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Breastfeeding Pain Linked to Postpartum Depression

Breastfeeding and Postpartum Depression

Breastfeeding is an Emotionally-Charged Issue for New Mothers

As you will read in the following true stories, these new moms have experienced deep and life-changing struggles with breastfeeding and postpartum depression. Their situations vary widely, but they shared extreme guilt and shame surrounding their difficulty with breastfeeding.

In this article, we will explore breastfeeding and postpartum depression causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

“Postpartum Depression: One Mom’s Story of Struggle and Recovery”
 – By Alexandra Rosas:

Since I was a little girl, I have dreamed of having my own baby. When finally, in my mid-30s, I learned that I was pregnant, my feet didn’t touch the ground for months. Our first baby arrived on a sunny afternoon in April. (MORE)

“Postpartum Depression: Aileen’s Story” – an interview with Aileen McElhaney

Aileen’s little boy Rory was a tiny little firecracker from the day he arrived, with a full head of downy soft, bleach blonde duck-feather for hair that stuck straight up off his head. (MORE)

“Breastfeeding & Postpartum Depression: A Mother Without A Breast” – By Katherine Stone

My name is Lisa, and I have a 2-year-old daughter. Unlike some mothers, PPD was far from my first experience with mental illness. I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder since age 22, although that diagnosis took 4 years of frequent hospitalization and medical guesswork. I have a “treatment-resistant” illness; most medications simply increase my symptoms. (MORE)

How does nipple pain lead to postpartum depression?

Most women decide to breastfeed even before they leave the hospital with their newborn baby, sometimes very early in their pregnancy. They may have envisioned all their lives that breastfeeding their newborn would be a very pleasant experience – a special bonding time with their new baby.

Nipple pain, being second to perceived low supply, is one of the most common reasons given by women for their decision to stop breastfeeding early. This often involves unshakable feelings of guilt and anxiety – leading to increased stress, sleep disturbances and ultimately postpartum depression.

They feel they are falling short of an important part of womanhood, like they are inadequate. Overwhelming feelings of failure as a mother set in when they start experiencing unbearable, unanticipated difficulties and have to stop breastfeeding because of them.

What causes nipple pain?

Nipple pain can be due to an infection, though other causes may include trauma, such as from milk bleb, thrush infection, a poor latch or tongue-tie. It may also be caused by vasospasm. Some babies also exert a higher vacuum than others, which is always painful for their mothers.

What is postpartum depression?

Depression is a serious illness that involves the brain. With depression, sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings don’t go away and interfere with day-to-day life and routines. These feelings can be mild to severe. The good news is that most people with depression get better with treatment.

Depression is a common problem during and after pregnancy. About 13 percent of pregnant women and new mothers have depression.

How do I know if I have depression?

When you are pregnant or after you have a baby, you may be depressed and not know it. Some normal changes during and after pregnancy can cause symptoms similar to those of depression.

New research shows that women who stop breastfeeding because of pain and discomfort are more likely to develop postpartum depression.

During the postpartum period, at least 10 to 15% of women develop significant symptoms of depression and anxiety. Many of these mothers, unfortunately, are never treated. And even though they may be coping, they are likely to be seriously affected in many areas of life. 

What is the difference between “Baby Blues”, “Postpartum Depression”, and “Postpartum Psychosis”?

Many women have the baby blues in the days and weeks after childbirth.

If you have the baby blues, you may:

  • Have mood swings
  • Feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed
  • Have crying spells
  • Lose your  appetite
  • Have trouble sleeping

The baby blues most often go away within a few days or a week. The symptoms are not severe and do not need treatment.

The symptoms of postpartum depression last longer and are more severe and need to be treated by a doctor. Postpartum depression can begin anytime within the first year after childbirth. If you have postpartum depression, you may have any of the symptoms of depression listed above.

Symptoms of postpartum depression may also include:

  • Thoughts of hurting the baby
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself
  • Not having any interest in the baby

Postpartum psychosis (seye-KOH-suhss) is rare. It occurs in about 1 to 4 out of every 1,000 births. It usually begins in the first 2 weeks after childbirth. Women who have bipolar disorder or another mental health problem called schizoaffective (SKIT-soh-uh-FEK-tiv) disorder have a higher risk for postpartum psychosis.

Symptoms of postpartum psychosis may include:

  • Seeing things that aren’t there
  • Feeling confused
  • Having rapid mood swings
  • Trying to hurt yourself or your baby

QUIZ: Are you suffering from Postpartum Depression?

The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EDPS) was developed in 1987 to help doctors determine whether a mother may be suffering from postpartum depression. The scale has since been validated, and evidence from a number of research studies has confirmed the tool to be both reliable and sensitive in detecting depression.

If you feel that you might be suffering from postpartum depression, it could be helpful to complete this interactive quiz and share the results with your health care provider. (J.L. Cox, J.M. Holden, R. Sagovsky, Department of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh)

How to Help Mothers with Postnatal Depression

The most important thing to do is to help women to prevent postpartum depression in the first place.

According to Dr Amy Brown of Swansea University “We know that many new mothers want to breastfeed but often that they experience difficulties in doing so. Although the majority of women should be able to breastfeed, issues such as complications during delivery, time-pressured health professionals, and a lack of experience of what breastfeeding is really like, can all make breastfeeding more difficult.

It is vital therefore, to educate women, especially new mothers, on how to help a baby latch on correctly and also on normal feeding patterns in order to avoid postnatal depression. This will also encourage more women to breastfeed their babies. 

Treating Postpartum Depression

The good news is that depression is both a diagnosable and treatable illness even though many do not go out for treatment.

How to decide whether or not to use a medicine while pregnant?

When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy, you and your doctor need to talk about the medicine’s benefits and risks.

  • Benefits: what are the good things the medicine can do for me and my growing baby (fetus)?
  • Risks: what are the ways the medicine might harm me or my growing baby (fetus)?

There may be times during pregnancy when using medicine is a choice. Some of the medicine choices you and your doctor make while you are pregnant may differ from the choices you make when you are not pregnant. For example, if you get a cold, you may decide to “live with” your stuffy nose instead of using the “stuffy nose” medicine you use when you are not pregnant.

In the future, will there be better ways to know if medicines are safe to use during pregnancy?

At this time, drugs are rarely tested for safety in pregnant women for fear of harming the unborn baby. Until this changes, pregnancy exposure registries help doctors and researchers learn how medicines affect pregnant mothers and their growing babies. A pregnancy exposure registry is a study that enrolls pregnant women who are using a certain medicine. The women sign up for the study while pregnant and are followed for a certain length of time after the baby is born.

Researchers compare babies of mothers who used the medicine while pregnant to babies of mothers who did not use the medicine. This type of study compares large groups of pregnant mothers and babies to look for medicine effects. A woman and her doctor can use registry results to make more informed choices about using medicine while pregnant.

Information on Pregnancy and Medicines

For more information about pregnancy and medicines, call at 800-994-9662 (TDD: 888-220-5446) or contact the following organizations:

Drug-free Alternative for the Treatment of Postpartum Depression

One way to treat depression, either before, during or after pregnancy, does not involve the use of drugs. It is proven to be safe and effective. It is non-invasive. And it works when other treatments don’t.  It’s called TMS.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy 

TMS Therapy is precisely targeted at a key area of the brain thought to control mood. This area, called the prefrontal cortex, is known to be underactive in depression sufferers. TMS uses highly focused magnetic pulses to stimulate neurons in this area, causing them to become active and release neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the brains chemical messengers. TMS stimulates neurons in the prefrontal cortex to restore normal function and lift the symptoms of depression.

This is a new therapy that most people prefer because it involves no drugs and has been proven to be safe and very effective in the treatment of depression. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is also free of the negative side effects often associated with taking antidepressants. TMS is a no drug treatment for depression that takes less than an hour.

Breastfeeding Pain Linked to Postpartum Depression

Dr. Scott West

About Nashville NeuroCare Therapy: In April of 2010, Dr. West brought the technology of NeuroStar TMS to Nashville, becoming the first physician in Tennessee to offer the option of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) for patients whose severe depression has not responded to a course of antidepressant medication or treatment for depression. The team at Nashville NeuroCare Therapy offers the most experience in the Tennessee-area. We have treated 550+ patients across the U.S. and administered 16,000+ TMS treatments, plus we maintain some of the highest percentages of positive patient responses and remission rates in the industry.

At Nashville NeuroCare Therapy, we deliver personalized therapy, specializing in TMS Therapy and Neurofeedback. We provide safe and well-researched therapies for depression, ADHD and sleep problems—all without the need for medication.

For more information on our therapies for Depression, ADHD and Sleep Problems, please contact us at (615) 465-4875 or or [email protected] or visit our website

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APA Reference
West, W. (2015). Breastfeeding Pain Linked to Postpartum Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Dec 2015
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