Nighttime Breastfeeding and Depression?

Since it is World Breastfeeding Week this week, it seems fitting to have a post about breastfeeding! I just read a guest post by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett at Science and Sensibility about the (flawed) recommendation that mothers avoid breastfeeding at night as a depression-reduction strategy. The conclusion of the post referenced above was: “The results of these previous studies are remarkably consistent. Breastfeeding mothers are less tired and get more sleep than their formula- or mixed-feeding counterparts. And this lowers their risk for depression.”

I, too, have noticed the advice often in popular culture to, “let dad take a night feeding so mom can get more sleep.” It doesn’t seem to really hold up in practice (or in research).

My personal experiences as a breastfeeding mother–-even of a newborn—was that I most often felt, “surprisingly well-rested.” I experienced little to no of the classic sleep-deprived mother signs and I attributed this to breastfeeding. I marveled at the sense of perfect nighttime harmony that I experienced with my babies–-I remember saying, “during the day, he confuses me, but at night it is like we are in perfect harmony.” The symbiosis of waking seconds before baby needed to nurse amazed me. And, since they slept right next to me it was extremely easy to not completely waken. As they got older, I would often wake in the morning not able to clearly recall whether I had woken during the night at all–-and if so, how many times-–though, baby would be on a different side, so I knew I must have!

As toddlers, both my boys went through a period of extra-night nursing and being very rough while nursing at night and I remember saying–-“hey, I’m more sleep-disrupted now with a two year old than with a two month old! What’s up?!” (and this was my cue that night weaning was a good idea).

Though, I feel it is also important to say that I have seen some pretty serious sleep deprivation cases as a breastfeeding counselor that have made me realize that breastfeeding on demand all night CAN, individually speaking, be a link to depression in some mothers. However, I think various practitioners take anecdotal experiences too seriously in making blanket recommendations-–either anecdotal from personal experience or from very serious client cases. On the flip-side, this can also include me! I recognize in myself that my positive night-nursing experiences and sense of nighttime harmony and symbiosis, etc. skew my own approaches to working with breastfeeding mothers on sleep issues–-I feel that in a few cases, I have failed to take seriously several mothers’ concerns about night nursing, because I had personal blinders on about my own harmonious experiences and thought they must certainly be exaggerating (and/or culturally conditioned to see a “problem,” where none really existed other than popular opinion about babies being able to “sleep through the night”).

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