Expert Advice

Postpartum Depression and Breastfeeding

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Your postpartum days after baby comes are a challenge. Period. In the best of births there’s still the exhaustion, the myriad things to manage, the newness of it all. For those of us who have just finished the marathon of a very challenging delivery—and perhaps the chucking of all our birth preferences into the wastebasket of OB surgical—postpartum depression (PPD) and breastfeeding can be two sides of an overwhelming coin.

Planning your birth is a work of hope and anticipation. When that vision doesn’t happen and your birth plan is just a piece of paper, sometimes it’s very hard to accept.

When we attach our sense of strength, goodness, or intelligence to something as uncontrollable as birth events, the burden of shame and insecurity can take on so much power it overwhelms us. PPD can be the result.

Statistics say that 9-16% of new moms deal with significant or severe depression after the birth of their child.

Even mothers with perfect births can experience PPD.

Mothers with single or multiple new babies can feel it. Moms in perfect marriages or in no relationship at all can deal with it. Even fathers can be affected with it.

If this is you, you are not alone. You can reach out for help, get through this time, and emerge on the other, brighter side.

The “baby blues” hit a lot of women within a few days after birth because of the radical shift of hormones and all the newness. This sense of “OMG, what have I gotten into?” is very common. But it passes fairly quickly.

Severe postpartum depression (also known as postnatal depression) is serious, lasts longer than a couple of weeks, can hit anytime within the first year[1] (some even say two years). And, it can affect breastfeeding and bonding with your new baby.

  Research shows that PPD can change:

  • your decision to start breastfeeding
  • your commitment to keep breastfeeding
  • your ability to manage breastfeeding challenges
  • your body’s ability to produce milk
  • your comfort with breastfeeding

Women who have pain with breastfeeding are much more likely to develop PPD and give up breastfeeding, no matter how much they wanted to do it. Pain can produce depression that produces stress hormones that produce lower milk supply.

But those women who received help with breastfeeding were much more likely to overcome the challenges and go on to successfully breastfeed.

Things to try:

  • Call a lactation consultant for help fixing baby’s latch, which is the most common cause of pain during nursing
  • Hire a postpartum doula for help settling family, home, and baby
  • Go to LLLI meetings for information and support
  • Talk to your care provider
  • Attend new mother support groups
  • Exercise and get out in the sun
  • Use conscious relaxation to turn off depressive self-talk
  • Let your partner, family, friends help you so you can rest

If none of these work and your depression lasts for longer than two weeks, it’s time to talk to a psychotherapist and possibly take medications. There are medications that nursing mothers can safely take while breastfeeding: Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, tricyclic antidepressants, and Lithium are some of the safe drugs for breastfeeding mothers, according to Dr. Jack Newman.[2]

What if I no longer want to breastfeed?

 Breastfeeding is the healthiest way to feed your baby.

But whether or not a woman does that has turned into yet another way women are judged — and judge themselves. Guilt doesn’t grow healthy babies and it makes mothers feel like failures.

But babies can and have grown for decades on other sources of food besides mama’s milk. If breastfeeding isn’t what you want, you have other choices.

Yes, breast is best. But a happy, healthy baby is the best thing of all.


[1] Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, and Teresa Pitman. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. (Ballantine Books, NY, 2010), 415.

[2] Jack Newman, M.D. and Teresa Pitman. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. (Three Rivers Press, NY, 2006), 193-196.

To learn more about postpartum support, download our free Birth Plan eBook now. After three years of research, collaboration with more than 100 childbirth experts and resource centers from Healthy Child Healthy World to the American Association of Neonatal Nurses, the Best Ever Baby Birth Plan Guide is available for a free download.

This new resource for pregnant families is a compilation of top tips and advice from more than 20 nationally-recognized experts in the field including renowned pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene and GraceFull Birthing founder, midwife Elizabeth Bachner. These trusted experts offer thoughtful guidance for whatever type of birthing experience parents want, in whichever setting they choose.

Published: January 25, 2017 | By SP Turgon, Certified Labor Doula | Reviewed by: The Best Ever Baby Expert Team | Last reviewed: January, 2017


Sabriga TurgonPostpartum Depression and Breastfeeding

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