Can hormones in breastfeeding protect against postnatal depression?

Donaldson-Myles, Fiona
February 2012
British Journal of Midwifery;Feb2012, Vol. 20 Issue 2, p88
Academic Journal
The benefits of breastfeeding are widely accepted; however, one of the likely advantages of breastfeeding is often overlooked: breastfeeding may help protect against postnatal depression. An earlier article (Donaldson-Myles, 2011) reviewed the evidence of the beneficial effects of breastfeeding against postnatal depression. This article now examines the hormonal changes engendered by human suckling and lactation which appear to reduce the incidence of depression. It explores the role of stress and inflammation in depression together with the attenuatingeffects of the hormones of lactation. Prolactin and oxytocin are shown to have an inhibitory influence on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which is activated at times of stress. In addition, evidence that oxytocin has a central calming effect on the brain is discussed. An understanding of the moderating effects of the lactational hormones on postnatal depression could assist midwives in encouraging vulnerable women to breastfeed and help combat this devastating condition. Using this evidence-based information, midwives can utilize their valuable and limited time to encourage and support breastfeeding in women who are prone to depression to help improve their mental wellbeing.


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