What’s the number one thing that affects your milk supply?
Some doctors say it’s stress. And since that’s a common feeling for new mothers, it can be difficult to overcome.
In honor of Stress Awareness Month, we’re sharing 5 ways you can stop stress from affecting your milk supply.
Read on to learn about why stress affects milk and what you can do.
Does Stress Affect Milk Supply?
If you have low milk supply and are trying to find the cause, you’ll come across a few potential reasons. One not often listed is stress.
At first, this might sound a little outlandish. How can how you feel affect your breast milk?
But as you probably know, mental stress can affect our body. In the short term, it can lead to headaches, upset stomach and fatigue. Stress that continues over the long term can develop into heart issues, arthritis flare-ups, weight changes and more.
Similarly, stress is also a factor that decides how much breast milk you’re producing.
Research shows that lactation may be affected by a mother’s overall well-being and stress. It’s well-studied that stress can interfere with the neuro-endocrine regulation of lactation—affecting both milk production and milk release.
A 2012 study looked at over 700 low-income mothers. They asked them about stressful life events, such as financial, emotional, partner-associated problems or trauma. Researchers found that across all 4 stress categories, mothers breastfed exclusively for a shorter period of time.
Stress Could Be An Indirect Cause
Another possibility is that your low milk supply is caused by something else—and that something else is caused by stress.
For example, if you’re stressed about work, it may lead you to drink more coffee to get the job done. Caffeine can lower your milk supply. In this situation, the cause could be your stress, but it could also be the coffee you’re drinking because of stress.
To be clear, higher and long-term, chronic stresses are more likely to affect breastmilk. After all, if a little stress stopped milk production, no mother would be able to breastfeed ever. One tough day at work or one argument with your partner may not change anything. However, a job that’s always demanding or a partner who’s never stable can lead to milk supply problems.
Can Stress Stop Milk Production?
Some people may wonder “can stress stop milk production after a stressful day?”
Since everyone is different, how stress affects each mother will vary. Two people can have the exact same stresses, but one is more sensitive to it.
With that being said, it’s unlikely that stress would cause your milk production to dry out completely. If this happens, it’s likely caused by more factors (which may or may not be indirectly related to stress).
If stress or anything else stops your milk production, you should see a lactation consultant who can help you troubleshoot more effectively.
Self-Compassion, Stress and Milk Supply
Knowing that stress affects milk supply can be stressful itself. Learning the cause of the issue could lead to the solution. But you want to avoid blaming yourself, which can make stress worse. You might be stressed about being a new mother, feel guilty and blame the lack of supply on yourself.
Instead of doing that though, try to have self-compassion. Realize that being a mother is hard and so is life. You’re going to be stressed sometimes, even if you find the best remedies. Although it’s normal, there’s some things you can do to minimize stress and hopefully increase milk supply.
If you think stress could be the cause, try to take the pressure off your supply and focus on yourself. Of course, this isn’t easy with a newborn. However, it can be necessary to help you get your head back into a healthy state.
“I tell all my patients that while breastfeeding is important, mental health is key to properly caring for a baby,” Dr. Shivani Patel at UT Southwestern Medical Center writes.
If you’re stressing about stressing, ask yourself if you’re having a bad day that may resolve tomorrow. Or are you under long-term stress that may be affecting or eventually affect milk supply? Examples of chronic stress include:
- Dysfunctional family
- Financial issues, especially poverty
- High-pressured job
- Challenging relationship
- Ongoing health issues/illness
If you have long-term stress that isn’t resolving, first try to relieve yourself from any guilt you may be feeling. Breastfeeding is important but stress won’t kill your baby. Worst comes to worst, you’ll use or supplement with formula—which is okay.
Now that you’ve shown yourself some self-compassion, consider the tips in the next section to de-stress and amp up milk supply.
Stress and Milk Supply: 5 Tips for Better Nursing
There’s plenty of reasons your milk supply might be low. If you think it has to do with stress, consider these tips.
#1 A Tiny Bit of “Me Time” Every Day
When you’re a new mom, there isn’t any “me time”. The moments you get to yourself are short spurts between naps and feedings. While you may need to reserve this time for chores, try to add something relaxing to your to-do list.
Make it a point to do something calming every day—even if you literally only have 3-5 minutes.
Don’t think you can find the time? Next time your baby is sleeping, take the few minutes you’re scrolling through Instagram and use it to do something more relaxing.
Brainstorm calming activities you can do in short spurts:
- Coloring in an adult coloring book
- 5-minute yoga video
- 5-minute meditation
- Reading a book or magazine
#2 Accept Help
This tip is on every de-stress list, but it’s probably still the one you’re not doing.
“While many new moms want to do everything themselves, I encourage you to seek and accept help from your partner, family members, and friends so you can rest, recover, and maintain an adequate milk supply for your baby,” Dr. Patel writes.
Although other people can’t breastfeed for you, they can do other helpful tasks that relieve stress, like:
- Doing laundry
- Running errands
- Grocery shopping (although maybe you’re the one who wants to get out of the house)
It’s easy to see accepting favors as a burden. But remember that it feels good for other people to help too. Even though the person may not realize why they feel happier, evidence suggests that helping people creates physiological brain changes linked to better mood.
#3 Adjust the Breastfeeding Mood
Decreasing your overall stress is continuous work and you’ll never be stress-free. While you work on becoming calmer in general, you can do specific things to relax in the breastfeeding environment. Here’s a few tips:
- Being warm feels good so it’s automatically relaxing. It can also encourage milk production and let down, which is why products like hot breast packs exist.
- Playing music in your breastfeeding spot can help you relax. If you’re in a busy environment, white noise is also a good idea.
- Podcasts or TV.If a particular TV show or podcast always helps you de-stress, play it while you’re nursing.
- Breastfeeding spot.If it helps, pick one really comfortable spot that you almost always use to breastfeed. Over time, you may condition yourself to associate the spot with warmth and comfort, making it easier to produce milk over time.
- If you’re someone who loves scents, condition yourself to relax while nursing by using a calming smell. For example, you can try lavender essential oil in a diffuser.
#4 Laugh More
It’s well-known that laugher causes psychological benefits including decreased stress, depression and anxiety. In one scientific paper, researchers even recommend that doctors “prescribe laughter” in a structured way for these benefits. Here’s some suggestions:
- Watch a comedy movie
- Watch a stand-up comedy
- Play a funny game
- Try a free yoga laughter class
- Watch funny videos on YouTube
- Read theseor these hilarious, embarrassing newborn stories
#5 Use Breastfeeding as a Coping Tool
If you’re having a difficult time breastfeeding, it may be hard to look at it in a positive light. However, it can be helpful to reframe the activity as a coping tool—there’s evidence it works too.
Interestingly, studies have shown that breastfeeding significantly reduces physiological and subjective stress. It can have a positive effect on the mother and improve their sensitivity and care.
Why? We probably have the oxytocin system (dubbed the love hormone) to thank for that.
If you don’t currently see nursing as a coping mechanism, try to take the pressure away from it. Use the tips on this list to get yourself into a good “headspace” before trying.
Then have the breastfeeding goal of something you can control: Like focusing on/loving your baby. Although milk production may be a goal, you can’t always control it. Taking the expectation away may help you calm down, in turn, making more milk.
Long-term stresses can affect your milk supply. Knowing this may make a new mother feel guilty, but they should try to exercise self-compassion instead. While stress is unavoidable, if it’s affecting your nursing, there’s a few things you can do. Use the tips in this post to de-stress and boost supply. If nothing helps, it’s time to consult your doctor and/or a lactation consultant.
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