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Presented by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA
Depressed mothers are less likely to breastfeed and yet breastfeeding protects against depression. Breastfeeding supports the oxytocin system which over-rides the stress response. Conversely, stress suppresses the oxytocin system, making depression and breastfeeding difficulties more likely. This module describes oxytocin vs. stress and then applies this knowledge to recent studies to understand whether breastfeeding actually protects maternal mental health.
The learner will be able to:
- Describe the relationship between the stress and oxytocin systems.
- Understand how birth interventions, such as Pitocin and epidurals, increase the stress response and decrease naturally occurring oxytocin.
- Discuss the role of exclusive breastfeeding in better maternal sleep and mental health.
- The stress system.
- The oxytocin system.
- How these two systems govern maternal mental health.
- The impact of birth interventions on stress and oxytocin.
- The role of exclusive breastfeeding in protecting maternal mental health.
Breastfeeding and depression have a complicated relationship. On one hand, mothers who are depressed are less likely to initiate or continue breastfeeding. On the other hand, exclusively breastfeeding mothers are less likely to be depressed. To understand this apparent contradiction, it’s important to understand the underlying physiology of the stress vs. oxytocin response. Oxytocin suppresses the stress response, providing protection for the mother. Conversely, stress suppresses oxytocin, which makes both depression and breastfeeding difficulties more likely. Birth interventions also have a role in activating this system. This session describes oxytocin vs. stress and then applies this knowledge to recent studies to understand whether breastfeeding actually protects maternal mental health.