A young mother noticed a relationship between breastfeeding and mood. as she begins to wean her son from breast-feeding she is experiencing a return of occasional irritability which disappeared towards the end of her pregnancy.
We know that there is a strong effect of breast-feeding on many hormone levels and thought we would check into the literature.
What does the medical literature show about the interplay between pregnancy and breastfeeding with bipolar and other mood disorders? The short answer is: not very much.
One 2003 literature review1 finds a “link” between bipolar and postpartum psychosis, and calls for further study on the issue. A 2005 study2 on anxiety disorders finds that “postpartum anxiety disorders are more common than postpartum depression and worthy of systematic study”.
Moodsurfing has looked into the use of antidepressants during pregnancy, and some of these studies mention breastfeeding as well, although not in any great detail.
A 2016 study3 on the use of mood stabilizing medications during pregnancy and breastfeeding found no significant increase of adverse events with these medications, but calls for further research into possible long-term effects on the infant.
Other studies4,5 looking at breastfeeding generally (not in the context of mental illness) tend to find that breastfeeding is associated with more positive moods and less reported stress compared with non-breastfeeding new mothers. Breastfeeding increases the production of the hormone oxytocin, which regulates pair bonding and affection, leading to positive feelings for both mother and child during feeding. However, a 1994 study6 also found that the cessation of breastfeeding (weaning) was associated with improvements in mood, fatigue and sexuality.
Chaudron LH, Pies RW. The relationship between postpartum psychosis and bipolar disorder: a review. (PMID:14658941) The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 01 Nov 2003, 64(11):1284-1292.
Amy Wenzel Erin N.Haugen Lydia C.Jackson Jennifer R.Brendle. Anxiety symptoms and disorders at eight weeks postpartum. Journal of Anxiety Disorders Volume 19, Issue 3, 2005, Pages 295-311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2004.04.001
Uguz F, Sharma V. (2016) Mood stabilizers during breastfeeding: a systematic review of the recent literature. Bipolar Disord 18:325–333. DOI: 10.1111/bdi.12398
Elizabeth Sibolboro Mezzacappa. Breastfeeding and Maternal Stress Response and Health. Nutrition Reviews, Volume 62, Issue 7, 1 July 2004, Pages 261–268, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2004.tb00050.x
Maureen W. Groër. Differences Between Exclusive Breastfeeders, Formula-Feeders, and Controls: A Study of Stress, Mood, and Endocrine Variables. Biological Research For Nursing. Vol 7, Issue 2, pp. 106 – 117. October 1, 2005. https://doi.org/10.1177/1099800405280936
Forster C , Abraham S , Taylor A , Llewellyn-Jones D. Psychological and sexual changes after the cessation of breast-feeding. (PMID:7936529). Obstetrics and Gynecology 01 Nov 1994, 84(5):872-876.