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Breastfeeding and postpartum depression

About 50 to 85% of new mothers experience the baby blues in the first two weeks postpartum. Without any reason, they are all of a sudden in tears. They may feel sad, restless, exhausted, and worry about the lack of happy feelings that are supposed to come with the birth of the baby. In most cases, these baby blues are limited to about two weeks.
In some cases, the symptoms get worse or are developing after two weeks. Also insomnia, weight loss, confusion, anxiety or feeling emotionally detached from the baby are part of the picture. If these feelings are not resolving on its own within about two weeks, or the symptoms worsen, it is wise to consult a physician to rule out postpartum depression or start treatment
In rare cases a mother develops a postpartum psychosis. The symptoms and feelings are much stronger than with a postpartum depression and a mother may harm herself or her baby. Medical treatment is necessary, admission in a hospital may be needed.

You are depressed...what to do with breastfeeding?

Treatment of depressions consists of medication, psychotherapy or a combination. Support for the mother and baby are helpful as well. For each mother, a different combination of the above mentioned interventions is possible. Expectant mothers can prepare themselves by taking adequate nutrition, including sufficient vitamin D supplements and omega-3 fatty acids. This may help prevent depression during pregnancy and postpartum.
Many mothers fear that they have to stop nursing their baby when they are treated for depression. Sometimes others decide for the mother that nursing her baby is too demanding for her at this time. Others think that medications to treat depression are not compatible with breastfeeding. Unfortunately, the fear of being told to stop nursing, can prevent a mother from seeking the medical attention that she needs. To weigh all your options, talk to a healthcare provider with both knowledge of postpartum depression and breastfeeding.
For a lot of mothers, the idea that they can continue to breastfeed can be very comforting. Breastfeeding also promotes a good bond with the baby.

Breastfeeding and medications

When a mother gets medications prescribed to treat depression, she has to tell her physician that she is nursing her baby. The physician can search for a medication that is compatible with breastfeeding. Sometimes mothers feel uncomfortable that they are nursing while taking medications. It may be helpful to discuss these feelings with the healthcare provider who prescribes the drugs, or to talk with a lactation consultant to explore other options. In most cases, only small amounts of the medication will enter the breast milk. Talking to other mothers who had to take medications while nursing may take away the fears that you still have.


Information about postpartum depression:

Depression after delivery
Postpartum Support International


Breastfeeding pages
Vitamin D during pregnancy and lactation
Breastfeeding and medication
Breastfeeding help in Orange County
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Updated May 2012 Nanny Gortzak