Psychological Trauma and Breastfeeding: What We Know So Far

Main Article Content

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, IBCLC, FAPA


Introduction: Childhood and adult trauma are common experiences in perinatal women worldwide. Psychological trauma has a well-documented effect on mothers’ mental health, but less is known about its impact on breastfeeding.

Objectives: This article synthesizes the results from recent studies on trauma on breastfeeding and perinatal mental health. I describe possible mechanisms by which trauma influences breastfeeding and mental health and provide practical suggestions for working effectively with this population.

Method: Studies were identified via searches in PubMed and PsychInfo. Key words were adverse childhood experiences, child abuse, child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, birth trauma, pregnancy, postpartum, breastfeeding, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Preference was given to studies published in the past 5 years, but older studies were included if more recent studies were not available. Review articles were also included.

Results: Psychological trauma can affect anyone regardless of income, religion, country of origin, age, or race and ethnicity. Pregnant and postpartum women are no exception. Traumatic experiences can make breastfeeding more difficult, but it is often an important goal for trauma survivors. Some studies have found that trauma survivors are more likely to breastfeed. Breastfeeding may be particularly important for trauma survivors in that it lessens trauma symptoms, improves mental health, and lowers the risk of mothers maltreating their children. When working with trauma survivors, it is important that practitioners avoid making assumptions that mothers will not breastfeed. It is important to support their breastfeeding goals.

Clinical Implications: Providers who work with new mothers will likely encounter a substantial percentage who are trauma survivors. Trauma survivors may not share their stories with providers, even if they directly ask, but these mothers’ experiences can influence both breastfeeding and their mental health. Practitioners who understand trauma and support breastfeeding in a trauma-informed way can positively influence both breastfeeding and mental health outcomes. Both childhood and adult trauma can have a negative effect on breastfeeding, but the mechanism may vary. Recent trauma can directly impact hormones needed for breastfeeding whereas childhood trauma may impact it via trauma sequelae, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Keywords: psychological trauma, breastfeeding, adverse childhood experiences, intimate partner violence, birth trauma, postpartum anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder

Article Details

How to Cite
KENDALL-TACKETT, Kathleen. Psychological Trauma and Breastfeeding: What We Know So Far. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 10, n. 11, nov. 2022. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 17 june 2024. doi:
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