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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Prof Helen L. Ball

Watson, Stuart, Ball, Helen , Lewis, Andrew & Galbally, Megan (2018). Breastfeeding, Antidepressants and Depression in the Mercy Pregnancy and Emotional Well-being Study. Journal of Human Lactation 35(1): 127-136.

Author(s) from Durham


Depression is consistently shown to predict lower rates of breastfeeding. In a handful of studies, breastfeeding has predicted lower depression symptoms. However, studies demonstrating the latter are limited in their measurement of both depression and breastfeeding and have not followed participants from pregnancy across the postpartum period.

Research Aim:
The primary aim of this study was to describe breastfeeding intentions and behaviors for the first 12 months postpartum among nonmedicated depressed, antidepressant-exposed, and control participants. The secondary aim was to examine group differences in the association between depressive symptoms and breastfeeding duration up to 12 months postpartum.

First-trimester women (n = 212) were recruited into a prospective longitudinal study. Depressive disorders at baseline were diagnosed using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis I Disorders, and depressive symptoms were measured at the first and second trimesters and 6 and 12 months postpartum using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. Breastfeeding duration, support from family and employers, and perceptions of participants’ experience were measured.

Depressed women and antidepressant-exposed women reported a trend toward lower rates of intention, initiation, and duration, but this did not reach statistical significance. There was a statistically significant difference on depressive symptoms for women taking antidepressants during pregnancy, compared with controls, when they continued to breastfeed for 12 months postpartum.

This study did not find a strong association between depression or antidepressant use and intention to breastfeed, partner breastfeeding support, or initiation or duration of breastfeeding. However, for women who took antidepressants, there was evidence that breastfeeding for 12 months was associated with lower depressive symptoms.