Breastfeeding and mental health

My husband feeding my daughter

Today I want to talk about a very delicate topic: breastfeeding.

We all know that milk produced by women is the best nutritional choice for newborn. Just to give you an example, recently, on Nature Zeng and collaborators published a very interesting paper regarding maternal milk and enteric diseases. Babies in developing countries often suffer from diarrhoeal episodes with high mortality rates. The researchers wanted to understand how maternal milk protect neonates from enteric infection. The experiments were made on mice and show that maternal antibodies, elicited by commensal microbiota, react with enteric pathogens and therefore protect the babies from diarrhoeal diseases.

Even though I knew the importance of breastfeeding, I made an uncommon, unconventional and pretty criticized choice: I decide to give my daughter artificial milk only.

My reason is quite simple: my mom died when I was 4.5 months pregnant, my mood was really low, some days I didn’t have the strength or desire to get up in the morning. I asked for professional help from a therapist and survived the pregnancy.

I was not in a good place.

The first thought I had after my C-section, was “I am free. My body is mine again”. I could not be the only caregiver for my daughter, I could not be the only person responsible for her sustenance.

That’s why I decided to use artificial milk:

to protect my mental health.

Today I will talk about the importance for newly mothers to keep their sanity while breastfeeding.

One of the most important things to do is seek support. I already talked about the impact of a community in a previous post. In 2016 Bridges analyzed the experience of mothers using Facebook groups linked to the Australian Breastfeeding Association. Results show that Facebook groups linked to Association provide immediate support, complements existing “offline” support and provide practical information.

Cooklin and collaborators studied the mood of 229 women 8 weeks after delivery. 20% of them had high burden of physical symptoms, due to caesarean, perineal, back pain and urinary incontinence. 20% of women had high burden of breastfeeding problems, due to mastitis, nipple pain, undersupply of milk. 11% of women had high burden of both problems. Women with high burden of breastfeeding problems were the ones with the lowest mood at 8 weeks. These results show how early and effective postnatal treatment of breastfeeding problems could reduce mother’s poor mental health.

To all the women and men out there, do your best for your children, but DO NOT forget your mental health!

References:

Bridges, “The faces of breastfeeding support: Experiences of mothers seeking breastfeeding support online”, (2016), 0729-2759

Cooklin et al., “Physical health, breastfeeding problems and maternal mood in the early postpartum: a prospective cohort study”, (2017), https://doi.org/10.1007/s00737-017-0805-y

Zheng et al., “Microbiota-targeted maternal antibodies protect neonates from enteric infection”, (2020), https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1898-4

Published by Martina Bodner

Biotechnologist, PhD Student in Food Chemistry, High school science teacher, STEM and autism advocate, mother.

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