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The first two weeks after giving birth appears to be an important time in the association between breastfeeding and postpartum depression.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina studied 2,586 women who had breastfed. A history of postpartum major depression score was reported by 223 of them. Women who had disliked breastfeeding in that first week after delivery were 42% more likely to experience postpartum depression at 2 months when compared with women who liked breastfeeding in that first week. Women who had severe breast pain with breastfeeding anytime from day 1 postpartum through the second week postpartum were about twice as likely to experience postpartum depression by 2 months postpartum as women with no breastfeeding breast pain. Women were less likely to continue breastfeeding once they had the onset of postpartum depression. Unfortunately, lactation education did not offer any helpful protective effect unless it had occurred while the woman and infant were still in the hospital, and even with those women who did receive some benefit, while in the hospital, it was only small and only for those with moderate to severe breast pain related to nursing.

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Commentary: Major depression during pregnancy is common, affecting between 10% and 20% of pregnant women. Untreated maternal depression increases the risk of negative pregnancy outcomes. Some consider postpartum depression to be the most under-recognized, under-diagnosed, and under-treated obstetrical complication in America. Health care practitioners can reduce this problem by screening for depression in early postpartum, in pregnant women and in women planning for pregnancy. In addition, breastfeeding support should be commonplace and even more strategic in new mothers who are exhibiting symptoms of depression. Fortunately, there are numerous botanicals and nutraceuticals that can be used to enhance lactation, decrease breast pain during breastfeeding, and to treat depression in non-pregnant, pregnant and postpartum women.

Reference

Watkins S, Meltzer-Brody S, Zolnoun D, Stuebe A. Early breastfeeding experiences and postpartum depression. Obstet Gynecol. 2011; 118(2 Pt 1): 214-221.

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