You’ve probably heard about the importance of breastfeeding and how it helps your baby grow. What you might not have heard is that stress can have a negative impact on your ability to breastfeed. Stress has a variety of different effects on different people, and there are some things that can trigger stress in anyone at any time – even before you are pregnant or while you’re breastfeeding.
However, as well as being an unavoidable part of life, Mother Nature intended stress to be beneficial. It’s actually a response mechanism designed to help us in times of danger or threat. Our bodies react by releasing hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, dopamine, and others. These hormones produce physical reactions like the ‘fight or flight’ response which prepares us for action. Once the danger has passed, our bodies return to normal by stopping the production of these hormones.
What is the impact of stress on breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to reduce stress naturally, as well as being a great way to bond with your baby. Breastfeeding is a relaxation exercise that can reduce stress hormones and help you feel calmer and more relaxed. Breastfeeding can help you manage stress and relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
When you are breastfeeding regularly, the hormones released during breastfeeding are very helpful in controlling stress and regulating moods. Studies have shown that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of postpartum depression and anxiety. However, stress can negatively affect your baby in many ways:
- Stress and anxiety are two of the most common causes of a milk supply problem. Many moms who struggle with anxiety or PTSD find that, since they’re already stressed out, it makes it more difficult to produce enough milk for their baby.
- If you don’t feel relaxed enough to breastfeed, the baby may not be able to get his or her needed nourishment. You may not have the energy or mental capacity to be able to handle the daily needs of an infant.
- In addition to feeling tense and worried about everything, these moms may also be distracted by their thoughts and feelings.
A good way to cope with stress is to get some fresh air and exercise. This can help you relax both mentally and physically – which will ultimately help boost your milk supply. Other ways to reduce stress include taking a bubble bath, meditating, exercising, or even eating healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables.
How does stress affect your body?
The stress response is normally beneficial in that it helps us to cope with challenges and meet deadlines. It may last for a few minutes to a few hours and often ends before you are aware of it. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is when the stress response is activated for a much longer period of time. This can have a negative impact on your body’s ability to function correctly. Stress can affect your body in a number of ways, including:
- Increased heart rate – Stress causes your heart rate to speed up, both in the short and long term. This is known as a ‘fight or flight’ response, which prepares your body for action. Once the danger has passed, your heartbeat returns to normal. But, if the stress is ongoing, your heart and cardiovascular system will be under pressure.
- Changes in blood pressure – Stress can also cause your blood pressure to rise, which may increase your risk of cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Changes in breathing – The stress response may also cause you to breathe shallower and faster, which may make you feel light-headed or dizzy.
- Increased blood sugar levels – This can lead to an increased risk of diabetes.
- Sweating – Stress can make you break out in a sweat, and may make you feel hot and flustered.
- Digestion – Stress can also make it harder for you to digest food properly.
The effects of chronic stress
Stress is an unavoidable part of life; it’s completely normal to experience stress during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, when it becomes chronic, it can have a negative impact on your health and the health of your baby. While there is a difference between stress and anxiety, the two can be connected.
- Anxiety – Stress can make you anxious, which can lead to anxiety disorders such as panic attacks or a general feeling of impending doom.
- Changes to your gut – Stress can also cause changes to your gut, which can lead to IBS and other digestive disorders.
- Changes to your brain – Chronic stress can make it harder to learn and process information.
- Changes to your immune system – Your immune system is responsible for protecting your body against disease. Stress can make your immune system less effective.
- Changes to your hormones – Hormones are responsible for regulating different processes in your body, including your reproductive system. Stress can disrupt your hormones and reproductive function.
Other ways that stress affects breastfeeding mothers
- Sleep deprivation – Stress can make it harder to sleep, which means you may not be getting the rest you need to stay healthy.
- Weight gain – Stress can cause cravings for high-calorie foods, which can lead to weight gain.
- Anxiety about your baby’s health – If you’re experiencing anxiety, you may put pressure on yourself to breastfeed perfectly.
- Increased risk of infection – Stress can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections.
- Changes to your eating habits – Stress can also make you less likely to eat healthily.
- Changes to your sex life – Stress can negatively affect your sex life, including libido, arousal, orgasm, and sexual desire.
- Difficulty bonding with your baby – Anxiety and stress can make it harder to bond with your baby.
- Social isolation – Anxiety and stress can make you more likely to withdraw from friends and family.
- Decrease in your ability to be effective at work – Chronic stress can negatively affect your work performance.
- Difficulty solving problems – Stress can make it harder to solve problems and make decisions.
- Decrease in your ability to handle everyday life – Stress can make it harder to handle daily tasks and responsibilities.
- Increase in negative thoughts – Stress can make it harder to think positively and solve problems.
How to stop the negative effects of stress on breastfeeding
- Relaxation exercises – Practice relaxation exercises such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing whenever you need a break.
- Avoid isolation – Isolation can make your stress worse, so reach out to friends and family when you need help.
- Healthy eating – Eat foods that are high in fiber and protein, and keep away from processed foods.
- Sleep – Sleeping well can help you combat stress, so make sure you are getting enough sleep.
- Exercise – Regular exercise can help to reduce stress, increase energy and improve your mood.
- Social support – Talk to friends and family about your feelings and needs.
- Stay positive – Focus on the positive aspects of breastfeeding and try not to worry about small things.
Stress is a normal part of life that can have both positive and negative effects on our bodies and minds. While it can be helpful in some situations, it can also be harmful when it becomes chronic. There are a variety of different ways that stress can negatively affect your body, and it can also make it harder to breastfeed. To reduce the negative effects of stress, be sure to practice relaxation exercises, eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and exercise regularly. Most importantly, remember that stress is temporary and you can get through it.