Breastfeeding is associated with improved maternal mental health

Scientists from the University of Massachusetts, USA, have recently found that breastfeeding is associated with improved maternal mental health overall. However, difficulties experienced during breastfeeding, or a mismatch between feeding expectation and reality, can negatively impact the mental health outcomes of mothers. The review has recently been published in the Journal of Women’s Health.


Breastfeeding is known to have a positive effect on the health of children. It helps improve the immune system, reduce the risk of pediatric cancer and metabolic disorders, improve cognitive development, and prevent sudden infant death syndrome. According to the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), a child should be breastfed for at least 6 months after birth.

In addition to creating a bond between mother and newborn, breastfeeding can also have a positive effect on the mother’s health. It helps in weight loss after pregnancy, protects against diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Despite knowing the benefits of breastfeeding, some mothers are unable to do so for various reasons. The most common reasons are lack of milk supply, perceived pain during breastfeeding, inadequate latching, and employment needs/commitments. Inability to breastfeed can cause guilt and stress in mothers, which can have a negative impact on their mental health.

In the current study, scientists analyzed the existing literature on breastfeeding and maternal mental health with the aim of determining breastfeeding-related mental health outcomes for mothers within one year of delivery.

Study design

They initially collected 1,110 articles from various electronic databases. After extensive screening, they selected a total of 55 articles for final analysis. The selected studies were from 25 different countries, with sample sizes ranging from 29 participants to more than 180,000 participants.

Impact of breastfeeding on maternal mental health

36 studies reported a significant association between breastfeeding and mental health; Of these, 29 reported that breastfeeding was associated with fewer mental health symptoms, one reported an association with increased mental health problems, and 6 reported a mixed association with mental health problems.

Regarding post-pregnancy depression, 34 of 52 studies found a significant association with breastfeeding. A large cohort study conducted on 186,452 participants reported that breastfeeding was not associated with postpartum depression. A significant number of studies have reported a significant association of breastfeeding with reduced postpartum depression.

Regarding post-pregnancy anxiety, four studies reported that breastfeeding reduced the risk of anxiety and associated hospitalizations. Regarding other mental health conditions, large cohort studies have found no significant association between breastfeeding and risk of hospitalization for adjustment disorders or personality disorders.

However, studies have shown that mothers who do not breastfeed have a higher risk of being hospitalized for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia within a year of giving birth. A study suggests that exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Breastfeeding challenges

A total of eight studies reported that postpregnancy mental health outcomes were associated with breastfeeding problems, including lack of milk supply, latching problems, breast infection or pain, and negative emotions during feeding. Similarly, five studies reported that mothers with physical or other challenges to breastfeeding are at increased risk of mental disorders, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Regarding breastfeeding self-efficacy, four studies reported that fear or dissatisfaction with breastfeeding was significantly associated with a higher risk of depression. Mothers with higher self-efficacy had longer duration of breastfeeding (more than six months postpartum).

Studies on the combined effects of breastfeeding difficulties and self-efficacy have shown that mothers with high self-efficacy and low difficulties are more likely to breastfeed exclusively for more than six months postpartum. In general, breastfeeding difficulties independently increase the risk of depression.

Study significance

The study highlights that breastfeeding, in general, improves the mental health conditions of mothers. However, mothers with breastfeeding difficulties or dissatisfaction are at higher risk of negative mental health outcomes. Personalized breastfeeding counseling by clinicians may help reduce the risk of developing mental health problems.

Does breastfeeding improve mental health?

In general, breastfeeding experience has been associated with improved cognitive abilities, facilitated brain development, and a reduced risk for antisocial behaviors and atypical social development including ASD.

Does breastfeeding affect mothers mental health?

Consequently, breastfeeding mothers are more likely to report positive mood, less anxiety, and increased calm compared to formula feeding mothers (1, 8). Beyond the psychological benefits, breastfeeding provides substantial nutritional, cognitive, emotional, and immunologic benefits for the infants and their mothers.

What are 5 benefits of breastfeeding for mothers?

  • Reducing her risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Reducing her breast cancer risk.
  • Reducing her ovarian cancer risk.
  • Producing oxytocin, which helps contract the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size.
  • Burning calories and using mom’s fat stores for her breast milk.

Does breastfeeding mitigate maternal depression?

Women who were currently breastfeeding at the time of data collection had statistically significant lower risk of postpartum depression (PPD) than women who were not breastfeeding. As the number of weeks that women breastfed increased, their PPD decreased.

Why is breastfeeding so important?

Breast milk helps keep your baby healthy.

It supplies all the necessary nutrients in the proper proportions. It protects against allergies, sickness, and obesity. It protects against diseases, like diabetes and cancer. It protects against infections, like ear infections.

What is the 10 importance of breastfeeding?

Breast milk helps your baby fight off sickness and disease.

This protection is even more important if your baby is born early (premature). Breastfeeding helps reduce the chance your baby will: have diarrhea, ear infections or lung infections. die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Why is breastfeeding so comforting?

What is comfort nursing or comfort sucking? Babies breastfeed for reasons other than just for food or to quench their thirst. Babies breastfeed to feel safe, to calm down, to warm up, for reassurance, to connect with mother, for pain relief, to fall asleep and because they love to suck.

What are the side effects of breastfeeding?

  • Sore or cracked nipples. Sore nipples usually happens because your baby is not well positioned and attached at the breast. …
  • Not enough breast milk. …
  • Breast engorgement. …
  • Baby is not latching on properly. …
  • Too much breast milk. …
  • Breastfeeding and thrush. …
  • Blocked milk duct. …
  • Mastitis.

How does exclusive breastfeeding affect risk of postpartum depression?

Bottom line. Risk of postpartum depression (PPD) is decreased with exclusive breastfeeding, particularly in patients who express an interest in doing so before delivery. Patients with prenatal depression also have lower rates of PPD if they breastfeed.

Why do babies love breastfeeding so much?

Lactose (milk sugar), the main carbohydrate in breastmilk, is distinctly higher than in cow’s milk, making it very sweet, and providing the energy required for rapidly growing brains and the development of the infant’s central nervous system. Breastmilk is supremely digestible.

When do babies stop smelling breast milk?

Although the newborn scent eventually fades (usually around six weeks of age) many parents (including this one) are known to take a deep whiff of their child’s head (regardless of their age) and savor the unique scent and comfort it provides you.

What are 5 disadvantages of breastfeeding?

  • Adjustment period and pain. The early weeks of breastfeeding are often the most difficult. …
  • The benefits may be exaggerated. The benefits of breastfeeding, especially the cognitive benefits, may be exaggerated. …
  • Loss of bodily autonomy. …
  • Lack of social support. …
  • Uneven distribution of parenting work.

What are the four advantages of breastfeeding?

Breastfed babies have:

Fewer colds and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and whooping cough. Fewer ear infections, especially those that damage hearing. Fewer cases of bacterial meningitis. Better vision and less retinopathy of prematurity.

Is breastfeeding positive or negative feedback?

Breastfeeding is also a positive feedback loop; as the baby suckles, the mother’s pituitary gland produces more of the hormone prolactin, which causes more milk to be produced.

 Read more from Real Health World

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