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David Baxter

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Breastfeeding and Omega-3s lowers postnatal depression risk

Breastfeeding and the good fats in Omega-3 fatty acids help new moms fight depression, according to an article published in the most recent issue of the International Breastfeeding Journal by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, a health psychologist and researcher at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research Center.

"Depression in new mothers is common in many cultures, affecting anywhere from 10 percent to 20 percent of postpartum women. In some high-risk populations, the percentage can even be as high as 40 percent or 50 percent. Since depression has devastating effects on both mother and baby, it's vital that it be identified and treated promptly. Depressed mothers are also more likely to stop breastfeeding with negative health effects for each," Kendall-Tackett said.

According to Kendall-Tackett, physical and psychological stressors increase inflammation, which is one of the top contributors to depression in new mothers. Most current treatments for depression, including the long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, are anti-inflammatory.

New mothers experience an increase in inflammation because of increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines. These levels dramatically increase in the last trimester of pregnancy and continue to elevate during the postpartum period. Moreover, common experiences of new motherhood, such as sleep disturbance, postpartum pain, and past or current psychological trauma, act as stressors that cause proinflammatory cytokine levels to rise, according to Kendall-Tackett.

"Breastfeeding protects maternal mood by lowering stress. When stress levels are lower, the mother's inflammatory response system will not be activated, thereby lowering her risk of depression," she said. "However positive these results, I must issue one caveat: they only apply when breastfeeding is going well. As noted earlier, when breastfeeding that is not going well, particularly if there is pain, it becomes a trigger to depression rather than something that lessens the risk. Mothers' mental health is yet another reason to intervene quickly when breastfeeding difficulties arise."

Kendall-Tackett K. A new paradigm for depression in new mothers: the central role of inflammation and how breastfeeding and anti-inflammatory treatments protect maternal mental health. Int Breastfeed J. 2007;doi:10.1186/1746-4358-2-6 [Full text]
 

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