Scientists from the University of Massachusetts in the United States recently found that breastfeeding is associated with an overall improvement in maternal mental health. However, difficulties experienced while breastfeeding, or a mismatch between feeding expectations and reality, can negatively impact mothers’ mental health outcomes. The review was recently published in the Women’s Health Journal.
Breastfeeding is known to have a positive impact on the health of infants. It helps improve the immune system, reduce the risk of childhood cancer and metabolic disorders, improve cognitive development and prevent sudden infant death syndrome. According to the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), an infant should be breastfed for at least 6 months after birth.
In addition to bonding mother and newborn, breastfeeding can also have a positive impact on mothers’ health. It helps with weight loss after pregnancy, protects against diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease and reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Even though they knew the benefits of breastfeeding, some mothers could not do it for many reasons. The most common reasons are lack of milk production, pain during breastfeeding, insufficient latch and employment needs/obligations. The inability to breastfeed can induce guilt and stress in mothers, which can negatively impact their mental health.
In the current study, the scientists analyzed the existing literature on breastfeeding and maternal mental health, intending to determine breastfeeding-related mental health outcomes among mothers in the year following childbirth. .
They initially collected 1,110 articles from different electronic databases. After extensive screening, they selected a total of 55 articles for final analysis. The studies selected were from 25 different countries, with sample sizes ranging from 29 participants to over 180,000 participants.
Impact of breastfeeding on maternal mental health
A significant association between breastfeeding and mental health was reported by 36 studies; of which 29 said breastfeeding is associated with fewer mental health symptoms, one said an association with increased mental health problems, and 6 said 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 of 186,452 participants reported that breastfeeding is not associated with postpartum depression. A considerable number of studies have reported a significant association of breastfeeding with a reduction in postpartum depression.
Regarding post-pregnancy anxiety, four studies have reported that breastfeeding reduces the risk of anxiety and associated hospitalization. With respect to other mental health conditions, the large cohort study found no significant association between breastfeeding and the risk of hospitalization due to adjustment disorder or developmental disorder. the personality.
However, the study had indicated that mothers who do not breastfeed have a higher risk of hospitalization in the year following childbirth due to bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. One study reported that exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.
A total of eight studies reported that mental health outcomes after pregnancy are associated with breastfeeding difficulties, including lack of milk supply, latching problems, breast infection or pain, and negative emotions. during breastfeeding. Similarly, five studies reported that mothers with physical or other difficulties breastfeeding have a higher risk of mental disorders, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Regarding breastfeeding self-efficacy, four studies reported that fear or dissatisfaction with breastfeeding is significantly associated with a higher risk of depression. Mothers with higher self-efficacy had longer breastfeeding duration (more than six months postpartum).
Studies investigating the combined impact of breastfeeding difficulties and self-efficacy have reported that mothers with higher self-efficacy and fewer difficulties are more likely to continue exclusive breastfeeding for longer than six months. after childbirth. In general, breastfeeding difficulties were found to independently increase the risk of depression.
Significance of the study
The study points out that breastfeeding, in general, improves the mental health conditions of mothers. However, mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding or who are dissatisfied are at higher risk for negative mental health outcomes. Personalized breastfeeding advice from clinicians can help reduce the risk of developing mental health problems.