In our clinic, we often see women who come in for the treatment of depression and/or anxiety after the cessation of breastfeeding.  Many question if breastfeeding may protect against postpartum depression and if the cessation of breastfeeding is a trigger for postpartum depression and/or anxiety. However, the research examining the association between postpartum depression and breastfeeding has been somewhat difficult to interpret.

A new study (published in its entirety on Medscape) explores the link between breastfeeding and postpartum depression and anxiety.  Researchers examined data from 42,225 pregnant women in the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, a prospective, population-based pregnancy cohort study performed by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.  Levels of depression and anxiety were assessed at 17 and 30 weeks gestation and at 6 months postpartum.  Additional information was gathered from the Medical Birth Registry of Norway (MBRN).

The findings:

  •  Women with anxiety or depression during pregnancy were more likely to stop breastfeeding before six months postpartum
  •  Breastfeeding cessation was associated with an increase in levels of anxiety and depression
  •  Women with anxiety and/or depression during pregnancy experienced a greater increase in depression and anxiety after breastfeeding cessation than women without depression or anxiety during pregnancy

This is the largest study to date examining the association between breastfeeding cessation and postpartum depression and anxiety.  Some questions remain.  Would treating symptoms of depression and/or anxiety extend the duration of breastfeeding?  If women had more support around breastfeeding, would this help to decrease levels of depression and anxiety? What is clear is that women who experience depression and/or anxiety during pregnancy are an extremely vulnerable population; not only are they more likely to stop breastfeeding early, they are also more likely to experience worsening of their symptoms after breastfeeding cessation. 

Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD

Ystrom E.  Breastfeeding cessation and symptoms of anxiety and depression: a longitudinal cohort study. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 2012;12(36).