Can Breastfeeding Cause Depression?

Postpartum depression is a common problem that affects a lot of women after they give birth, leaving many people to point fingers at breastfeeding as the cause of this problem.

While studies have shown that there is a relationship between postpartum depression and breastfeeding, this relationship isn’t yet clear. While there are a number of risk factors that will make it more likely that a woman will suffer from postpartum depression, it’s important to consider how breastfeeding plays into this.

While breastfeeding itself won’t cause a woman to become depressed, as it won’t affect a woman’s hormone levels in that way, there can be problems with breastfeeding that can easily exacerbate postpartum depression. While some women find that breastfeeding is easy, others really struggle, but feel outside pressure from others that they shouldn’t give up.

This pressure and stress that they need to be able to provide for their child even though it is incredibly difficult can cause a woman to suffer from depression. Anxiety over breastfeeding is very difficult to handle and will exacerbate postpartum depression. While breastfeeding won’t cause depression, it is closely linked to it, especially when a woman is struggling and feels like she is unable to breastfeed correctly.

How do you know if you have postpartum depression?

It is really common for new mothers to experience what is called “baby blues” after their baby arrives, the symptoms of which include anxiety, inexplicable crying, moodiness, and sleeping problems. You could say that this is caused by hormones, or it could be the product of the trauma and stress of giving birth and becoming a mother, or because you don’t sleep at all for several days. (Who wouldn’t start to act a little bit crazy when deprived of sleep for days on end). However, what is considered “normal” baby blues is supposed to clear up after a few weeks.

If the blues seem to extend beyond the first few weeks, you might have a case of postpartum depression. This isn’t something that is caused by breastfeeding (or breastfeeding success or failure), bad diet, poor sleep, struggles with the new baby, or any other external factors, though the external may make it hard to cope.

Postpartum depression can be mild or severe, but the key to it is that it doesn’t resolve after the arrival of your baby. Some really common symptoms of PPD include:

  • feelings of depression
  • crying
  • mood swings
  • desire to be alone
  • eating/food changes that seem extreme (not eating at all or eating too much)
  • overwhelming fatigue or lack of energy
  • reduced interest in activities you used to really like
  • irritability and anger
  • fear
  • hopelessness
  • feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness
  • panic attacks
  • thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby

There’s no ONE way to experience postpartum depression. You can experience a few, some, or even all of these. The key is to recognize that what is happening to you is something that other women aren’t going through, and isn’t part of the usual post-birth experience. Once you understand that what is happening to you isn’t normal, you can work towards getting help and getting through it.

When should you go see a doctor about possible postpartum depression?

Post-birth, you should be seeing your OB within a few weeks, but no later than six weeks. At that six week appointment, she’ll probably question you about your post-birth experience and mental health to screen you for postpartum depression. (this was my experience)

You may get phone calls from the hospital, nurses, or even your doctor in the days and weeks after the birth, but before your six week appointment. This is a good time to talk through how you are feeling, and get some guidance on how you are feeling, and whether you should seek additional medical help. (this was also my experience)

If you find that you are feeling really terrible two weeks post birth, don’t be afraid to schedule an earlier appointment with her to tell her how you are doing. This is especially the case if you are feeling strong feelings of self-harm or negative feelings about your baby, or if the symptoms you are experiencing are making it hard for you to care for your family.

Did you know that fathers can experience postpartum depression?

Yes, this was news to me too! I have no idea that new fathers experience depression post birth. They might feel sad or tired, feel overwhelmed or anxious, other experience many or all of the symptoms a new mother experiences.

This shouldn’t surprise me–a new baby means a ton of changes in the household and in the relationship between the parents. I think it is natural for both mother and father to have feelings about those changes, and not all of those feelings have to be positive.

It is normal for fathers to feel resentment towards the new baby, who now takes up all of the time and attention and love that he used to receive.

It is normal for both parents to struggle to be the best versions of themselves because they are under stress and pressure.

The days are long, but the years are short…

Having a new baby is hard. There is just no way around that. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get help. From family, friends, or medical professionals. There’s nothing weak about asking for help, and there’s no need to go through the experience alone. You don’t have to have the perfect post-delivery experience to be a great mom, and nothing about postpartum depression is your fault.

We are here for you, mom and dad. You’ll get through this. Today might feel really long, but in a few years, you’ll look back and wonder how time flew by.

For more info about breastfeeding, check out our Breastfeeding FAQs post: 100 Breastfeeding Tips For New Moms.

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