Depression linked to breastfeeding woes

UNC CHAPEL HILL (US) — Women who have breastfeeding difficulties in the first two weeks after giving birth often suffer postpartum depression within two months.

The findings, published online in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, illustrate that women with breastfeeding difficulties should be screened for depressive symptoms.

“We found that women who said they disliked breastfeeding were 42 percent more likely to experience postpartum depression at two months compared to women who liked breastfeeding,” says Stephanie Watkins, epidemiology doctoral student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and lead author of the study.

“We also found that women with severe breast pain at day one and also at two weeks postpartum were twice as likely to be depressed compared to women that did not experience pain with nursing.”

“We found that very commonly the same moms who were struggling with breastfeeding were also depressed,” says Alison Stuebe, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “There was a tremendous clinical overlap.”

For the study, researchers used data collected as part of the Infant Feeding and Practices Study II, and assessed the postpartum depression status of the 2,586 women in that study with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.

Of those women, 8.6 percent met the criteria for major depression two months after giving birth. Women who reported disliking breastfeeding during the first week were 1.42 times as likely to be depressed at two months. Women who reported severe breastfeeding pain on their first day were 1.96 times as likely to be depressed at two months.

The study provides a message for mothers, Stuebe says.

“If they’re struggling with breastfeeding, they should seek help and tell their provider. If they don’t have joy in their life, if they wake up in the morning and think, ‘I just can’t do this another day—that’s a medical emergency.

“They shouldn’t just say, ‘I’m going to power through this and snap out of it.’ They should call their provider and say, ‘ just don’t feel right, I’m wondering if I could be depressed, can I come in and talk to you about it?'”

More news from UNC-Chapel Hill:

chat4 Comments


  1. Lesley

    I can believe (and relate!) to that. Nothing makes a mother feel more like a failure than a chronically unhappy baby, particularly when they crying because they are hungry. Breast feeding is so hyped, for good reason, but nobody warns you how hard it can be. Having breastfed two, I am the first to say that it is oh so worth it, just don’t expect it to come naturally to you or your baby!

    I think too much negative is left out in doctor’s discussions and info on breast feeding, I think if more new Mom’s knew it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, especially at the beginning, there wouldn’t be less trying it-there would be less stopping because they are discouraged when it doesn’t happen like the pretty pamphlet said it would.

  2. sushanta

    If they (you) don’t have joy in their (your) life, if they (you) wake up in the morning and think, ‘I just can’t do this another day—that’s a medical emergency?

  3. Judith

    I would also be curious how their labors and births went since it appears that difficult labors, inductions, inductions leading to C/S sets motherbaby up for challenges with breastfeeding and self esteem

  4. carolyn

    Perhaps if there was less pressure to “succeed” at breast feeding women wouldn’t become depressed when it hurts, the baby won’t latch on, or there is a physiologic reason breastfeeding is not working. The last thing an exhausted and still healing new mother needs is the LaLeche League marching into her hospital room three times a day to tell her how to be a “better” mother.

We respect your privacy.