Breastfeeders Shouldn't Worry Even When There's a Lot to Worry About

Blissed-out and breastfeeding Lack of supply, engorged breasts, nursing in public -- it all can be stressful. You know what's also big in the stress department? Being a new mom. But what does all this stress do to our milk supply? Hmm .... 

I did have a tough time with my first baby, but she was a preemie and I figured it wasn’t the stress so much as the fact that I had to pump, rather than having her curled up with me from the moment she was born, that messed with my supply. My second baby had me shooting milk like a fire hose, which I thought supported my theory that stress is a culprit.

However, theories aren’t expert information. I’m fortunate enough to have Fritzi Drosten, RN and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, at my fingertips (nippletips?). She teaches prenatal breastfeeding classes at UCSF Medical Center and was my LC when my preemie daughter was in the NICU. I asked her about the possible link between stress and supply.

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She said that “all mothers at the hospital have stress, and they make milk,” but that when stress levels go way up above normal, there can be trouble in lactating land. 
If babies have a major crisis, like surgery, the mom’s supply often drops for the day. She tries to let them know this is a possibility so they won’t get even more stressed when it happens -- if the mom knows it’s coming back, she won’t panic and make matters worse.

So yes: really awful stress can cause a temporary drop in milk. “Oxytocin is the ‘let-down’ hormone, and when you’re stressed, you have less of it flowing. So the flow does get affected.”

But there’s good news. “Oxytocin is the same hormone that’s involved with other things that feel good,” she said, slyly not mentioning that that includes orgasm. “The baby gets more than milk when she nurses. She also gets calmed. So if you focus on snuggling and reassuring the baby, milk or no milk, the oxytocin will be released anyway.”

The baby can cry for a number of reasons. She could be crying over a decreased flow, or she just might be upset because you’re upset. You can get comfort as you give comfort, and an un-vicious positive cycle of healing begins.

“It's such a great system,” Drosten says, and I agree. When I feel stressed, even if it’s the baby who’s causing the stress, nursing brings on a powerful dose of very therapeutic, mellowed-out calm. In fact, I often tell my husband not to ask me any big questions when I’m nursing, because I can barely remember my own name, I get so blissed-out.

In fact, I often jokingly refer to nursing as “my baby bong-hit.” Is that very, very wrong? Don’t blame me, it’s the oxytocin talking!

Does your supply dwindle when you’re stressed? Does nursing calm you down?

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