Kathleen Kendall Tackett, PhD, IBCLC, FAPA
We do not live in a perfect world. Many new mothers have experienced abuse and adversity as children. They want to be good mothers. But they often wonder whether they will perpetuate the cycle of violence that they have experienced. They may also have a history of depression and wonder whether this has harmed their children. Fortunately, we can offer new mothers hope. Recent studies have found that breastfeeding helps mothers mother—even when there is a history of abuse. It not about the milk; it’s the physical act of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding improves maternal sleep, lowers the risk of depression, lessens anger and irritability, and even attenuates the negative effects of past sexual assault. Breastfeeding protects babies when their mothers are depressed and is associated with better children’s mental health up to age 14. Because mothers must be responsive to their babies, breastfeeding promotes secure attachments, which has lifetime implications for babies’ health. Breastfeeding mothers are less likely to physically abuse or neglect their children. And if a mother has a history of sexual abuse or assault, breastfeeding attenuates (lessens) the impact of sexual assault/abuse on sleep, depression, anxiety, and anger or irritability. Breastfeeding offers mothers a chance to do things differently—to be a different kind of parent. When it comes to overcoming adversity and stopping the intergenerational cycle of violence, breastfeeding makes all the difference.