Summary: A new systemic review concludes a positive association between breastfeeding and overall maternal mental health. The study found women who breastfeed have a significantly decreased risk of postpartum depression.
Source: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc
A new systemic review of the literature examines the effects of breastfeeding on maternal mental health to inform breastfeeding recommendations.
The results of this study are published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Women’s Health.
Megan Yuen and Olivia Hall, from the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, and colleagues, found that overall, breastfeeding was associated with improved maternal mental health outcomes.
However, if a mother experiences difficulties breastfeeding or differences between her expectations and her actual experience, breastfeeding was associated with negative mental health outcomes.
Of 36 studies that found a statistically significant relationship between breastfeeding and mental health, 29 of those found that breastfeeding was associated with fewer mental health symptoms, and one found that breastfeeding was associated with increased maternal mental health symptoms.
Of 34 studies that found a statistically significant relationship between breastfeeding and symptoms of postpartum depression, 28 studies found that breastfeeding was associated with a decreased risk of postpartum depression symptoms.
“To help clinicians personalize breastfeeding and mental health counseling, it is important to recognize that while breastfeeding is generally associated with improved maternal mental health, if can have negative mental health consequences if the mother experiences breastfeeding challenges or the experience does not meet her expectations,” says Journal of Women’s Health Editor-in-Chief Susan G. Kornstein, MD, Executive Director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Institute for Women’s Health, Richmond, VA.
About this breastfeeding and mental health research news
The Effects of Breastfeeding on Maternal Mental Health: A Systematic Review
Background: Breastfeeding has many positive effects on the health of infants and mothers, however, the effect of breastfeeding on maternal mental health is largely unknown. The goal of this systematic review was to (1) synthesize the existing literature on the effects of breastfeeding on maternal mental health, and (2) inform breastfeeding recommendations.
Materials and Methods: A literature search was conducted in electronic databases using search terms related to breastfeeding (e.g., breastfeeding, infant feeding practices) and mental health conditions (e.g., mental illness, anxiety, depression), resulting in 1,110 records. After reviewing article titles and abstracts, 339 articles were advanced to full-text review. Fifty-five articles were included in the final analysis.
Results: Thirty-six studies reported significant relationships between breastfeeding and maternal mental health outcomes, namely symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety: 29 found that breastfeeding is associated with fewer mental health symptoms, one found it was associated with more, and six reported a mixed association between breastfeeding and mental health. Five studies found that breastfeeding challenges were associated with a higher risk of negative mental health symptoms.
Conclusions: Overall, breastfeeding was associated with improved maternal mental health outcomes. However, with challenges or a discordance between breastfeeding expectations and actual experience, breastfeeding was associated with negative mental health outcomes. Breastfeeding recommendations should be individualized to take this into account. Further research, specifically examining the breastfeeding experiences of women who experienced mental health conditions, is warranted to help clinicians better personalize breastfeeding and mental health counseling.