Stress and Breastfeeding – Causes, Effects and Tips to Cope

Stress and Breastfeeding

Stress is our body’s natural response to any demanding situation or threat. Some amount of stress is part of everyday life and may be difficult to avoid completely. Stress can be either good or bad. Good stress is needed to propel us to function. But bad stress can adversely affect our emotional and physical health and result in health complications. Most women feel stressed after giving birth to a child. Being a mom for the first time and the pressure to be the best can be intimidating. Some women often feel stressed in their breastfeeding stage. Stress and lactation are connected. However, stress can affect various women differently. Something which is very stressful for one woman may not be stressful for other. Also, some women may be able to deal with stress in a better manner.

Constant and increased stress can unfavourably affect the production of breast milk and also result in tough let-down reflex. Higher levels of stress in breastfeeding moms may also lead to early weaning. On the other hand, regular breastfeeding can assist in lowering stress levels. The hormones that are released during breastfeeding can encourage positive feelings of relaxation, love, and bonding and may aid in negating everyday stress.

What Causes Stress in Breastfeeding Mothers

Some of the probable causes of stress and breastfeeding problems can be:

1. Bodily Discomfort

It is common for a new mom to experience some physical discomfort after delivery while the stitches heal. Once she begins breastfeeding, other problems like breast engorgement, sore nipples can add to the physical distress. All this can make breastfeeding uncomfortable and lead to stress.

2. Difficult Birth Experience

In case the expectant mom anticipated a normal delivery but due to unforeseen reasons ended up with a surprising c-section or a tough delivery it can trigger feelings of disappointment, guilt and stress which can have an adverse bearing on the breast milk supply.

3. Breastfeeding Anxieties

A lack of experience in breastfeeding may also cause stress. A new mom may have concerns about how to get the baby latch on to the breast or about the flow of milk supply. She may also be concerned about the proper way of breastfeeding and the breastfeeding schedule.

4. Concerns About Privacy

Some new moms can be self-conscious about exposing their breasts, which can make breastfeeding stressful. A new mom may be apprehensive about nursing in public or having visitors while she is breastfeeding. To have her privacy compromised may result in stress.

5. Lack of Sleep

Nursing and tending to a newborn baby can be physically and emotionally demanding. It often involves frequent night feeding, staying awake at odd hours which can disrupt the sleep patterns and result in fatigue. Insufficient sleep and adequate rest can also cause stress to aggravate.

A tired mom

6. Hormones

A woman goes through many hormonal and physical changes during her pregnancy, delivery and breastfeeding which may a take a toll on her physical appearances like increased weight gain, changes in her breast size, likely stretch marks. All these changes can cause undue stress.

7. Breast Milk Supply

New breastfeeding moms commonly stress over their ability to produce enough breast milk for their baby. Worrying, in fact, can become a reason for more stress.

8. Baby’s Temperament

Every baby has a different disposition. Some babies are fairly easy to handle, they may sleep for longer durations between feeds, cry less and remain generally cheerful. While some can be difficult, they may sleep less, cry a lot, or easily get irritated. Taking care of such babies can be hard and activate breastfeeding stress particularly if appropriate support is not available.

9. Relationship with Partner

Your partner and you need to share an understanding when it comes to nursing and taking care of your baby. Opposing views and differing opinions can prompt friction and relationship stress. Also, in some cases, partners don’t seem disposed to lend a helping hand which can turn out to be a cause of stress for new mother.

10. Financial Woes

Financial reservations can be a huge stress factor. The arrival of a newborn baby can increase the household expenditure like having to buy diapers and baby supplies. In case a woman was working earlier but after the birth of her baby, if she is on unpaid maternity leave or has left her job it can affect the family’s income.

Impact of Stress on Breastfeeding

Nursing moms may like to know how does stress affect breastfeeding. Stress can impact breastfeeding in the following ways:

1. Breast Milk Supply

Stress and breast milk supply are indirectly linked. The breast milk production usually depends on how regularly your baby nurses. The more he feeds, the higher will be the production of milk. However, due to stress, you may not be able to feed your baby often. Also, if you do not follow a healthy diet and your water intake is less, it can affect your breast milk supply.

2. Let-down Reflex

The let-down reflex or milk-ejection reflex is responsible for making breast milk freely available to the baby. Constant stress can lead to a slow let-down of breast milk. In case a breastfeeding mom is stressed, her body may react by releasing more adrenaline which can decrease or block the hormones prolactin and oxytocin which may stimulate the let-down of breast milk.

3. Baby’s Personality

Studies suggest that the presence of hormone cortisol in breast milk can deeply affect how babies develop. The cortisol in a mom’s body due to stress can find its way into her milk and get passed onto the baby via breastmilk as well. Researchers found that a baby nursing on high-cortisol breast milk is more likely to gain weight and develop a nervous and anxious temperament.

4. Bonding

When a mother nurses her baby it may facilitate in building a strong nurturing and loving bond between the mother and baby. Enhanced stress in a feeding mom may result in changes in the nursing behaviour which can be detrimental for their bonding.

A mom working when breastfeeding

5. Early Weaning

Prolonged stress in breastfeeding moms can affect the nursing routine which may lead to a baby stopping breastfeeding much before natural weaning starts.

How to Deal with Stress during Breastfeeding

Some useful ways to deal with stress during breastfeeding can be:

1. Identify the Triggers

Try and identify your stress triggers. For example, if you know that watching the news gives you stress, avoid watching it.

2. Smart Sleep

Schedule your naps around the time your baby sleeps and put that never-ending household work on hold.

3. Adopt Relaxation Techniques

Try meditation, yoga, relaxation techniques, and deep breathing exercises to reduce the stress levels.

A mom practising yoga

4. Seek Help

Ask for support from family and friends as much as possible to reduce pressure on self.

5. Exercise

Incorporating some form of exercises like Zumba into your routine can help alleviate stress by way of release of happy hormones endorphins.

Stress is natural after childbirth as you try to adjust to the new changes. But greater stress levels can pose complications for breastfeeding. Building an emotional support system by engaging your family and friends can prove helpful to tackle stress.

Also Read: What Causes Nausea while Breastfeeding