Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression: What Is The Connection?

There seems to be a significant connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression.

Many women who have been diagnosed with postpartum depression also report trouble breastfeeding.  Their struggles include latching problems, not producing enough breast milk, or an overall aversion to breastfeeding in general.  With this being such a common concern, it seems there must be a connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression.

A connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression is not an easy one to decipher, however.  It’s likely caused by a number of different factors, both physical and psychological.  And the fact that postpartum depression also affects women who have no issues breastfeeding makes it even more complicated to figure out. 

Let’s dig deeper into the connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression.

Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression - What is the Connection?

Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression - What is the Connection?

The “Unnaturalness” of Breastfeeding

The only thing that’s natural about breastfeeding is that it feels so completely unnatural. It may have been natural hundreds of years ago, when people lived more closely among animals and watched them raise their young.  In the days when daily life consisted of fetching well water and hunting for food, breastfeeding was the norm.  But modern civilization has taken the “naturalness” out of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression Infographic
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Breastfeeding exposes a woman, making her feel vulnerable and embarrassed.  Most women have never walked around bare-breasted before.  And now, suddenly, other people are inspecting and staring at her breasts, even grabbing them like hamburgers.  Plus, there’s the added feature of getting used to another human being sucking away on them in a completely asexual way.

But instead of admitting that breastfeeding feels unnatural, the message mothers are given about breastfeeding is that it’s what’s best for her baby, that it’s completely natural and instinctual, and that if she’s doing it right, it shouldn’t hurt.  Perhaps the connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression stems from the gross misinformation that new mothers are given.

some truths about breastfeeding:

It’s painful.  Yes, even when you’ve got a proper latch, it can still hurt.

It doesn’t happen instinctively.  Babies will root around, looking for a nipple, but the majority of them don’t know what the heck they’re doing.

It’s embarrassing. And others will make you feel guilty for being embarrassed and say insensitive things like “we’ve seen it all before.”

It’s annoying.  Newborns eat often and can suck for a long time.  Having to feed a baby on demand means you barely have time to do anything else, let’s not even talk about pumping.

It gets easier? Yeah, sure, once you get the latch figured out, it might seem like things are going smoothly.  Until you have a 6 month old who likes to shove their feet in your mouth, pull your hair and scratch your chest while they nurse.

How, When & Why to Do Breast Compression
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The Guilt of Not Breastfeeding

Despite all of this, the majority of mothers will attempt to breastfeed their child because “breast is best” and what kind of mother would they be if they didn’t at least try to give their child the best?  This overwhelming pressure on mothers most definitely plays a part in the connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression.

Contrary to (un)popular belief, mothers don’t just give up breastfeeding because it’s too hard.  They usually seek help from a professional, try supplements to increase their supply, pump day and night and do everything else in their power, which often causes a severe amount of stress, anxiety and feelings of worthlessness.  

A mother who is unable to breastfeed, regardless of the reason, will feel guilty for not doing it, despite the fact that it is not her fault.  She may even be embarrassed to admit to other mothers that she is not breastfeeding for fear of being judged.

Connection Between Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression
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Stress Inhibits Breastfeeding

All of these misconceptions about breastfeeding can set a new mother up for failure. Instead of experiencing something she hoped would be beautiful and natural, she feels frustrated and stressed out.  Stress then inhibits breast milk production, and not producing enough breast milk stresses a mother out even more.  So it becomes nothing but a vicious cycle.

We know that stress can cause all kinds of symptoms in our bodies, both mentally and physically.  Stress leads to anxiety, insomnia, poor eating habits, weight gain or loss, neck and back pain, headaches, depression and more.  So it’s no wonder that stress is the primary culprit in the connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression.

How to Ensure Successful breastfeeding with postpartum depression
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Breastfeeding in Public

Breastfeeding in public may be legal, but that doesn’t make it any less awkward for a new mother who is already feeling exposed and vulnerable.  We’ve all heard the horror stories of women being shamed for breastfeeding in public.  While we applaud those who do stand up for themselves, that level of courage is not in all of us.

Even if we are never actually confronted about public breastfeeding, we often take additional measures to prevent it from making those around us uncomfortable.  This comes at the cost of our own comfort, and that of our baby, usually resulting in an unsuccessful public breastfeeding experience.  Therefore, the mere thought of having to breastfeed a screaming, hungry baby in a public place can cause high levels of stress and anxiety. 

A new mother struggling to breastfeed may avoid spending time outside of the house for this reason.  Eventually, this feeling of being trapped in the house can have an effect on a mother’s mental health and the longer it persists, the more dangerous it becomes.

5 Things New Moms Fear about Breastfeeding
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Breastfeeding with D-MER

If you’re not familiar with the breastfeeding condition known as D-MER (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex) you can read about in this post.  D-MER can cause a mother to have an overall aversion to breastfeeding and develop negative thoughts and feelings towards it.  While D-MER is a physiological response as opposed to a psychological one, I believe that it can play a part in the connection between breastfeeding and postpartum depression.

For a mother with undiagnosed D-MER, she may associate extremely negative thoughts and feelings towards breastfeeding, which could transfer over into negative thoughts towards herself or her baby.  This constant weight of negativity creates an environment where mental illness thrives.

It’s important for mothers who have negative feelings while breastfeeding to speak up about them and seek help.  It could be D-MER or it could be postpartum depression.  Either way, help and information are available.

D-MER: When Breastfeeding Makes You Feel Sad
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Ultimately, a lot of different things can affect a breastfeeding mother and prevent her from being successful at it. If breastfeeding is causing you to feel stressed, anxious, vulnerable, embarrassed, ashamed or creating a negative experience altogether, then it’s worth weighing the risks and benefits.  While there are so many wonderful benefits of breastfeeding for babies and mothers, forcing yourself to breastfeed at the cost of your mental health is not worth it.


5 Basic Breastfeeding Products All New Moms Need

There are millions of baby related products out there, but when it comes to breastfeeding, all you really need is a good milk supply and a hungry baby.

I compiled a list of my favorite breastfeeding products because, while I could have still done it without them, they all provided me with one important thing – C O M F O R T!  And being comfortable while breastfeeding is so important to developing that good milk supply.

5 Basic Breastfeeding Products All New Moms Need
*This post contains affiliate links which means that if you click on one of these links and buy a product, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.  Rest assured that I only recommend products that I love from companies that I trust.
5 Basic Breastfeeding Products All New Moms Need

1. Boomerang Nursing Pillow

Jolly Jumper Boomerang Nursing Pillow
I received this Jolly Jumper Boomerang Nursing Pillow as a gift at my baby shower and it has become a staple in my house.  It is so much more than just a breastfeeding pillow…

During pregnancy, it was the perfect shape to both support my stomach and tuck between my legs while sleeping.  The boomerang shape was also perfect to tuck behind me in bed for extra support while sitting upright.

I loved it for breastfeeding because it was so versatile.  I could fold it half if I needed firm support under just one arm, or lay it across my lap.

The little fold at the end of the pillow case acted as a pocket – perfect for stashing washcloths and nursing pads (ok, let’s be honest, for my cell phone).

The shape was just right for propping baby up at any age.  Whether I laid baby on their back or tummy, I found that the “V” shape was better for supporting them than the “U” shaped pillows and I could easily bring the sides in for more security.

It’s so soft!  This may be a disadvantage to some who are looking for firmer support in a nursing pillow but I loved how flexible it was compared to other ones.

I stopped breastfeeding a long time ago, but this pillow is still my favorite one to have around the house – specifically for cuddling up on the couch or propping myself up in bed.  (It’s recently come in very handy during my battle with chronic pain.)


2. Medela Breast Pump

Medela Swing Single Breast Pump
Like many first time moms, I didn’t buy a breast pump before the baby was born because I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to breastfeed.

After my first child was born, I inherited a brand new Medela Swing breast pump from a friend.  Since I had never used a breast pump before, I thought it was fantastic – but I didn’t have anything to compare it to.

So when I was pregnant with my second child, I stupidly sold my Medela Swing and “upgraded” to a fancy double electric pump because I assumed that two was better than one. BIG MISTAKE! It had no where NEAR the sucking capacity of the Medela…

Medela Harmony

I went back to the basics with the third one. Since none of my kids were big fans of bottles and I wasn’t going back to work – my pumping requirements were very minimal.  This time I chose the Medela Harmony manual pump.

My favorite feature was the ability to stimulate the nipple with the pump to initiate a let down.  This is super important when your nipples aren’t as sensitive anymore (i.e. after breastfeeding three kids).  I also found that I could pump more milk simply by being able to manually control the rhythm of the suction.

The Medela Harmony is a great little breast pump for days when you’re away from baby or feeling extra engorged.  It’s perfect for traveling, easy to clean and is a no-fuss solution.  The Medela Swing is a better option for more regular pumping.


3. Lansinoh Disposable Nursing Pads

Lansinoh Disposable Nursing Pads
I had an excess milk supply and an overactive let down reflex which meant that I leaked milk A LOT.  

Because of that, I tried SO MANY different brands and types of nursing pads before deciding that these Lansinoh Disposable Nursing Pads were beyond compare.

They are SUPER absorbent.  They resembled a full diaper when they were soaked, but they didn’t leak no matter how much milk spilled into them. Like a sanitary napkin for your boobs.

They have a sticker on the back so they stay in place! So simple, but so important.

You can’t see them through your bra.  They’re not bulky or “papery” and they don’t have weird lines or patterns on them.

They are super comfortable.  Even with raw, sore nipples.

They’re individually wrapped.  Not in pairs which is great because I often had to change just one at a time.  They’re also easy to throw in the diaper bag, purse, gym bag, even small enough to keep in your pocket.

They usually included a free gift (sample) in the box like breast milk collection bags, or individual packets of baby wipes.


4. Tank Tops with a Built-In Shelf Bra

Women's Camisole Built-in Shelf Bra Adjustable Spaghetti Straps Tank Top Pack
Amazon.com
I bought way too many nursing bras.  I thought I was going to need them all but what I wore almost every day while I was breastfeeding is one of these tank tops with the built in shelf bras.

If you’re going to buy them, buy them in bulk because you’re going to get milk and baby spit up on them, and you’re eventually going to have to do laundry, but you’re going to want to put another one on right away.

The built in shelf bra is important because you need the support and also something to hold your nursing pads in place (those stickers can’t do it all).

They’re comfortable enough to sleep in.  In fact, I think there was barely a moment when I wasn’t wearing one of these tank tops during my breastfeeding years.

I wore them as a base layer under all my other shirts so that when I had to nurse in public I just pulled up the top shirt, and then pulled the tank top down to expose the nipple.  All that was visible between the two shirts was a small opening (covered by baby’s head anyway) and I didn’t have to fuss with an annoying nursing cover.  Not that I cared, but most people couldn’t even tell I was nursing.


5. Breast Shells

Philips AVENT Comfort Breast Shells Set
Philips Avent Breast Shells
No one even told me these existed, I found them by accident…

When I breastfed for the first time – my nipples felt like they were on fire.  I expected some pain with breastfeeding, but it turned out that I had a cracked nipple and developed mastitis. My nipples hurt so badly that merely a shirt or bra touching them was enough to make me wince in pain.

So I went on the hunt for something to help.  I was looking at nipple shields which I didn’t buy but found these Philips AVENT Comfort Breast Shells instead and they ended up saving my nipples and ultimately, my breastfeeding relationship.

Basically they are a protective dome for your sore nipple. There is a soft silicone part that is shaped like a donut and goes against your breast.  Then the hard plastic cup shields your nipple from chafing or being hit or poked by accident.

They are comfortable enough to wear to bed they are designed to collect any breastmilk that leaks out.  So while you’re nursing, you can wear it on the opposite breast to collect and save that precious liquid gold.  

If you’re extremely engorged they can be a bit painful to wear.  But they will greatly help to reduce flat nipples and even release a bit of pressure from engorgement.  Pop them in the fridge when you’re not using them and the cooling sensation will also give you relief from engorgement! 

How, When & Why to Use the Breast Compression Technique while Breastfeeding
Breast Compression

Breastfeeding Products

For more breastfeeding help, check out Milkology 

Milkology Online Breastfeeding Courses

Milkology is a 90 minute online breastfeeding class run by certified lactation specialist, Stacy Stewart.  For less than $20, you can get some amazing tips for breastfeeding success – with a money back guarantee!


How, When & Why to do Breast Compression

Breast compression is the underdog of breast feeding techniques. 

Emphasis is rarely put on the importance of breast compression in those first few weeks after the milk comes in.  It sounds self explanatory, right?  You just squeeze your breast, what’s so hard about that?  I did breast compression with my first.  And my second…   I think? 

The fact that I can’t even remember doing them means that they weren’t important to me back then.  After learning how to do them properly with my third one, and learning all the reasons why and when, I realized that I could have saved myself a lot of trouble if I had known about this the first time.  And the second.

Learn more about how to do this important breastfeeding technique!
How, When & Why to Do Breast Compression
*This post contains affiliate links which means that if you click on one of these links and buy a product, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I love from companies that I trust.

HOW

Step 1: Get your baby latched on properly.

latch-infographic
I like this infographic from The Milk Memoirs 

After baby starts sucking you may FEEL your milk let down (not all women can feel it) and/or SEE your baby’s sucking start to become longer and slower.  

[Related Reading: D-MER: When Breastfeeding Makes You Feel Sad]

Step 2: Grasp your breast with whichever hand feels more comfortable. 

Some might prefer to grasp with the hand closest to the breast, others might be more comfortable reaching across their body.  This will also depend on what position you are holding your baby in to nurse.  You can switch it up throughout the feeding.

Step 3: Hold your thumb on top of the breast and the other four fingers on the bottom of the breast. 

Your hand will form a letter “C” (it helps to imagine you’re holding your breast like a cheeseburger).  Try to keep your hand close to your chest.  You want to stay as far back from the nipple as possible so you don’t affect baby’s latch.  It’s not as effective to squeeze the breast from the sides or to use a “scissor” hold.

Step 4: Squeeze as hard as you can handle.  It shouldn’t hurt, but you want to use firm pressure, especially if your breasts are engorged.

Do not move your fingers around or slide them towards the nipple.  Try not to rub or massage the breast as this can cause irritation on the skin.  If you have extremely full breasts, whether it’s the first morning feed or when your milk first comes in, you may feel “lumps” of milk.  Concentrate on putting pressure on those spots first.

clogged milk duct
Mom Smart Not Hard | momsmartnothard.com

Step 5: Squeeze one spot for roughly 10 seconds (or as long as baby continues to suck) and then release.

You will notice baby take longer, bigger gulps, some milk might even leak out from the corners of their mouth.  That section of the breast will start to soften. Baby may temporarily stop sucking after a few big gulps to rest.

Step 6: Wait for baby to start sucking and compress the breast again.

You can try moving your fingers onto a different spot or switching hands to access the other side of the breast.


WHEN and WHY

DO NOT do them before your milk comes in.  I mean, you can, but there’s no point.

Do them when your milk comes in.  You will have a lot of it and your newborn baby will get tired of sucking before they get to that hind milk.

Do them when your breasts are really full.  Usually in the morning or if you’ve been away from baby and haven’t fed or pumped in a while.   It’s a great way to empty out full and sore breasts very quickly and make sure that baby is getting to the hind milk before they get too full.

Turn Up The Heat breast pads
TheDandelionShoppeUS on Etsy

The Turn Up The Heat breast pads by TheDandelionShoppeUS on Etsy are perfect for warm relief during engorgement and also cold relief to treat soreness. They have a removable machine washable cover and I love the hole in the middle to avoid irritating sore nipples!

Do them when your breasts are not full.  Doing compression during feeds even when your breasts feel empty will help drain the milk glands completely which will increase your milk supply.

Do them when you have a clogged milk duct. This is when one of those “milk lumps” gets stuck and doesn’t want to empty.  Put a warm wet washcloth on top of the breast first and then apply lots of pressure to that stuck lump while you nurse.

[Related Reading: How to Clear a Clogged Milk Duct and Prevent Mastitis from Mom Smart Not Hard]

Do them while pumping. Breast pumps are not as efficient at emptying a breast  or getting enough hind milk.  A good example of this is to compare a bottle of pumped milk while doing compression vs. without.  You will see a higher fat content in the bottle pumped with compression.

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Do them when you have incredibly sore nipples.  Baby won’t have to suck as hard to get enough milk (giving your nipples a bit of relief) and it will also speed up the length of the feeding.

Do them when baby falls asleep at the breast and/or stops sucking.  Breast compression will either make baby start drinking some more, or spit out the nipple if they are full.

Do them when baby cluster feeds.  The hind milk will help baby to feel fuller for longer and can reduce the amount of time you spend feeding.

[Related Reading: A Complete Guide to Cluster Feeding by Mom Smart Not Hard]

Do them during night time feedings or dream feeds.  Babies are quite drowsy in the middle of the night and may not suck with the “power” that they use during the day.  Doing breast compression can help baby get milk more efficiently so that everyone can go back to bed.

Do them if your baby has greenish-colored poops.  The greenish color could be because they’re not getting enough hind milk.

Do them if your baby gets a slight diaper rash.  Not enough hind milk can change the consistency of baby’s poops and cause their bums to get red.

How to Ensure Successful breastfeeding with postpartum depression
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There are so many benefits to using breast compression!

The biggest WHY is to get baby the hind milk that has a higher fat content.  It will help them to gain weight faster and stay full longer.

I know that breast compression is usually only suggested in the first couple months – during the time when breastfeeding is still trying to become well established.  But I became SO obsessed with doing them because I was able to see the benefits in my baby right away that I continued to do them whenever I felt it was necessary.

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How, When & Why to Use the Breast Compression Technique while Breastfeeding How, When & Why to Do Breast Compression How, When & Why to Do Breast Compression

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

The most detailed information specifically about breast compression is by Dr. Jack Newman on the International Breastfeeding Center website (IBConline).


Another good site to check out for more visual aids is Breastfeeding.Support it’s run by IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) Philippa Pearson-Glaze and the site has a ton of breastfeeding articles, tips and advice with some great pictures.


Milkology is a 90 minute online breastfeeding class run by certified lactation specialist, Stacy Stewart.  For less than $20, you can get some amazing tips for breastfeeding success – with a money back guarantee! 


A great breastfeeding resource is the Breastfeeding Handbook from Mom Smart Not Hard.   Download, print and put it into a binder to have access to everything you could possibly need to know about breastfeeding.


A lot of women who experience breast pain during pregnancy might have concerns about breastfeeding and engorgement.  Learn more about breast pain during pregnancy in this article from Mom Loves Best.  


This awesome article from Positive Health Wellness has tons of information about breast changes during pregnancy.

check it out!
Benefits of Breast Compression
How to Use the Breast Compression Technique How to use the Breast Compression Technique How, When & Why to Use the Breast Compression Technique while Breastfeeding