Maternal depressive symptoms at three months postpartum and breastfeeding rates at six months postpartum: Implications for primary care in a prospective cohort study of primiparous women in Australia

Hannah Woolhouse, Jennifer James, Deirdre Gartland, Ellie McDonald, Stephanie Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)


Background The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding to six months postpartum, but most women in developed countries do not breastfeed this long. Prior studies exploring the relationship between breastfeeding duration and maternal depression show ambiguous findings. Aim To explore associations between maternal depressive symptoms at three months postpartum, and breastfeeding status over the first six months postpartum. Methods Prospective pregnancy cohort study of nulliparous women. 1507 women were recruited from six public hospitals in early pregnancy, completing baseline data in early pregnancy (mean gestation 15 weeks). Follow-up questionnaires were completed at three and six months postpartum. Women reported how many months they breastfed for (breastfeeding refers to ‘any’ breastfeeding, including expressed breastmilk). Depressive symptoms were measured at three months postpartum with the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (scores ≥13 indicated probable major depression). Findings Of the almost 95% of women who initiated breastfeeding, 76% were still breastfeeding at three months postpartum, and by six months postpartum this dropped to 61%. Women who reported depressive symptoms at three months had significantly lower rates of breastfeeding at six months postpartum compared to women without depressive symptoms (49% vs. 61%; adjusted OR = 0.55, 95% CI 0.34–0.90). Maternal social characteristics associated with not breastfeeding at six months postpartum were: young maternal age; lower education; and smoking in pregnancy. Conclusions Women's decisions around infant-feeding are influenced by a range of psycho-social factors, and early postnatal depressive symptoms appear to be a significant part of this picture, as either a cause or consequence of decisions to cease breastfeeding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-387
Number of pages7
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Breastfeeding
  • Lactation support
  • Maternal depression
  • Postnatal support
  • Primary care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Maternity and Midwifery

Cite this