Being a new mom can be stressful time in your life and if you find the holiday season stressful, you may be in for a double whammy. The responsibility of a new tiny person and being your baby’s entire food source, coupled with lack of sleep, managing other obligations, holiday chaos, and feeling the effects of hormones, stress is probably unavoidable. When breastfeeding and stress meet, the challenge can be even more real.
The Ups and Downs of Breastfeeding and Stress
Breastfeeding and stress is a complicated state.
On the one hand, studies show that breastfeeding helps relax mothers thanks to the hormone oxytocin required for the task. Nursing moms tend to have less postpartumdepression and anxiety and breastfeeding helps moms recover from pregnancy and childbirth faster, including less postpartum bleeding and pain.
But when mothers do feel stress, it can affect breastfeeding in several ways. Sometimes mothers under stress find it hard to have normal letdowns and the milk ejection reflex is compromised. New moms may feel their milk supply is low but usually this is temporary as long as stimulation and frequent feedings occur.
Stressed moms also tend to neglect other aspects that impact breastfeeding such as eating, exercise and sleep. When new moms don’t take care of themselves, they are more likely to become overwhelmed and frustrated, leading to low milk supply and premature weaning.
Managing Breastfeeding and Stress
Even in times of war, famine, natural disasters, trauma, divorce, financial hardships, family deaths and much more, mothers have continued to breastfeed. That’s not to undermine your feelings of stress around the holidays, but only point out that you can persevere. Breastfeeding and stress is not ideal but in many cases it is a fact of life. Finding ways to manage stress as a new mom is often the best solution.
Taking care of mom’s basic needs is a first step. It’s essential to eat a wholesome diet (including extra calories required for breastfeeding) and sleep as much as possible (despite waking every 2-3 hours for feedings). These are two areas where a partner can help by preparing meals and snacks and taking an overnight shift with the baby.
Exercise releases endorphins that can reduce stress. Even a stroll with your baby in the fresh air can make a big difference in your emotional state and energy.
Breathing techniques, guided meditation and mindfulness are all proven ways to reduce stress. Many times these can be done while you are doing the normal tasks of motherhood so they don’t take time away from your job or compound your to-do list.
Cuddling your baby and continuing to breastfeed despite your stress is also highly recommended. That’s because the beautiful hormones you’re producing to make breast milk are also supporting your emotional health.
If breastfeeding is your cause of stress, seek support right away. Latch issues and positioning are common breastfeeding problems that can be resolved with the help of a lactation consultant. Professionals can also help diagnose lip and tongue ties and provide guidance on how to correct them.
Especially during the busy and stressful holiday season, focus on ways to keep your stress under control so breastfeeding can be as joyous and magnificent as the holidays themselves.
Sources: La Leche League, BabyCenter and Babble