Women's Mental Health as a Factor Associated with Exclusive Breastfeeding and Breastfeeding Duration: Data from a Longitudinal Study in Greece

Children (Basel). 2021 Feb 17;8(2):150. doi: 10.3390/children8020150.


Background: This study investigated the relationship between exclusive breastfeeding and breastfeeding duration, and maternal psychological well-being in the perinatal period.

Methods: A longitudinal study involving a retrospective follow-up of a group of 1080 women from pregnancy to the 1st year postpartum, who gave birth during the 5-year period between January 2014 and January 2019 in Athens, Greece, was designed. Women's history and two psychometric tools-the Edinburg Postpartum Depression Scale (EPDS) and the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) administered at 5-time points-were used for data collection. Logistic regression analysis and a series of multiple analysis of variance (MANOVA) tests were performed.

Results: The chance for exclusive breastfeeding (giving only breast milk) appeared to decrease (a) with an increase of the scores for psychometric tools antenatally (PHQ-9, p = 0.030) or at the 6th week postpartum (EPDS, p < 0.001 and PHQ-9, p < 0.001), (b) with an increase in the number of psychotherapeutic sessions needed antenatally (p = 0.030), and (c) when the initiation of psychotherapy was necessary postpartum (p = 0.002). Additionally, a shorter duration of any breastfeeding (with or without formula or other types of food/drink) seems to be associated with (a) the occurrence of pathological mental health symptoms (p = 0.029), (b) increased PHQ-9 scores antenatally (p = 0.018), (c) increased EPDS scores at the 6th week (p = 0.004) and the 12th month postpartum (p = 0.031), (d) the initiation of psychotherapy postpartum (p = 0.040), and e) the need for more than 13 psychotherapeutic sessions (p = 0.020).

Conclusions: This study demonstrates a negative relationship between exclusive breastfeeding and breastfeeding duration, and poor maternal mental health in the perinatal period.

Keywords: EPDS; PHQ-9; breastfeeding; depression; duration; exclusivity; mental health.