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Breastfeeding her baby can be a special time in a mother’s life, but when postpartum depression arrives along with the new baby, a woman can struggle with the decision of whether or not she can continue to nurse. With the proper diagnosis and treatment options, a woman can continue to breastfeed through postpartum depression.
Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects nearly 10 percent of all new mothers, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s important for the well-being of both mother and child that the mother seeks medical attention if she is exhibiting symptoms of postpartum depression. Signs and symptoms include:
- feeling down or “blue” following the birth of a baby (the “baby blues” affect many mothers, but when the blues last longer than two weeks, the mother may have postpartum depression)
- exhaustion, extreme fatigue
- quick to anger or general feeling of intense irritability
- loss of appetite
- mood swings
- feelings of guilt or inadequacy
- feeling distant from friends and family
- having difficulty bonding with baby
- thoughts of harming herself or the baby
- thoughts of wanting to “run away” from the situation
In addition to these warning signs, breastfeeding mothers may have trouble nursing. Frustration with a lack of milk, pain from engorgement, anxiety that baby isn’t latching on correctly, or worry that baby isn’t getting enough to eat can add to the feelings of depression and can make breastfeeding challenging.
Diagnosing Postpartum Depression
A first-time mother or an experienced mother exhibiting these symptoms of PPD for the first time may think that they have the baby blues or that they are just feeling the exhaustion that comes along with having a newborn. But when the symptoms last longer than two weeks, it’s time to consider PPD.
A woman should visit her obstetrician, certified nurse-midwife, or general physician to seek help if she suspects that she is suffering from PPD. Women who have had PPD after previous pregnancies or had depression during pregnancy, also called antenatal depression, are at a higher risk for developing depression following the birth of the new baby, as are women with a history of mood disorders.
Screening tools are used to determine if a woman is suffering from PPD or postpartum anxiety. By determining the frequency of depressive symptoms, as well as feelings of anxiety, a diagnosis of PPD can be made.
Treatment Options for PPD for Breastfeeding Mothers
There is good news for mothers who want to continue to breastfeed while dealing with PPD. There are a variety of treatment options available that are safe for both mom and baby.
Antidepressants can alleviate the extreme depressive symptoms of PPD. Just as a breastfeeding mother passes nutrients and antibodies to her nursing baby, she can also pass medications through her milk. However, there are several antidepressants that pose very little risk of side effects for baby.
Sertraline (Zoloft) is one such drug that has been shown to be effective at reducing the symptoms of PPD while showing virtually no side effects in the baby. As with any medication, there are risks, so nursing mothers should talk to their doctor.
Talking to a professional who specializes in PPD and other mood disorders can be beneficial to a mother and poses no risks for the baby. By talking through her feelings and understanding the symptoms of PPD, a woman can begin to feel less depressed and she may find breastfeeding less frustrating.
Support groups for PPD may also help a new mother feel better. By talking about her depressive feelings with other mothers also suffering from PPD, a woman can find comfort in their shared experiences.
Healthy Lifestyle Choices
By making healthy lifestyle choices, such as exercising, eating healthy foods, and getting the rest she needs, a breastfeeding mom can help alleviate some of the symptoms of PPD and maintain the health she needs to nurse her baby.
Alternative Therapies: Acupuncture and Massage Therapy
While not necessarily a cure for PPD, acupuncture and massage therapy can alleviate some symptoms of depression for a new mother. Neither therapy negatively impacts her ability to breastfeed.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Shown to help with antenatal depression, Omega-3 fatty acids can also help with PPD. Omega-3 fatty acids can be added to a woman’s diet through fish, other seafood, or as a vitamin supplement. There are no side effects for baby, so a mother can continue to nurse.
PPD can greatly impact the relationship between mother and baby. It also can jeopardize the bond formed by breastfeeding since a mother suffering from PPD may consider weaning her child. By diagnosing the condition and choosing the right treatment options, a breastfeeding mother can continue to safely nurse her baby and break free from the depressive feelings of postpartum depression.