Breastfeeding Supports and Protects Maternal Mental Health
On the heels of Mother’s Day and in an effort to recognize the seriousness of depression during and after pregnancy, May has been declared National Maternal Depression Awareness Month.
For many women and their families, pregnancy and the birth of a child are times of excitement and joy – that’s what most of us envision when someone is having a baby. However, for some women, it can be a sad, frightening, and isolating experience. Studies have shown that mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression impact as many as 15-20 percent of women during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
To make matters worse, women experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety while breastfeeding sometimes hear from their health-care providers that they'll have to wean in order to feel better, or even that breastfeeding causes depression. This is not the case, as , studies have shown that breastfeeding is protective of maternal mental health and stopping breastfeeding could actually result in increased postpartum depression symptoms.
It has been found, in fact, that breastfeeding mothers generally have less postpartum depression than non-breastfeeding mothers. Psychologically, breastfeeding releases oxytocin, a powerful antidepressant hormone produced in the pituitary gland in the brain. Oxytocin increases relaxation, lowers stress and anxiety, and lowers blood pressure. Oxytocin in an important hormone for new mothers because it fosters love, nurturing, and a strong emotional bond between mother and child.
Even for those mothers who choose to breastfeed, maternal health disorders can still occur and be a terrifying experience. If you feel that you are suffering from some form of maternal depression, consulting with your doctor is imperative. Talking with your OB/GYN or primary care specialist can help you to become connected with the proper psychiatrist and mental health treatment team, so don’t be afraid to reach out to your health care professional.
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