The positive effects of breastfeeding might be caused by the feelgood hormones released when milk is produced, says a new study.Breastfeeding may half the risk of post-natal depression, finds a new study of nearly 14,000 British women by the University of Cambridge.

Researchers found that women planning to breastfeed had a 50 per cent lower risk of suffering from post-natal depression if they managed to do so.

The benefits of breastfeeding to the mother's mental well-being increased each week up to one month but the long-term effects of breastfeeding could not be studied as only a fraction of mothers continued to breastfeed beyond a couple of months.

The researchers speculated that the positive effects might be caused by the feel-good hormones released when milk is produced. Breastfeeding also relieved stress, helping mothers relax.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies should be given only breast milk until the age of six months, saying that the benefits of breastfeeding are clear-cut.

But there is also a flip side to breastfeeding as the study showed that the risk of depression doubled for those mothers who wanted to breastfeed but for some reason could not.

"Those who wanted to and didn't end up breastfeeding had the highest risk of all the groups," Dr Maria Iacovou, one of the researchers told the BBC.

Iacovou said that these women may have felt that they had failed as mothers, adding that healthcare services should find new ways of supporting mothers who are not able to breastfeed.

Henrik Suni – HS
Niina Woolley – HT
Image: Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva