Stress Affects Breast Milk & Production

In order for breastfeeding mothers to produce ample milk for their babies, they need to remain as stress-free as possible during the period they breastfeed. This is because breast milk and breast milk production are both very much affected by mood. This means that by and large, happier mothers with fewer days under stress will provide a greater volume of quality breast milk for their babies than those who are consistently under stress. Something that just goes to show how mothers’ moods and their bodies are intertwined as stress affects breast milk and its production.

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Because only the positive parts of being a new mom are ever discussed, many women are taken off guard by how stressed they are with their new roles. Some reasons moms are so stressed, according to Parentsinclude being sleep-deprived, not being able to soothe crying babies, not trusting themselves and their abilities as mothers, needing a break from breastfeeding, and more. Factors in going back to work, taking care of older kids, or any other part of life that too is stressful, and it is no wonder that mothers find themselves surrounded by stress. This is something that they need to learn to manage so that both their mental health and their breast milk supplies do not suffer.

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Here is how stress affects breast milk and its production.

How Stress Affects Breast Milk

The more stress that women have in their lives, the greater their breast milk will be affected. So much so that the longer stress lingers, the less nutrient-dense breast milk becomes. Something that could have dramatic effects on babies’ moods and overall health.

According to Medela, when women are stressed, their breast milk is affected. The ways it is affected include:

  • Let-down is impacted, making breast milk not flow freely
  • Excess cortisol is passed along to babies in breast milk
  • Less milk is being produced overall

Further still, according to MGH the Center for Women’s Metal Health, stress is also responsible for fewer antibodies being passed along from mother to baby.

When there is stress in mothers’ lives, their breast milk is directly impacted. And if that stress is not dealt with, the impacts on health and breast milk quality will only get worse over time.

How Stress Affects Breast Milk Production

When it comes to normal, daily stress, there is likely not a big difference in the amount of breast milk produced versus women who have less daily stress. But, if there is chronic stress, the effects on breast milk production may be very profound.

According to Nourishwhen breastfeeding mothers are under consistent stress, their breast milk supply can begin to dwindle. First, it may just be at certain times per day. But over time when the stress continues, breast milk production overall can begin to lag. When this happens, they may not have access to the breast milk they need to thrive and grow. And if that happens to be the case, mothers will have to supplement to ensure babies get the nutrition needed.

Further still, per the publication, women who are constantly stressed have excess cortisol running through their bodies. As such, Instead of oxytocin being passed along in the breast milk, making babies happy and relaxed, cortisol is passed along instead. Babies become agitated not only from the hormone but from the lack of milk coming into the breasts. And this perpetuates the cycle of stress, according to Nourish. Something that neither benefits babies nor their mothers.


Ways To Encourage Let-Down When Stressed

With stress affecting let-down, women will need to find ways that they can encourage let-down when they are stressed.

According to Rachel O’Brien IBCLCways to encourage let-down when stressed include:

  • Putting dry heat on the breasts
  • Creating a relaxing environment via music
  • Doing skin-to-skin contact before breastfeeding
  • Watch or read something funny

By trying these things before breastfeeding, let-down may occur faster for those who feel they are stressed. And when this happens, stress levels will decrease and babies will be happier with milk being available nearly immediately for breastfeeding babies.

How To Keep Milk Supply Up

Part of combating stress when breastfeeding is by making sure to have a milk supply that is kept up at all times. Something that may sound daunting but with a bit of preparation is not difficult to do.

According to WICways to keep milk supply up include:

  • Breastfeed on demand
  • Ensure baby has a good latch
  • Allow baby access to both breasts while breastfeeding
  • Empty both breasts after baby is done feeding via pumping
  • Do not give bottles or pacifiers in the early days of breastfeeding
  • Relax as much as possible before a breastfeeding session

When these tips are practiced regularly, women have a higher milk supply. This is something that will come in handy on the extremely stressful days when not as much milk is being produced and perhaps ease some stress of the day by not including problems with breastfeeding in the mix as well.

How To Combat Stress As A Breastfeeding Mom

There will always be stressors in life. It is the way that moms handle them that will determine whether their breast milk supply stays strong or not.

According to March of Dimesways that breastfeeding moms can combat their stress include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating nutritious foods
  • Getting daily exercise
  • Getting time out of the house with the spouse alone
  • Not worrying about household chores all the time
  • Taking help when offered

If mothers can learn to take care of themselves while they take care of babies, their stress levels will drop. This means recognizing there is no need to be Supermom, that taking help does not mean moms are weak, and that no one will look down on moms when they take a moment to focus on mental and physical health to be the best versions of themselves can be for them and their babies.

Source: Parents, March of Dimes, Nourish, Medela, MGH the Center for Women’s Metal Health, Rachel O’Brien IBCLC, WIC

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