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Debating Nighttime Breastfeeding: No Formula For Success

Recently I wrote about Kathleen Kendall-Tackett’s article for Science and Sensibility in which she argues that breastfeeding moms get more sleep and thus a reduced chance of depression. One of the comments came from Katherine Stone, a postpartum depression expert who wasn’t entirely sold on the pitch. She wrote up her response on her own blog Postpartum Progress.

Stone feels there may be something missing from the research: “Did the mothers in all of those studies have PPD?  Did they look at whether mothers who had fathers doing the bottle-feeding during the night got more sleep?” While she knows and respects Kendell-Tackett’s work in the field of depression, Stone wonders if her work as a lactation specialist might have tinted her perspective on this issue just a little.

But more importantly Stone wonders if it’s productive to generalize about what might help “all” women when it comes to sleep and feeding and depression. She spoke to several experts and quoted one as saying:

” … the treatment of postpartum mood or anxiety disorders is highly individualized, including whether to breastfeed or not.  Blanket pronouncements that one way is best, as suggested in this article, are not helpful, and likely contribute to the guilt/shame/stigma many women feel when they choose not to breastfeed.”

The website Postpartum Progress was started by Stone after her own experiences with postpartum OCD and depression. She was far better off (and more rested) when her husband took over night feedings with formula. She also knows plenty of women for whom night breastfeeding was “CRUCIAL” for their mental health.

“Couldn’t we all simply agree that the best approach is for the mother and doctor to look closely at her history, her illness, her family situation and any other important factors, and then decide what is best? ” she asks.

I have a huge amount of respect for both authors and both websites. I found the arguments thought-provoking and enlightening.

One thing I loved about Kendell-Tackett’s article is the recognition that breastfeeding moms are–not always, but often–a sleepy bunch. Breastfeeders are sometimes looked upon (unfavorably) as martyrs, hoping to jack their infant’s IQs or otherwise succumb to perfect parent pressure. But we can be lazy. Sometimes women breastfeed for a long time because it’s just what works.

On the other hand, Stone’s conclusion that we just can’t generalize about this stuff is so important. It applies to almost everything about parenting.  And it’s good to remember when—and I say when, coz this is rarely an if—you get some across-the-board advice or info that doesn’t jibe with what’s happening in your life.

Read more Katherine Stone here

And more Kathleen Kendall-Tackett here.

photo: Valerie/Flickr

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