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Study: Bottle Feeding Mimics Child Loss

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Mothers who do not breastfeed risk postnatal depression

Contact(s):  Catherine Herman (518) 956-8150



Mother and baby

Bottle feeding simulates loss and is a significant risk factor for postpartum depression, according to UAlbany researchers.

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 14, 2009) -- Mothers who bottle feed their infants in lieu of breastfeeding put themselves at risk of developing postpartum depression, according to a team of University at Albany psychologists.

In the August issue of Medical Hypotheses, evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup and graduate researchers Nate Pipitone, Kelly Carrone, and Kevin Leadholm contend that for most of our evolutionary history the absence or early cessation of breastfeeding would have been occasioned by the miscarriage, loss, or death of an infant, and, at the level of basic biology, a mother's decision to bottle feed rather than nurse unknowingly simulates that loss. The UAlbany researchers concluded that bottle feeding triggers biological and other reactions to loss, and is a significant risk factor for postpartum depression.

The UAlbany psychologists studied more than 50 mothers recruited through local pediatric offices at four to six weeks after childbirth. They found those who bottle fed their babies scored significantly higher on a postnatal depression scale than those engaged in breastfeeding.  The increased risk of depression among mothers who relied on bottle feeding held true even after controlling for such factors as age, education, income, and the motherís relationship with her current partner.

The death of a child is a well documented trigger for profound grief and depression, and evidence shows that mothers tend to be more affected than fathers. The UAlbany researchers found that mothers who were bottle feeding tended to want to hold their babies more. This parallels findings with nonhuman primates where mother monkeys, in response to the death of an infant, tenaciously hold, cling to, and carry their babies for prolonged periods after they die.

The UAlbany research team noted that the common hospital practice of isolating newborn infants together in a nursery for the first couple of days after birth, and the resulting intermittent separation of the mother from her baby during the initial post childbirth period, could also serve to simulate child loss and contribute to or set the stage for subsequent postpartum depression.

"Bottle feeding and hospital procedures that simulate child loss may increase the risk of postpartum depression," Gallup said. "These practices fall within a growing number of medical issues that could benefit from a perspective of human evolutionary history."

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