July 26, 2011

Painful Breastfeeding

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Breastfeeding with physical pain can lead to postpartum depression

(dailyRx News) Breastfeeding is a magical experience that reaps physical and emotional benefits for both the mother and her child. What happens for a woman who has difficulty with breastfeeding?

Researchers from University of North Carolina (UNC) found an interesting connection between breastfeeding difficulty the subsequent development of postpartum depression.

"If joy is replaced by pain during breastfeeding, seek personal care."

Stephanie Watkins, M.S.P.H., M.S.P.T., lead author of the study and a doctoral student in the UNC Gillings School of Public Health reports that this study finds that women who weren't enjoying breastfeeding were 42 percent more likely to develop postpartum depression two months after her child's birth compared to those who enjoyed breastfeeding.

Additionally, women who experienced extreme breast pain in the first phase of breastfeeding up until two weeks after her child's delivery were twice as likely to become depressed compared to those who didn't experience nursing pain.

Alison Stuebe, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the UNC School of Medicine reports a huge clinical overlap with breastfeeding pain, not enjoying breastfeeding and subsequent postpartum depression.

Dr. Stuebe summarizes the feelings patients with breastfeeding struggles are experiencing and advises if they are experience pain during breastfeeding, no longer having joy in their lives or if they wake up in the morning thinking "I can't take this for any longer" - it is an absolute medical emergency. Women experiencing any of the feelings should tell their health care provider and seek help.

Dr. Stuebe warns that women who think they can get through it alone are usually mistaken. They should talk to their healthcare provider and ask to discuss their feelings.

In the study, Dr. Stuebe, Watkins and UNC co-authors Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, MPH and Denniz Zolnoun, M.D., M.P.H., set out to determine if this anecdotal clinical association could be backed up statistically.The researchers drew upon data collected during Infant Feeding and Practices Study II, and reviewed the postpartum depression status of more than 2,500 women in that study. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale was used for their evaluation.

Of women participating in the study, 8.6 percent met the criteria for major depression two months after delivery of their child. Women who were not enjoying breastfeeding during the first week were 1.42 times as likely to be depressed after two months. Women who reported severe breastfeeding pain on their first day were almost 2 times as likely to be depressed at two months.

The study is scheduled for publication in the August 2011 print issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
July 22, 2011

Last Updated:
July 26, 2011