The commonly held belief that mothers suffering from post natal depression will not be able to breastfeed has been challenged by research from the University of Leicester, which also suggests that the manner in which current breastfeeding promotion strategies are communicated may contribute to feelings of guilt and fears of inadequacy by mothers suffering from depression.
These results arise from research carried out by Ellen Homewood, Alison Tweed and Jon Crossley of the Department of Clinical Psychology at the University of Leicester, and Michelle Cree of the Derbyshire Mental Health Services NHS Trust.
They found that mothers with post natal depression felt occluded in their attempts to meet their infants’ demands for sustenance and nurturance. These feelings seemed to be triggered by experiences of feeding, as it represented a central aspect of the women’s interaction with their infants.
In some cases, breastfeeding contributed to depression by increasing women’s sense of being trapped by the dependency of their babies at the expense of their own well-being, and intensifying their feelings of responsibility for keeping their babies alive.
The authors concluded that the self-confidence of mothers with post natal depression could suffer as a result of perceived pressure to breastfeed, by prompting them to judge themselves as mothers on the basis of how successful their breast-feeding experiences were.
The research suggests that depressed mothers may well need individual, psychologically-based breastfeeding support to understand and manage their feelings of ambivalence in motherhood.
The findings on breastfeeding were not all negative, however, and for some mothers who had been diagnosed with postnatal depression, breastfeeding reassured them of their ability to satisfy, nurture and connect with their infants. Breastfeeding enabled them to feel more confident as mothers because they were fulfilling a maternal role that they valued, and consequently, this enhanced their ability to create more positive relationships with their babies.
Clinical Psychologist Ellen Homewood commented: “The findings of our study into breastfeeding experiences in women with postnatal depression highlight the effects of women’s expectations about motherhood and breastfeeding on their behaviour and emotional experiences, and warn against the assumption that depressed mothers will not be able to breastfeed. The results also point to the need for further research into the potential benefits of breastfeeding for depressed mothers.”
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