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How Do Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) Affect Breastfeeding?


In my recent podcast, I spoke with Colleen Weeks about adverse childhood events (ACEs) and their impact on immediate and long-term health. Colleen has been involved in the identification and management of ACEs for many years, And, as a childbirth and breastfeeding expert, she has plenty of insight to share.

Before talking with Colleen, I read (and re-read!) a recent study by Ukah and colleagues. That study gave three insights about ACES related to breastfeeding I’d like to share with you.

ACEs may be any of seven different events

Each study defines ACEs a little differently, but Ukah and colleagues focused on a questionnaire that elicited a client history to identify one or more of these events during childhood:

  1. spending a week or more in the hospital
  2. having parents who are divorced
  3. having parents who were unemployed for a substantial time
  4. experiencing a “scary event”
  5. experiencing a family problem due to alcohol or drug abuse
  6. being sent away because they did something wrong
  7. experiencing physical abuse

I found it especially interesting that in this study, the most reported individual adverse childhood event among these mothers was having had a scary event (27%). The researchers did not give examples in their study, but Colleen gave several possible examples during our discussion.

How ACEs impact breastfeeding

Interestingly, ACEs did not significantly affect whether or not mothers initiated breastfeeding. However, mothers who had experienced ACEs were less likely to continue breastfeeding for up to 6 months, compared with those who did not have ACEs.

This implies that while mothers who have experienced ACEs are willing to initiate breastfeeding. we all need to be aware and help them to continue after they have started.

How breastfeeding affects ACES

The Ukah study cited three previous studies showing that “women who managed to successfully breastfeed their babies have reported that breastfeeding also facilitated healing from their early childhood abuse; this suggests that breastfeeding may serve as an additional therapy for these women.”

These simple facts make it clear that we all have a responsibility to help women in a special way. Why so? Because they are at risk for early cessation. But perhaps more importantly, because breastfeeding could be a “therapy” like to no other. Not only do we have the research to support this, we have Colleen’s testimony.

What have you noticed about ACEs and mothers who breastfeed? 

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