higher risk of developing serious health conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

Because of this, the researchers hope these findings can be put to use for pregnant women  -- especially those who may be at an increased risk of developing postpartum depression. 

“Findings from this important study suggest that breastfeeding is a cost efficient and healthy behavior that can decrease a woman’s risk for postpartum depression,” said researcher Safiya George, Ph.D. “Nurses in particular play an important role in educating and promoting both the maternal health benefits of breastfeeding and infant benefits such as providing necessary nutrients and protecting them against allergies, diseases, and infections.” 

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