breastfeeding

Formula Feeding Moms Blamed For Their PPD, Of Course

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breastfeeding-motherGood news, new mothers of the world! If you’re suffering from the baby blues or full-blown post-partum depression, researchers want you to know: maybe you just could have tried harder at breastfeeding?

Recent research published in the Maternal and Child Health Journal digs into the effects of breastfeeding on depression in new mothers. The researchers involved in this study of almost 14,000 births found that while successfully breastfeeding could cut a woman’s risk of PPD in half, there were also some serious negative effects for those who tried to breastfeed but couldn’t. For women who wanted to nurse their newborns but weren’t able to for one reason or another, the risk of depression was more than twice as high as the baseline rate. And since more than 10% of women already find themselves dealing with the emotional wrecking ball that is PPD, doubling that number is pretty significant.

It’s not completely clear yet why depression rates depend so much on whether or not a woman successfully breastfeeds her baby. Scientists suspect that the flood of hormones like oxytocin and prolactin released during nursing might contribute to stabilizing Mom’s moods, and as for the negative effects, reading newspaper headlines about this study might be a big factor. The Daily Mail (always a bastion of good faith when it comes to women’s issues) is currently proclaiming that “Mothers who choose not to breastfeed are ‘twice as likely to get postnatal depression because they miss out on mood-boosting hormones released by the process'”, while the Telegraph is announcing that “Failing to breastfeed may double risk of depression in mothers”.

The societal pressure to breastfeed (but not for too long, and certainly not in public where you might inflict unspeakable horrors on unwitting passers-by!) can feel overwhelming, and the last thing women need is more fodder for the “you’re doing mothering wrong” cannons. The ten percent of already-struggling women out there who will be hearing and reading the reports of this study, especially after they’ve been filtered through the Daily Mail or its equivalent, are going to hear that their currently out-of-whack brain chemistry is something they could have fixed, if they’d tried harder, or if they’d wanted it more. And that’s the last thing they need.

Breastfeeding is a choice – not the right choice for everyone, but a valid one – and it’s a choice loaded down with a lot of social pressure that generally doesn’t come along with very much social support. New moms need to know that they have the space to do what’s best for the baby and for themselves – and that space gets a little smaller every time someone points out the reasons they should have tried harder and all the things they coulda, shoulda done to avoid “failing” at breastfeeding.

42 Comments

  1. Lilly

    August 20, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Well this is somewhat depressing but I can see it being true. The moms i met who really wanted to BF but couldn’t were really saddened by that outcome. I could see that if they were on the brink of PPD or already experiencing it, this could push them further (straw that broke the camel’s back kind of thing).
    I am curious about the successful BF side mitigating PPD occurrence, I wonder if there would be a way to mimic the hormones as a way of reducing the chance of PPD in mothers who would be at risk?

  2. Bethany Ramos

    August 20, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Science mom FTW!

  3. Ellefont

    August 20, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I EP’ed for nine months for my two very preemie twins who never learned to latch. I was responsible for gallons upon gallons of moo. I also still had wicked PPD.

    I’ll bet that it’s more about having a happy, healthy baby who loves to cuddle and a job/life schedule that lets you devote the time to nurse with your baby than the actual breastfeeding.

    • NotTakenNotAvailable

      August 20, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      Yeah, that’s the problem with a lot of early infancy studies in general–many don’t factor in important stuff like the parents’ education, income, neighborhood, support network, etc.

    • ChillMama

      August 20, 2014 at 8:04 pm

      Yes!! Support network is HUGE.

  4. Ms.Anne'sNotoriousLadygarden

    August 20, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    I successfully breastfed for 20 months and I’m pretty sure it made my (undiagnosed) PPD worse, especially in the beginning when it was almost constant. Am I the only one who didn’t experience the oxytocin high when nursing? I just felt panicked and grossed out and resentful and desperate. It sucked (Ha! see what I did there?)

    • LittleBird

      August 20, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      Sounds like my experience with D-MER. (dysphoric milk ejection reflex) which is all kinds of awful to deal with 🙁 anxious feelings, fear, tearfulness, etc. while breastfeeding. Not necessarily while lactating, literally while breastfeeding. I am still breasfeeding my 16 month old, and didn’t know this was a thing until I googled “feeling nervous feelings during letdown.” It was this intense feeling of dread that would quickly pass, but it was scary. I noticed it every time my baby latched on, which in the early days, was like 20x a day…My OB had never even heard of it. If that feeling didn’t go away, I would’ve stopped looong ago, but thankfully it disappeared slowly. Some women experience D-MER and mistake it for PPD, or you can have both. It has something to do with the hormonal cascade during letdown, I think? A woman with D-MER doesn’t respond the same way/uptake the feel-good parts “properly” to experience that oxytocin rush you mentioned. It sucks indeed!

    • sweetlifevb

      August 20, 2014 at 4:19 pm

      Fellow D-MER sufferer here. Everything described sounds just like what I went through. Doula had never heard of it. Ms. Anne I urge you to research it. I couldn’t figure out why life when from great to me plunging in to a despair I had never know before everytime I would nurse.

    • Ms.Anne'sNotoriousLadygarden

      August 20, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Thanks for the info! I looked it up and it sounds really familiar, except that mine lasted more than a few minutes, and seems more like “breastfeeding aversion” that is only supposed to affect women who are nursing toddlers or pregnant while nursing. Ugh. I didn’t even want to mention it to anyone because I felt like there was something really wrong with me, especially since everyone I knew was all about that “breastfeeding high” that women supposedly get. It’s one of the reasons I decided I only wanted one kid– I dreaded the very thought of breastfeeding again.

    • LittleBird

      August 20, 2014 at 8:45 pm

      Man that sounds rough! I know what you mean about feeling like your experience had to be a secret. On top of being told women “have to” ljust LOOOOVE breastfeeding, I’ve also come to hate another harmful message constantly given to new moms: that they will “fall instantly in love” with their baby or else. It’s so much pressure. In both cases, I think that women who don’t feel those “highs” have to pretend, which just shuts down conversations like this about how different we all are. You are not alone! 🙂

    • Notpenny'sboat

      August 21, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      My D-MER effects could last as long as an hour, especially while pumping. One day, my mom and I were talking babies, and she said breast feeding was the calmest and happiest time of her life. It was like having someone tell you the sky was green and everyone else agrees so you go along with it. Articles like this one make me so upset because stopping breast feeding freed me from an emotional roller coaster and helped me be the mom I wanted to be.

    • Ms.Anne'sNotoriousLadygarden

      August 22, 2014 at 10:40 am

      Yes! That is the best description.I always looked at people who talked about how great nursing was like they were speaking an alien language. My quality of life and my relationship with my kid drastically improved once I stopped nursing. I was no longer an emotional wreck, dreading bedtime and naptime and any other nursing time, and I could focus on parenting so much more calmly. I could rock him to sleep and sing him songs without panicking and wanted to scream and run away. So much better.

    • Rachel Sea

      August 20, 2014 at 7:27 pm

      People’s brains give them hormones differently. Most people get an oxytocin rush to some degree, but not everyone, just like how lots of people get endorphin rushes from exercise, but for others of us it’s all bullshit, all the time.

  5. jendra_berri

    August 20, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    You know, being unable to do something that is “the most important thing you can do for your baby” because “breast is best” can feel like a moral failure. You’re obviously not doing the best thing, giving something second class if the above statements are so true, and you hear them all the time. Why a woman would feel depressed about a failure to deliver the goods is only hard to understand for the most obtuse.
    It’s not because you’re not getting the important hormones. It’s because you’re surrounded by assholes.

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  6. shel

    August 20, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    Breastfeeding is f-ing hard for a lot of people… the lactation fairies don’t really tell you that… just that it’s natural and it’s best and blah blah blah… so if you suck at it, or rather have a baby who has a bad suck… that definitely can contribute to depressive feelings.
    All of the pressure to breast feed and then failing at it is bound to make people feel bad. I did it successfully, but it was really hard at first and you can bet I was crying my eyes out in the beginning. Thankfully I never experienced anything close to PPD, but I can see how that pressure and the difficulty of breast feeding could most certainly make things worse for new mom’s who are unable to do it. There is way too much pressure about breast feeding.
    Feed your kid breast milk or formula and it’s all good!

    • ted3553

      August 20, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      I think a contributor to the PPD is that you can’t do something you really wanted to and society says that you’re not trying hard enough at it or that you’re doing it wrong.

    • ChillMama

      August 20, 2014 at 8:06 pm

      Or, for panic sufferers like me, that your baby is crying from hunger, yet you cannot get them to latch. Horrible feeling.

  7. ALE515

    August 20, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    I suffered from severe depression for 8 years. I’m not cured obviously, but I’m better than I was. I worried about PPD after having my son. Luckily, so far so good. But I think if the feeding fell on me all of the time (I’d be bad at pumping) that I’d feel so tired and worn out that my depression could rear it’s ugly head worse than before. You don’t know what women go through or what they want. Stop making them feel bad! Live and let live…

  8. WhoremonalCrazyLotusSlugalo

    August 20, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    Breastfed. Had PPD….and I’m not even close to the only one among my BF’ing group of friends & family (the BF’ing meant “breastfeeding”, not “big fucking”..just clarifying).

  9. Youthier

    August 20, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    I nursed for 7 months. When I gave up, I felt guilty and terrible for three days. After I got over my guilt, I felt like a new person. I truly enjoyed being with my son, I no longer obsessed about everything I put in my mouth, I could sleep through the night sometimes.

    I want to nurse this next one at least 6 months but with a three year old at home, I don’t know if I can be that beaten down, depressed person willingly.

  10. Larkin

    August 20, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Wait… am I missing something here? It looks to me like a study discovered that breastfeeding successfully can reduce the risk of PPD, while trying and not succeeding can increase the risk of PPD. How is that information somehow shaming women for not breastfeeding? Unless the study ended with, “So you’d better breastfeed, and do it right, you lame, selfish moms,” then it’s just data that moms can take in and consider to make their own choices. Honestly, considering how debilitating PPD can be, it seems like it might be useful information to have no matter what you choose to do.

    Just because a study is about breastfeeding, doesn’t automatically mean it’s shaming formula-feeding moms.

    • LittleBird

      August 20, 2014 at 4:44 pm

      I was thinking the same thing as you. What I had gathered from this research is that the “right” hormonal balance which allows for “successful breastfeeding/lactation” (I hate that term) might also mean you are also more likely to possess the “right” hormonal and chemical balance instead of having an imbalance and also PPD. (The whole “correlation does not equal causation” thing.)

      I didn’t think it was particularly shaming the way people feed their babies, and this is coming from a mom who seriously struggled to breastfeed for a very long time. (Tongue tied, lip tied, reflux-y “high needs” baby who wouldn’t take a bottle, over active and very painful letdown, flat nipples, mastitis, d-mer, etc. etc. for myself)

      Science Mom, halp explain?

    • LittleBird

      August 20, 2014 at 4:50 pm

      Wanted to edit to add, the daily mail response to this info *definitely* are formula-shamey, however, and that’s not ok!

    • AP

      August 20, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      It strikes me that it’s saying, “Try breastfeeding. If it works, it will help you. If it doesn’t work, don’t beat yourself up about it.”

    • Notpenny'sboat

      August 21, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      I agree with you about the study. It’s the way the media grabs hold of the article and spins certain points that annoys me.

  11. Williwaw

    August 20, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    It doesn’t look to me like this research proved any causal relationships between not breastfeeding and postpartum depression, only correlations. Just because A and B happen together a statistically significant part of the time does not mean that A caused B or B caused A. Maybe the lack of postpartum depression increases a woman’s likelihood to continue breastfeeding longer. Maybe women who breastfeed have better family/friend support, and it is the support, not the actual breastfeeding, that promote less PPD. Maybe women an increased likelihood of breastfeeding correlates positively with age or youth or education or socioeconomic group or geographic location or health or some unidentified aspect of blood or brain chemistry. I would assume the original research corrected for at least some of these factors, but it would be difficult or impossible to correct for all of them, especially since some might be unknown. I would hope the original authors of the research noted that they were identifying correlation, not causation. It sucks that often, when scientific research is reported in the popular press, the press writes as if a cause has been proven. No, a correlation has been demonstrated.

  12. K.

    August 20, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I think that the more infuriating thing about reportage on these studies is that the conclusion always seems to presume that the ONLY choice at hand is whether a woman breastfeeds. There seems to be no consciousness at all as to the myriad of things going on in a woman’s life that would have an affect on their choice to breastfeed, as well as the effects of breastfeeding on her. I’ll skip the many things that would affect the choice to breastfeed and go with where the study concludes breastfeeding could alleviate PPD. Suggesting that breastfeeding lowers the risk of PPD is a dangerous sort of conclusion because it’s a conclusion that does not take certain realities into account, such as the fact that if breastfeeding makes life stressful for women in other ways–such as pumping exacerbating work stress or breastfeeding causing lack of sleep/not eating enough–that mean it’s also got the chance of contributing to depression and PPD. For me, as a new mom, breastfeeding intruded upon my social life as I was less likely to go out; for some women I know, breastfeeding was a factor that encouraged them to stay at home for a prolonged maternity leave–during which time they suffered profound loneliness and isolation.

    But the bigger issue is the implication that breastfeeding (or not breastfeeding) is the cause and cure for depression. A woman doesn’t ‘give herself’ depression by choosing formula and she cannot ‘cure’ her own depression by breastfeeding. The study itself doesn’t say that, but that’s the sort of take-home that erupts from this kind of article, and, when combined with the existing medical sexism pervading our culture, it’s a really poor message.

    The REAL message to women suffering from PPD should be that breastfeeding is irrelevant to their condition. What has relevance is the fact they have the condition, that they need not be ashamed of it, and there are concrete, real medical solutions to the problem, in the form of both therapy and medication. The breastfeeding association, in terms of its significance to the everyday mother (versus its significance to actual scientists), is simply a distraction of these facts, and a dangerous one at that.

    • ChillMama

      August 20, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      As someone who had to give up breast feeding due to PPD, thank you!!

  13. Maggie J

    August 20, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    I tried very hard to breastfeed, but wasn’t successful- we think it had to do with my son’s stay in the NICU, when I (or anyone else) weren’t allowed to hold him. So I pumped constantly for 10 months- AND IT SUCKED SO BAD. AND I still had PPD- made worse by people spewing bullshit like “only 1% of women can’t breastfeed” or “you don’t try hard enough.” If you have ever said anything like that to woman struggling to breastfeed, you are a bad person. It’s terrible to make people feel worse about a decision they didn’t even want to have to make.

  14. kay

    August 20, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    And here I was thinking my total isolation and cheating husband had something to do with it!

    • ChillMama

      August 20, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      If you truly are going through that, then please do talk to someone. You CAN do this!

    • kay

      August 21, 2014 at 11:24 am

      It was what I went through when my son was born. Luckily, I have an amazing family that helped me through and I was able to ditch the husband!

  15. Laurel

    August 20, 2014 at 6:32 pm

    I have five kids, breast fed three for six months, the others were on formula from day one. Personal reasons. They are all teens and tweens now – if anyone can guess which is who – oh wait. You can’t. They don’t even know. They are all healthy happy kids. The end. I wish we would all stop shaming women for choices.

    • Jayamama

      August 29, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      I’ve decided that it’s really impossible to tell which babies were fed which way, so all that really matters in the end is that mom is happy and baby is fed. I was formula fed as a baby, but I’ve EBF my two daughters. Therefore, I can’t say anything bad about one over the other. My own choice to BF was more about financial and convenience reasons than anything else. But I bet you wouldn’t have been able to tell unless I told you, though.

  16. Rachel Sea

    August 20, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    Stupid Daily Mail reporter, the study isn’t saying that women who choose not to breastfeed have higher rates of depression, it’s saying that women who don’t breastfeed do. That includes all the women who want to but can’t. Missing out on the hormones, plus the feelings of failure? If that isn’t a hot mess of upset, perfect for tipping a women over from blue to depressed, I don’t know what is.

  17. RW

    August 20, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    I think this is essentially a pointless study. It doesn’t matter what happens – whether you breastfeed, want to but can’t, or straight up choose not to. You may end up with PPD. Who the fuck cares what your “odds” were? I breastfed successfully for over a year – hated it, but successfully – and I had PPD. Lowering the “risk” was not one of the reasons I did it, nor would it have been a compelling reason to keep going if I decided to quit. I probably would have still ended up with PPD and would have just ended up thinking it was BECAUSE of my quitting that I ended up with it which would have made me feel even worse, but that would clearly not have been the case, since it happened anyway.

  18. Marisa

    August 21, 2014 at 12:38 am

    That’s funny. Quitting breast feeding after 4 weeks of struggling was just the ticket for curing me of my depression. I would have loved for it to have worked but it just didn’t. My milk never came in, pills did not help, nurses screaming at me did not help, and having giant boobs made it all the more harder. My baby hated it. I hated it. Fuck those who peer pressure women into breast feeding.

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  20. Gangle

    August 21, 2014 at 7:54 am

    I am sick of people saying women don’t try hard enough to breastfeed, like they have somehow failed if it doesn’t work out. Women aren’t the failures – society and the system fail women. I struggled to breastfeed, and like most women had a very rocky start. I was at a very pro-breastfeeding hospital, but there was no practical or moral support. Many of the midwives had no training in helping with breastfeeding problems, were very uninterested in helping someone who was having problems or were annoyed that I asked for help at all. They did feel ok with making me feel like a shit mother about it though. I had an extended stay at the hospital and i spent most of my time very sick and in tears, and towards the end things got bad enough that I thought the best thing for my baby would be to leave her there and go away and never come back so my husband could find a better wife and mother. I knew my baby was not feeding properly, she wasn’t having wet or dirty nappies and her jaundice was not improving. Instead of helping us, the staff just made me feel guilty that I was unable to do this perfectly natural thing. It wasn’t until the last day that a junior midwife actually took notice, listened to my by then hysterical plea and suspected something was wrong with Ganglebabys latch and got me in contact with a lactation consultant. I finally got lucky enough to have some support and proper education and after lots of encouragement, patience, support, tears and one-on-one sessions, we got the hang of it. But without her help I would definitely have given up and gone to bottle feeding, and probably felt like a terrible failure.

    I support anyones decision on how they want to feed their baby and if a mother decides she wants to formula feed then that is great!! But if a woman chooses to breast feed then she needs the support of her family, the health system and society. She needs access to proper educators who assist without pressuring. And if things still don’t work out she needs support in choosing an alternative and reassurance that she is making the best decisions for herself and her baby. If society wants women to breastfeed then society needs to do better by our women and their babies.

  21. Myna

    August 21, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Look, as long as you’re not putting Kool-Aid in the infant’s bottle, you’re doing it right.

  22. Pingback: Hospital Breastfeeding Contract Shames New Moms

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