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Battling the baby blues can start at the breast, research shows.
Analysis of 14,000 births has found women who planned to breastfeed and successfully did so were half as likely to become depressed after birth as those who always intended to use a bottle.
Those who aimed to breastfeed but were unable to do so were the most at risk, with twice the rate of becoming depressed than those mothers who never tried.
The University of Cambridge study, conducted by researchers in the UK and Spain, was published on Wednesday in Maternal and Child Health Journal.
Study leader Maria Lacovou said hormones may play a role in protecting against depression, while frustration and guilt of failing to breastfeed could increase the risk.
"Breastfeeding has well-established benefits to babies, in terms of physical health and cognitive development; our study shows that it also benefits the mental health of mothers."
The most recent New Zealand statistics from Plunket showed that last year 86 per cent of babies up to the age of six weeks were getting some breast milk.
Plunket clinical advisory manager Karen Magrath said breastfeeding rates were slowly rising, and now the highest in 19 years.
"It reflects that families are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and many mums want to breastfeed their children, which is great.
"Breastfeeding is a skill that requires learning for both mother and baby, and every baby and mother pair is individual so each finds their own way to breastfeed," she said.
Debbie Graham, administrator of professional liaison at breastfeeding support group La Leche League, said most women would expect to breastfeed.
"There'd only be a small per centage, like 1 or 2 per cent, who planned to not breastfeed," Graham said. "There's definitely a link with not breastfeeding and increased risk of depression, and that's been quite well known internationally for a few years."
High rates of breastfeeding were because of a "good start-off". "We'd probably have more than 90 per cent of women leaving the hospital breastfeeding," she said.
The Ministry of Health recommends feeding babies exclusively on breast milk for the first six months. In May this year, it published figures showing about 65 per cent of babies were receiving breast milk at six months of age, which was in line with the 2016 national target.
Statistics showed about 13 per cent of new mothers suffered postnatal depression during the first year.
PlunketLine (0800 933 922) is available 24 hours, seven days a week to offer support to new mums.
- The Dominion Post
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