Stress during breastfeeding is not uncommon but can affect the milk supply. Postpartum recovery, sleep deprivation, caring for the newborn, and other major life adjustments may contribute to the stress in mothers’ lives. Not all women experience the same amount of stress, as some may handle it better, and others may struggle to cope with it.
Stress during breastfeeding may depend on various factors, including how strong a support system you have. Stress during breastfeeding affects the milk supply and can also impact the overall breastfeeding experience.
Read this post to understand the relationship between stress and breastfeeding and get tips on managing stress for nursing mothers.
How Does Stress Affect Breastfeeding?
Stress can affect both the production and release (let down) of breastmilk. Experimental studies in breastfeeding mothers have shown that acute physical and mental stress could impair milk ejection reflex by reducing oxytocin’s release during a feed. If this happens often, it can reduce milk production by preventing the complete emptying of the breast during each feed. Stress is also known to cause impaired lactogenesis (1).
What Causes Stress In Breastfeeding Mothers?
Knowing the stressors or triggers of stress can help you manage them better. Here are a few factors that might cause stress in breastfeeding mothers.
1. Discomfort of the body
Pain is an integral part of pregnancy. You may experience physical pain during and after the delivery. Once you start to breastfeed, sore nipples, breast engorgement, milk stasis, and mastitis could cause you pain and discomfort (2). Physical pain can cause stress and affect your breast milk supply.
2. Breastfeeding anxieties
As a new mother, you may have insecurities and doubts about breastfeeding. It could be the fear of not producing enough milk for your baby or whether the breast milk is good enough. You may also get tons of advice from family and friends, which could be overwhelming. All these could lead to anxiety and affect breastfeeding. As long as your baby latches on correctly and you follow baby’s feeding cues to feed on demand and not to a schedule, you need not worry.
3. Changing hormones
Pregnancy brings about dramatic changes in the body. In the first 24 hours after childbirth, hormone levels quickly drop to pre-pregnancy levels. This sudden dip in hormones may lead to depression (3). Breastfeeding often helps release oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, to help reduce the hormones that lead to depression.
4. Less sleep
Taking care of a newborn could be stressful and exhaustive. The late-night feeds and the constant diaper changes can interfere with your sleep cycle and deprive you of sleep. Lack of sleep increases cortisol production, which suppresses breast milk production (4) (5).
5. Baby’s temperament
All babies are different. Some may eat, sleep, and repeat, while others may throw tantrums. If your baby cries excessively and gets very little sleep, it could cause you stress and affect your breast milk production. Remember, this newborn phase may not last long, and your baby might sleep better and cry less as they grow. When things get hard, seek support from your partner, friends, or family.
6. Relationship troubles
Dealing with relationship troubles can be stressful. If your partner is not on board with your breastfeeding schedules or cannot adjust to the changes in the household, it can add to your stress. Also, events such as separation and divorce can add stress to the new mother.
7. Financial woes
The arrival of a baby can impact your financial status and cause you stress. If you are a single mother or have an unpaid maternity leave, you might be worried about the costs associated with the baby. Planning your finances before the baby’s arrival and talking to your partner about your financial troubles can help reduce stress.
8. Breastfeeding problems
Some mothers may face problems associated with latching, syncing with the feeding schedules, sore nipples, etc. Such issues can cause stress in the mother, affecting breast milk production and making the breastfeeding process complicated for the baby.
Besides, low self-confidence to breastfeed in public, fears of not being a perfect mom, or succumbing to unreasonable social standards can also cause stress in the mother and affect the breast milk supply.
Tips To Deal With Stress When Breastfeeding
The arrival of a baby is a joyous occasion in your life. However, it also comes with several challenges that might trigger stress. The best possible way to deal with stress is to either address the triggers or change how you react to them. Here are some tips to help you cope with stress and enjoy breastfeeding.
- Whenever you feel overwhelmed while taking care of the baby, take a break and let your partner or family members take care of the baby for a while. Take out this time to have some meaningful ‘me-time.’
- Take slow deep breaths as this might help you calm down. You can also try simple meditation techniques.
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member. Sharing your fears and anxieties might help you see things from a fresh perspective and give you new strength and hope to deal with the situation.
- Take out some time to exercise. Physical activity helps relieve stress and releases endorphins, giving you a feel-good feeling (6).
- Listen to music. You can also try singing or humming to calm down and relax.
- Some mothers find shopping stress relieving. If you are one among them, go shop for yourself or your baby.
- Seek professional advice. You can also discuss your fears and doubts regarding breastfeeding with your pediatrician or a lactation specialist.
- Practice self-care to keep yourself healthy. Eat a nutritious diet, go to a spa, or spend time with your friends. The key here is to do things that can make you happy and relaxed.
- Ditch electronic devices. Whether it is during the late-night feeds or when you are fighting sleep, you will have an urge to check your phone. Avoid doing this, as excess use of electronic devices can only enhance stress.
- Identify the triggers and try to find a workaround. Talk to your partner and tell them what is triggering your anxiety and stress. This may help you and your partner work out ways to reduce your stress.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can babies get stress hormones through breast milk?
According to the hypothesis, mothers may pass the stress hormone cortisol to their babies through breast milk, resulting in behavioral changes. However, the studies in this field are in the initial stages, and more research is required to confirm the hypothesis (7).
2. Does the mother’s mood affect her breast milk?
A study done on 81 women found that mothers’ negative emotions such as depression, tension, fatigue, anger, and confusion affected the immune properties of breast milk by lowering the IgA levels (8).
The changing hormones in the body and the anxiety of handling your baby may give rise to stress that might affect your breastfeeding. In addition, reduction in breastmilk production and its expression are common problems that might occur due to the same. Therefore, you must enjoy your breastfeeding journey, take deep breaths, take some time for yourself, and destress so that the tension does not affect your and your little one’s health.
- A few studies have shown that stress may reduce milk production.
- Anxieties on breastfeeding, insomnia, hormonal fluctuations, or newborn babies’ mood swings may trigger stress in nursing mothers.
- Participating in relaxing activities like meditation, practicing self-care, and listening to music may help calm the stress.
- It is also advisable to identify the triggers and seek professional help if needed.
2. Michael Abou-Dakn, Ute Schäfer-Graf, and Achim Wöckel; Psychological stress and breast diseases during lactation; Breastfeeding Review (2009).
3. Postpartum depression; ASH- Office on Women’s Health
4. Better Sleep for Breastfeeding Mothers, Safer Sleep for Babies; National Institute for Children’s Health Quality
5. What can reduce breast milk supply?; UT Southwestern Medical Center
6. Jackson, Erica; STRESS RELIEF-The Role of Exercise in Stress Management; ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal (2013).
7. Christine Hechler; Are cortisol concentrations in human breast milk associated with infant crying? NCBI; (2018)
8. Psychological Distress in the Mother May Affect Levels of Immunoglobulins in Breast Milk; Massachusetts General Hospital