They Say: Bottlefeeding May Put Moms in Mourning


519624_milk_An evolutionary psychologist is taking on post partum depression with an interesting — yet morbid — new theory.  University of Albany researcher Gordon Gallup says that — from an evolutionary standpoint, anyway — choosing bottle over breast is tantamount to sending your body a biological telegram that your baby has died.

Here’s how he explains his theory:  After polling 50 moms who had recently given birth, the team discovered that bottle feeding moms had higher scores on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale.  And those same bottle feeding mothers also spent more time holding their babies than the breastfeeding mothers did.  Gallup interpreted this as an act of a desperate, mourning mother that

…parallels findings among nonhuman primates where in response to the death of an infant, mothers of some species have been known to tenaciously hold, cling to, and carry their infants for prolonged periods after they die.

(In fact, a separate, much larger study has already shown that breastfed babies are held more than bottlefed babies.)

Basically, way back before wet nurses or infant formula, the absence of a suckling infant would indicate a loss of the child.  Gallup believes that women’s bodies still interpret this loss, even though logic tells them their babies are alive and thriving.  This could explain the higher incidence in this study of post partum depression among bottle feeding mothers.

But there are gaps in Gallup’s theory.  Did his study account for things like family history, hormone imbalances, or the baby’s health and behavior (like colic or not sleeping)?  Or — as fellow Strollerderby blogger Jeanne Sager pointed out to me — that maybe they’re so bombarded with the “breast is best” ideal that they feel overwhelming guilt every time they make their baby’s bottle and that puts them at risk for depression?

Look:  We all know breast is best.  We know it, we understand it, but that doesn’t mean that every mother can (or even wants) to do it.  If Gallup is on the right track and his research helps moms with depression, then bravo.  But this feels to me like another way to unfairly clobber moms with the message that if they’re bottle feeding their baby, they’re doing something terribly wrong — for their babies and for themselves.

What do you think of Gallup’s finding?  Has he done enough research to back it up?