Research on Mental Health

These studies look at the links between breastfeeding and mental well-being in mothers.

Development and evaluation of ‘Sleep, Baby & You’—An approach to supporting parental well-being and responsive infant caregiving

This article discusses how disrupted parental sleep, presenting as post-partum fatigue and perceived as problematic infant sleep, is related to increased symptoms of depression and anxiety among new mothers and fathers. Researchers held six initial stakeholder meetings with 15 practitioners and 6 parents with an interest in supporting parent-infant sleep needs, to explore existing service provision and identify gaps. The team sourced sleep-related materials and adapted them into ‘Sleep, Baby & You’, an intervention that could be universally delivered in the UK via NHS antenatal and postnatal practitioners. Upon feedback from parents and practitioners of the new tools, it was found that these materials were a promising tool for promoting parental attitude and behaviour-change.

Ball, H., Taylor, C. et al. 2020. Development and evaluation of ‘Sleep, Baby & You’—An approach to supporting parental well-being and responsive infant caregiving.

Impact of postpartum depression on infant feeding outcomes

This systematic review examining the relationship between postpartum anxiety (PPA) and infant feeding outcomes found that women with symptoms of PPA were less likely to breastfeed exclusively and more likely to terminate breastfeeding earlier. Some evidence also suggests that those experiencing PPA are less likely to initiate breastfeeding and more likely to supplement with formula in the hospital. In those who do breastfeed, PPA reduces self-efficacy, increases breastfeeding difficulties, and may negatively affect breastfeeding behaviors and breast milk composition. Researchers called for increased breastfeeding support for mothers affected by PPA.

Fallon, V, et al (2016), Postpartum Anxiety and Infant-Feeding Outcomes, Journal of Human Lactation, doi: 10.1177/0890334416662241


Impact of Baby Friendly accreditation on breastfeeding rates, cognitive outcomes and maternal mental health

Using data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study, these researchers found that women giving birth in hospitals that participated in the Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) were up to 15 percentage points more likely to initiate breastfeeding and between 8 and 9 percentage points more likely to breastfeed exclusively at 4 and 8 weeks than comparable mothers giving birth in non-participating hospitals. Mothers from low income families, and with low levels of education, were more responsive to the BFI programme than highly educated mothers in more affluent families.

They then compared the outcomes of children who were breastfed as a result of the BFI program with those of otherwise similar non-breastfed children. They found significant effects of breastfeeding on cognitive outcomes throughout childhood, and in particular between ages 3 and 7. In contrast to the previous literature, researchers found no statistically significant impact of breastfeeding on a number of health outcomes, but saw an improvement in child emotional development and maternal mental health.

Del Bono E, Rabe B. Breastfeeding and child cognitive outcomes: Evidence from a hospital-based breastfeeding support policy. ISER Working Paper Series: 2012-29


Breastfeeding difficulties and postpartum depression

This study found that, among women with breastfeeding difficulties, those who did not report a negative breastfeeding support experience were at a decreased risk of postpartum depression. A negative breastfeeding support experience was found to have a significant effect on the relationship between breastfeeding difficulties and postpartum depression.

They concluded that the quality of breastfeeding support is important not only for breastfeeding promotion but also for maternal mental health. Educating front-line caregivers to ensure that breastfeeding women have positive experiences of support can reduce the risk of postpartum depression.

Chaput, K, et al (2016) Breastfeeding difficulties and supports and risk of postpartum depression in a cohort of women who have given birth in Calgary: a prospective cohort study. CMAJ Open, 10.9778/cmajo.20150009


Understanding the relationship between breastfeeding and postnatal depression: the role of pain and physical difficulties

This study found that short breastfeeding duration and stopping breastfeeding for physical difficulty and pain were associated with higher depression score.

The authors conclude that understanding women’s specific reasons for stopping breastfeeding is critical in understanding women’s breastfeeding experience and providing emotional support. They also stress the importance of early breastfeeding support.

Brown, A., Rance, J. & Bennett, P. (2015). Understanding the relationship between breastfeeding and postnatal depression: the role of pain and physical difficulties. Journal of Advanced Nursing, DOI: 10.1111/jan.12832

Related research and further reading