How Does Stress Really Affect Breastfeeding?

It’s a good question since many women hear about it first from old wife’s tales. Not all old wife’s tales are true, but it is a fact that stress can adversely affect a breastfeeding mother’s milk supply and nursing. Extreme stress can inhibit milk letdown, cause frustration, and even cause the milk supply to diminish if the stress is prolonged. How we as individuals handle stress varies and some moms and their milk supply will be affected more by stress than others.

If this is a first child then the mother’s life has changed dramatically overnight and probably now revolves around that small noisy and beloved infant who’s every need must be a priority. This is a complete 180 in terms of lifestyle and causes stress because between night time feedings, new parent concerns, and the incessant demands of everyday life, stress can pile up. Even experienced mothers can find that every day stresses have compounded and might feel overwhelming at times.

Working moms have an added stresses in time limited pumping at work. A working mother who is breastfeeding will surely spend her lunch hour and breaks trying to grab a bite to eat and with a breast pump whirring in the background. If she is very concerned over maintaining milk supply this can lead to extra stress and even reduce supply.

Understanding that stress can affect the milk supply of the breastfeeding mother is the first step. The second step to handling stress it to attempt to reduce them as much as possible. This is not always possible as some things are out of our hands however with the help of family and friends and a quiet room much can be done to relieve temporary everyday stresses.

Moms who are stressed over maintaining an adequate milk supply while using a breast pump at work can actually be reducing their milk supply by worrying. It’s very easy to just say “relax” however it is harder to do. If a mom pumps at work, bringing a book to read or embroidery, or even watching TV can help relax her. Let nature take her course and things usually improve. If time concerns while breast pumping at work are an issue then a hospital grade breast pump can be worth it’s weight in gold. A hospital grade breast pump will empty both breasts at once and much faster than an ordinary pump.

Daily stress for the stay at home mother can be just as difficult. Dinner burns, the older children are fighting, and the clothes need taken from the dryer before they wrinkle, and of course right then the baby starts crying and is hungry.
Deal with one thing at a time. Turn off the oven, reassure yourself you can run the clothes in the dryer again for 15 minutes to remove wrinkles, separate the older children, and if possible find a quiet room to feed the baby. In fact it is possible you and your infant will finish that feeding both feeling more relaxed and you better able to face the multitude of demands on a mom who works at home.

Major life events are out of our hands and often can cause great stress. There are some things we can control and others that are out of our hands, it is important to keep the baby’s welfare in mind and try and maintain good sleep and eating habits. Consulting a physician may be necessary if stress becomes a problem in breastfeeding for any reason.

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