BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|
August is National Breastfeeding Month, a time to highlight the importance of this activity for mothers and the benefits for their babies. In addition, it is important to know what mental health benefits breastfeeding brings to mothers.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , “breastfeeding is the source of nutrition for most infants. It can also reduce the risk for certain health conditions for both infants and mothers”. Additionally, they give us important figures on this topic  : Only 1 in 4 infants is exclusively breastfeed, as recommended, by the time they are 6 months old, low rates of breastfeeding add more than $3 billion a year to medical cost for the mother and child in the United States, three quarters (74%) of Black infants are ever breastfed, which is below the national average of 83%.
Now, if we want to know at least three determinants of breastfeeding and maternal mental health, according to Frontiers in Global Women’s Health  :
- Structural factors: socioeconomic situation, psychosocial problems, legislations and policy, etc.
- Context: Culture, family, employment, workplace, etc.
- Maternal factors: Age, previous pregnancies, pregnancy related pathologies, personal beliefs, etc.
The same resource affirms, “Consequently, breastfeeding mothers are more likely to report positive moods, less anxiety, and increased calm compared to formula feeding mothers. Beyond the psychological benefits, breastfeeding provides substantial nutritional, cognitive, emotional, and immunologic benefits for the infants and their mothers  .”
The Blog PsychCentral  mentions some positive and negative benefits for this stage of motherhood. The positive effects can be especially positive for mental wellness if you: Breastfeed your baby exclusively for at least the first 6 months, continue to breastfeed for a year, have enough breastmilk supply, have support both at home and at work. On the other hand, if you want to breastfeed but find you cannot for any reason, it may have a negative effect on your mental health: Unhappiness, uneasiness and frustration.
Some psychological benefits of breastfeeding for mothers can include increased feelings of affection, bonding with your baby and reduced physiological and social stress. And, for babies: Better cognitive performance, less fussiness during infancy, lowered levels of stress and avoidance behaviors and lower risk of severe depression in adulthood .
It is important to highlight that 1 in 5 women will suffer from a maternal mental health disorder, like postpartum depression. Less than 15% of these women will receive treatment or support for recovery. Crystal Karges Nutrition , a blog that also mentions some of the risk factors for maternal mental illness, states: Traumatic birth experience, medical complications with baby, family history of mental illness, depressive symptoms during pregnancy, lower socioeconomic status, financial hardships, medical complications with baby, etc.
Although all this sounds as difficult as childbirth, there are good news, multiple solutions exist in case your breastfeeding stage has complications, as well as any affectation to your mental health:
- You have to understand the risk factors for mental illness; this can also help you be more aware of how breastfeeding challenges might affect you.
- Feeding your baby is not a one size fits all solution, create an individualized feeding plan.
- It is important to know that pain while breastfeeding is not normal.
- Please, focus on nutrition, rest and stress-management.
- Connect with support if you feel bad.