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Prevention of Postpartum Depression Important for Breastfeeding

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

This afternoon, I was reading a synopsis of a study put out by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Columbia University and published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that talks about mothers dealing with postpartum depression issues and the impact that it has on their actions as parents.

While the good news is that the study found that just 18% of woman claimed to have experienced symptoms symptoms of depression 2-4 months after their child, the bad news is that just 43.8% of mothers that experienced depression were breastfeeding at that point. Among mothers not experiencing depression, 56.9% were still breastfeeding. That's a pretty dramatic difference.

The study doesn't delve into any details on whether or not the lack of breastfeeding might be a cause or a result of the depression, but based on anecdotal experiences, I think most moms would agree that the more support they have and the more upbeat the feel, the more likely they are to continue nursing their children.

It does remind me though about Naomi Wolf's book "Misconceptions" and her section on life after baby comes.

A great quote from the book:

"Giving birth and becoming a new mother demand great reserves of strength. But all too often, women are offered sugar-coated niceties to guide them on the journey, misleading information, half-truths, and platitudes. Books, classes and videos available to mothers-to-be, I discovered, frequently have hidden agendas. Many of them omit aspects of the birth experience, or withhold information to advance their cause, to women's detriment. Little that women are exposed to in pregnancy adequately prepares them for the first three trimesters and delivery, or offers them a grounding in the gut-wrenching changes of what has been called the "fourth trimester" - that sometimes savagely difficult adjustment period that follows birth.

Becoming a mother requires a kind of supreme focus, a profound discipline, and even a kind of warrior spirit. Yet our culture prefers to give women doggerel: if often suggests that motherhood is something effortless. It calls motherhood "natural" as if the powerful attachment women have to their babies erases the agency they must show in carrying, birthing and caring for children. It casts maternity as being "natural," as a biological unfolding, calm and inevitable as calving in the spring or peaches ripening and dropping from a tree. There is a powerful social imperative to maintaining our collective belief in the "natural bliss" of new motherhood. The American cliche "mom and apple pie" is a telling one. birth is viewed through a softened lens of pink haze: the new baby and radiant mommy in an effortless mutual embrace, proud papa nearby.

Because of the power of that image, many women feel permitted to ask few questions; we too often blame ourselves, or turn our anger inward, into depression, when our experience is at odds with the idea."

Wolf goes on to note that the United States has the highest rates of postpartum depression in the world. She provides some amazing insight into the reality of life as a new mom, especially as a new mom that has to in one way or another return to the work-force.

I didn't read Misconceptions until about six months after Elnora was born and was surprised to find that there were a few passages that hit me so deeply at my core that I nearly cried. (and I don't cry!) I'd sailed through delivery and the early postpartum days with supposed ease, returning to work just two weeks after Elnora was born. (Because when you work for yourself, you don't get paid maternity leave) It wasn't until a good six or seven months after her birth that the stress of my new life crashed down on me.

This is why I suggest this book to anyone I know that is pregnant, or planning a pregnancy. It talks about the things I wish I'd known ahead of time.

Culturally, we've come a long way in advocating breastfeeding, natural birth, and motherhood. Unfortunately, our American "do it yourself" culture has left us failing miserably when it comes to both asking for, and accepting help. I'm not exactly sure how we work to change this, but I do suspect that with the proper support, more women would find themselves able to breastfeed, to breastfeed longer, and even more importantly, to parent the way that they want to.


  1. Blogger Jensgalore | 10:25 AM |  

    I went through PPD, and it was made much harder by the complete lack of outside support I got. Having a community around me to help out would have made a profound difference.

    Great essay.

  2. Anonymous Anonymous | 10:38 PM |  

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  3. Anonymous Anonymous | 1:41 AM |  

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