Besides the long-established benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mom, a new study reports one more: Nursing could help chase the blues away.
It is linked to a lower risk for postpartum depression — the so-called “baby blues” — and nursing for a longer time may further ease depression symptoms, according to the findings.
“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 senior study author Christine Toledo, an assistant professor in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University.
“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 infant, and also are at an increased risk of substance misuse,” Toledo said in a university news release.
Researchers from FAU and several other universities used a database of nearly 29,700 women in 26 states to examine breastfeeding and depression status.
Nearly 13% of the women were at risk of postpartum depression, the study found.
But women who were breastfeeding at the time of the study had a statistically significant lower risk of postpartum depression than those who were not.
The researchers also found a relationship between the length of breastfeeding and postpartum depression. Specifically, as the number of weeks of breastfeeding increased, the risk of depression decreased.
Postpartum depression is the greatest risk factor for maternal suicide and infanticide, the killing of a child within a year of birth.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 11% and 20% of new moms experience postpartum depression. With about 4 million births a year in the United States, that’s about 800,000 women affected.
Their risks go up as families grow.
Women who have experienced postpartum depression have a 50% higher risk of experiencing it with future pregnancies, according to the study. They also have a 25% increased risk of other depressive disorders for up to 11 years.
Postpartum depression also increases the risk of other health issues, including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
The findings were published recently in the journal Public Health Nursing.
The Office on Women’s Health has more on postpartum depression.
SOURCE: Florida Atlantic University, news release, Sept. 30, 2021