Breastfeeding and Stress

Stress that lasts a long time may lead to breastfeeding problems with milk letdown, cause frustration, and stress can even cause the milk supply to diminish if the stress lasts a long time. Both short- and long-term stress can affect your body.

Having a new baby and learning how to breastfeed can be very stressful events.  My firstborn was born early and became jaundiced, so I could not breast feed him right away.  I became engorged and felt miserable.   I had to be patient with myself during the first few days and not let my emotions get the best of me.

If this is a first child then it seems your life has changed overnight. Even mothers with other children can find that every day stresses have doubled and might feel overwhelmed at times. Working moms have the added stress of trying to find the time and privacy to pump at work. A working mother who is breastfeeding may spend her lunch hour and breaks trying to eat 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.

Let-down is your body’s response to your infant beginning to actively suck and swallow, milk may drip from the opposite breast and you may feel a tingling or full sensation in your breast or even cramping of your uterus.  Let-down can occur when you think of your baby, hear your baby cry, when you are sexually stimulated or have an orgasm.  If the let-down occurs at awkward times, it may help to wear cotton breast pads in your bra to protect your clothing; the response usually will lessen after the first few weeks of nursing.  Stress can interfere with let-down as well as fatigue, negative remarks from relatives or friends, pain in your breast, or breast engorgement. It is helpful if you create a relaxing oasis for nursing.  Unplug the phone, turn on soft, relaxing music, and get into a comfortable position for you and your baby.   Restrict visitors if it makes you feel uncomfortable.  This is your time with your baby, enjoy it.

If you are feeling stressed:

  • Get help from a professional if you need it. Talk to your obstetrician  or other healthcare professional who can help you work through stress and find better ways to deal with problems.
  • Relax. It is important to unwind in a way that works for you. Try a bubble bath, deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and massage therapy. If you cannot do these things, take a few minutes to sit, listen to soothing music, or read a book.
  • Sleep is vital. Your stress could get worse if you do not get enough sleep. It is hard to fight off illness when you sleep poorly. With enough sleep, it is easier to cope with challenges and stay healthy.  Try to sleep when your baby sleeps.

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  • Eat right. Try to fuel up with fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains.
  • Get moving. Physical activity not only helps relieve your tense muscles but helps your mood too! Your body makes certain chemicals, called endorphins, before and after you exercise. These relieve stress and improve your mood. If you are a new mother, ask your doctor when it is okay to start exercising.
  • Talk to friends. Friends can be good listeners. Be around other nursing mothers. It will remind you that you are not alone.
  • Keep a journal. Write down your thoughts. Have you ever typed an e-mail to a friend about your lousy day and felt better afterward? Why not grab a pen and paper and write down what is going on in your life! Keeping a journal can be a great way to get things off your chest and work through issues.
  • Set limits. There are only so many hours in the day. Set limits with yourself and others. Do not be afraid to say no to requests for your time and energy.
  • Avoid unhealthy ways of coping with stress. Remember that the substances in tobacco, drugs and alcohol can pass through the breast milk and can harm your baby.




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