Postpartum depression and nursing may affect each other, but there is contrasting evidence on the link between the two.

Postpartum depression (PPD) is a form of depression that can occur in the first year after giving birth.

PPD may affect a person’s ability to feed an infant, and nursing may adversely or positively affect mental health.

This article looks at chestfeeding or breastfeeding with PPD, treatment for PPD, and getting support.

People of any sex or gender can take part in pregnancy and child-rearing. Some people may prefer the term “chestfeeding” over breastfeeding. This article uses the gender-neutral term “nursing” to refer to chestfeeding or breastfeeding.

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PPD is depression that can occur in the year following childbirth and usually begins around 1-3 weeks after delivery. PPD does not affect everyone.

PPD may cause intense or persistent feelings of sadness, despair, or anxiety and prevent people from carrying out everyday tasks.

Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common complications during pregnancy and the first year following childbirth. Mental health conditions can make it difficult for a person to notice, interpret, or respond to the needs of an infant.

Some people with PPD may find nursing a positive experience, while others may find it more difficult. Some people with PPD may nurse for a shorter time.

Nursing promotes the release of oxytocin, a hormone that supports maternal bonding. It also reduces cortisol, a hormone that responds to stress and often increases during pregnancy.

Consistently high levels of cortisol can damage physical and mental health.

Learn more

Learn more about dealing with postpartum depression.

Some people who experience PPD may still be able to continue nursing, and some may experience positive emotions from it.

However, PPD may prevent some people from being able to nurse an infant or cause adverse feelings about chest or breastfeeding.

Research suggests untreated PPD may increase the risk of difficulties while feeding. People with PPD may be more likely to:

  • discontinue feeding early
  • feed an infant prematurely or inappropriately
  • feel unsatisfied with their method of feeding an infant
  • experience significant problems with feeding
  • experience lower levels of confidence around their feeding capabilities
  • begin early weaning
  • opt for bottle feeding

Nursing an infant may benefit both the person feeding and the child, but bottle feeding with baby formula also has benefits and is a safe complementary or alternative feeding option.

People can choose the most manageable option for them and talk with a healthcare professional if they are experiencing difficulties feeding or caring for their baby.

Learn more

Learn more about nursing.

There is contrasting research regarding a potential link between nursing and PPD.

A 2021 population study suggests that nursing, and nursing for a longer duration, may lower the risk of PPD.

According to a 2016 article, PPD may reduce nursing rates, while not nursing may increase the risk of PPD. Some research suggests nursing may have protective effects against PPD or help with quicker recovery.

According to a 2018 review, there is currently not enough evidence to know if there is a link between nursing and PPD.

A 2020 article also notes that research is contrasting, with some studies showing nursing to have protective effects against depression. Others show that nursing difficulties may worsen mental illness.

Choosing not to or being unable to nurse may also contribute to anxiety if people feel an increased pressure that it is the best option for their baby.

If people are experiencing symptoms of PDD, talking with a healthcare professional can help. They can offer support and discuss treatment options. This includes people who are experiencing:

  • baby blues, which last longer than 2 weeks
  • symptoms of depression begin within the first year after childbirth and last for longer than 2 weeks
  • symptoms of depression increase and become more severe or intense
  • difficulty carrying out everyday tasks
  • difficulty caring for themselves or their baby
  • thoughts about harming themselves or their baby

People can also talk with a doctor if they have difficulty nursing or feeding their baby.

To diagnose PPD, a doctor will take a complete medical history and assess symptoms. A doctor may diagnose PPD if a person has at least five depressive symptoms lasting at least two weeks within a year of giving birth.

A doctor may also use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), a short questionnaire to assess whether people are at high risk of PPD.

Learn about the differences between baby blues and PPD.

Certain antidepressants may or may not be suitable to use while nursing.

Some medications can pass on to the baby through breast milk, but most will have little to no effect on the milk supply or a baby’s health.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), levels of antidepressants in breast milk are usually very low.

People can discuss antidepressant options with a doctor to determine the best treatment and which medications are safe to take while nursing.

Several organizations and services can offer support and guidance on PPD, including:

If people have any suicidal thoughts, people can get immediate support through any of the following:

PPD is a treatable condition, and most people find symptom relief with the correct treatment.

Even if people start to feel better, it is important to continue treatment, as a healthcare professional advises, to help prevent symptoms from recurring.

Many effective treatment options are available, including talk therapy, lifestyle changes, extra support, and medications.

Learn more about dealing with postpartum depression.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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PPD can cause persistent feelings of sadness, despair, or inability to cope with everyday tasks, self-care, or looking after an infant.

PPD may affect a person’s ability to nurse, and nursing may affect PPD in some cases, but there is contrasting evidence around the exact link.

It is important to speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible if people are experiencing symptoms of PPD. Early diagnosis and treatment can help people to start feeling better sooner.