Recovering from having a baby and taking care of a newborn (along with your other children), coupled with sleepless nights, can cause even the most prepared mom to feel overwhelmed. Adding the stress of work, illness or financial problems can take its toll on your life and your body. This stress can also affect your breastfeeding plan.
How Does Stress Affect Breastfeeding?
Stress can affect breastfeeding in two ways: your milk supply and the contents of your milk. When you experience stress, your body responds by releasing cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. While these hormones can temporarily help your body deal with a stressful situation, over time, they can have a negative effect on your body both physically and emotionally.
Stress doesn’t directly affect milk supply. The amount of milk your body makes depends on how often your baby nurses. The more milk he or she drinks, the more your body will make. Stress can indirectly affect your milk supply, however, if you aren’t taking the time to eat or drink enough water or don’t have the time to nurse your baby as frequently as he or she needs because you are dealing with a stressful situation. Maternal illnesses, along with the medications that are prescribed for these illnesses, can also cause stress and reduce milk supply. One of the hormones, cortisol, can enter into your breastmilk, affecting its contents.
How Stress Can Affect Your Nursing Baby?
Studies have found that breastfed babies have approximately 40 percent more cortisol in their systems than formula-fed babies, suggesting that the cortisol found in breastmilk is responsible for this increase. Called “secondhand cortisol,” the hormone enters the baby’s intestinal tract and prompts neurotransmitter signals that go to the brain, affecting the areas that regulate emotion. Though long-term effects of secondhand cortisol in nursing infants are unknown, a study from researchers at Arizona State University found that higher levels of cortisol corresponded to babies who easily cried or became agitated when placed in unfamiliar situations.
Ways to Cut Down on Stress
Decreasing your stress levels is beneficial for both you and your baby. Try reducing stress by:
- Find the time to regularly exercise, such as enrolling in a baby/mom exercise class or taking a walk with your little one.
- Exercise releases endorphins that can increase your happiness levels and help you to better deal with stress.
- Practice deep-breathing techniques.
- Get out of the house and meet up with a friend to talk.
- Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to do something you enjoy, such as reading a book.
- Get as much sleep as possible. Try to nap when your baby is napping or nurse while lying down in order to get some extra rest.
If you experience difficulty in remembering things, insomnia, extreme fatigue, a lack of appetite or are unable to enjoy things you once did, your stressful situation may have caused depression. Talk with a medical provider to a find a treatment that is right for you.
Tips for Nursing in Difficult Circumstances
If you are dealing with an illness in the family, divorce, death or loss of a job, the stress of the situation can make nursing extremely difficult. Be reassured that any breast milk that you can provide your baby during this time is extremely beneficial. If you want to continue nursing during difficult circumstances, make the time about you and your child. Close the door to the nursery, listen to calming music and focus on the special bond that you have with your baby. If you have to go back to work or have to be away from home to help out with family, using a breast pump will allow you to continue to provide your baby with milk while you are unable to nurse him or her.
Whether it’s the stress of everyday living or the severe stress from a catastrophic event, stress can affect both you and your baby. Take the time for you to reduce your stress and seek out help from your friends and family in order to get through any difficult situations. From insurance-approved breast pumps to resources for mom and her support team, Ameda is here to support you before, during and after the birth of your new baby. If you have questions about your insurance benefits during pregnancy or about nursing, our team of specialist is just a call or click away.