Formula Feeding Moms Blamed For Their PPD, Of Course

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breastfeeding-motherGood news, new mothers of the world! If you’re suffering from the baby blues or full-blown post-partum depression, researchers want you to know: maybe you just could have tried harder at breastfeeding?

Recent research published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal digs into the effects of breastfeeding on depression in new mothers. The researchers involved in this study of almost 14,000 births found that while successfully breastfeeding could cut a woman’s risk of PPD in half, there were also some serious negative effects for those who tried to breastfeed but couldn’t. For women who wanted to nurse their newborns but weren’t able to for one reason or another, the risk of depression was more than twice as high as the baseline rate. And since more than 10% of women already find themselves dealing with the emotional wrecking ball that is PPD, doubling that number is pretty significant.

It’s not completely clear yet why depression rates depend so much on whether or not a woman successfully breastfeeds her baby. Scientists suspect that the flood of hormones like oxytocin and prolactin released during nursing might contribute to stabilizing Mom’s moods, and as for the negative effects, reading newspaper headlines about this study might be a big factor. The Daily Mail (always a bastion of good faith when it comes to women’s issues) is currently proclaiming that “Mothers who choose not to breastfeed are ‘twice as likely to get postnatal depression because they miss out on mood-boosting hormones released by the process'”, while the Telegraph is announcing that “Failing to breastfeed may double risk of depression in mothers”.

The societal pressure to breastfeed (but not for too long, and certainly not in public where you might inflict unspeakable horrors on unwitting passers-by!) can feel overwhelming, and the last thing women need is more fodder for the “you’re doing mothering wrong” cannons. The ten percent of already-struggling women out there who will be hearing and reading the reports of this study, especially after they’ve been filtered through the Daily Mail or its equivalent, are going to hear that their currently out-of-whack brain chemistry is something they could have fixed, if they’d tried harder, or if they’d wanted it more. And that’s the last thing they need.

Breastfeeding is a choice – not the right choice for everyone, but a valid one – and it’s a choice loaded down with a lot of social pressure that generally doesn’t come along with very much social support. New moms need to know that they have the space to do what’s best for the baby and for themselves – and that space gets a little smaller every time someone points out the reasons they should have tried harder and all the things they coulda, shoulda done to avoid “failing” at breastfeeding.