Coping With the Stress of Breastfeeding

mother comforting crying baby

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Stress is the body's natural reaction and response to change. It is normal to feel stressed from time to time, even from positive events.

Good stress, or eustress, is positive and healthy. Bad stress, or distress, is the negative stress that you probably think of when you hear the word stress. This type of stress is harmful and can cause health problems. It can even affect your ability to breastfeed successfully.

Whether you are in the throes of breastfeeding, or you are considering it for when your baby is born, it can be helpful to know how what triggers stress and how to manage it. Finding healthy ways to cope with stress can make breastfeeding easier and successful.

Everyday Stress

Stress is different for everyone. What's very stressful to some new parents is not as stressful to others.

Feeling stressed out is a normal feeling. But if you experience a lot of stress long-term, it can worsen health issues such as digestive disorders, headaches, and sleep problems. Stress also has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

You can prepare for everyday stress by identifying triggers and learning how to use coping strategies. When you know what you're up against, it may be easier to keep stress to a minimum and prevent it from getting in the way of the things you do every day, like breastfeeding.

Stress and Breastfeeding

Stress can affect breastfeeding in a few ways. High levels of stress can lead to difficulty with the let-down reflex, and it can decrease breast milk supply. Too much stress in everyday life is also associated with early weaning; about 60% of nursing parents stop breastfeeding earlier than they had hoped.

On the bright side, breastfeeding may help to lower your stress levels. The hormones that your body releases when you breastfeed can promote relaxation and feelings of love and bonding. Research shows that breastfeeding can significantly reduce physiological and subjective stress. So there is good reason to keep breastfeeding if you can.

Causes of Breastfeeding Stress

Familiarize yourself with some of the common causes of stress that new parents face so that you will be better prepared to deal with them. While breastfeeding can help reduce stress, it can also be a source of stress for many parents, especially when they are just beginning to breastfeed.

Pain

Right after your baby is born, you may feel pain from the delivery. Then, once you start breastfeeding, sore nipples and breast engorgement can cause even more discomfort.

Pain—regardless of the root cause—is a stressor on your body. So if a healthcare provider prescribes pain medication, take it. Just be sure they know that you're breastfeeding so they prescribe a medication that's safe for you and your baby.

Finding relief from pain also can help you to relax and reduce stress. When physical pain is managed, you should be able to breastfeed more comfortably, and your body can focus on making breast milk.

Postpartum Emotions

Having an unexpected Cesarean section or a difficult and painful birth when you have planned to have a natural childbirth can cause stress, guilt, and disappointment. If these feelings are interfering with your recovery and/or your ability to breastfeed, speak to your healthcare provider and get help. You may benefit from seeing a counselor or joining a support group.

Breastfeeding Challenges

Some new parents find it difficult to manage their milk supply and to help baby latch properly. They worry that their baby isn't getting enough milk, or that their baby is unusually fussy.

To prevent this type of stress, learn as much about breastfeeding as you can before your baby is born. It also is important to get help latching your baby correctly right from the first breastfeed after birth.

If you experience issues with your baby's latch, sore nipples, concerns about supply after you leave the hospital, contact a lactation consultant for help. They can provide tips on how to ease your pain and worries.

Lack of Breastfeeding Confidence

You may be worried about your ability to breastfeed because of your breast size, your diet, or your work schedule. If you are self-conscious or embarrassed about exposing your breasts, it may be stressful to breastfeed. You may be worried about having visitors or taking the baby out in public.

These fears are often greater in the beginning. Over time, you're likely to become more comfortable as you learn to breastfeed outside your comfort zone.

Talk about your concerns with a healthcare provider, a local breastfeeding group, an online support group, or a family member or friend that has breastfed. They can help answer your questions and relieve some of your stress over these situations.

Physical Changes

Your body and your hormones change so much during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. You may be worried about how much weight you've put on or the changes in your breasts.

Keep in mind, the changes in your body didn't happen all at once. They took place slowly over nine months while your body was carrying your growing baby. Be patient and give yourself and your body some time to recover.

Fatigue

You may be exhausted from taking care of your baby and surprised by the level of fatigue you feel. After all, a newborn requires around the clock care—24 hours a day, seven days a week. Add to that the other responsibilities in your life, and it's easy to become overwhelmed and exhausted.

To fight fatigue, try to sleep when your baby is sleeping and put off housework and other responsibilities for a while. Don't be afraid to ask for help from your partner, family, and friends.

Concerns About Breast Milk

Many new breastfeeding parents question whether they make enough breast milk, whether their baby is getting enough breast milk, and whether their breast milk is good enough. While these concerns are understandable, they are often unfounded.

Most parents make nutritious breast milk regardless of their diet and other circumstances, so chances are your breast milk will be just fine. And as long as your baby is latching on correctly and breastfeeding very often, you will most likely be able to make a full, healthy supply of breast milk.

Do be aware that taking certain medications, drinking alcohol, or introducing solids too soon can affect breast milk supply. If you have questions about your milk supply, talk to a healthcare provider or a lactation consultant.

Your Child's Temperament

Some newborns are easy. They eat well and sleep between feedings. Then there are those with a more challenging disposition.

If your child rarely sleeps or cries a lot, it could be harder and more stressful for you, especially if you don't have much help or support at home. If you can, ask a friend or family member to help, particularly if there are certain times of the day that are challenging.

Remind yourself that the newborn stage doesn't last forever. Your baby should sleep more and cry less as they grow. Dealing with a fussy baby every day can create a sense of hopelessness, so it is important to find support and make caring for yourself a priority.

Family Problems

Bringing your new baby home changes the routine for everyone in your household. You may feel a lot of stress as you do your best to help everyone adjust. It also can be stressful if your partner is not on board with breastfeeding or feels it takes you away from them or your other children.

Try to acknowledge your partner's concerns and fears, so you can both be on the same page when the baby arrives.

Financial Concerns

Money is another big source of stress for many people especially if you take time off of work for unpaid maternity leave or decide to be a stay at home parent. Plus, you now have to add the cost of diapers and other baby supplies to the budget.

Discuss financial concerns while you're pregnant so that you can make a plan for how you're going to deal with the changes once the baby arrives. But if they baby is already here, it is never too late to discuss your family budget and make changes.

Criticism

Even though breastfeeding is becoming more popular and normalized, there are still people who can't help but make negative comments about it. Sometimes these people are even family and friends.

While it's easier to brush off the comments of strangers, it can be difficult to ignore the concerns and opinions of those who mean the most to you.

Try to focus on what you know about breastfeeding, and remind yourself why you chose to do it. You may even be able to correct some misconceptions about breastfeeding.

In the meantime, think of a few responses you can use when someone makes a negative comment. This will keep you from reacting and saying something you wish you hadn't.

Social Media Standards

There is so much pressure to be the perfect parent, especially on social media. If you're comparing yourself to other parents who post pictures of all of their best parenting moments, it can really make you feel like you're not measuring up.

Try to remember that social media posts are just a snapshot in time, and often, people only post their best moments. Even their imperfect moments may be strategically selected and posted.

Remember, no one is perfect—even if it looks like they are. If you cannot tune out of social media entirely, then try not to let these posts get to you. You also can follow some of the amazing parents who encourage and support others while also posting about the realities of parenthood.

Healthy Ways to Cope With Stress

While you cannot avoid stress completely, you can learn how to deal with it in a healthy way. Having your coping skills ready can help you reduce stress and prevent it from getting in the way of successful breastfeeding. 

Lifestyle Practices

Start by taking care of yourself. Try to eat nutritious foods and get enough sleep. Although that can be hard to do when you're a new parent, it can make a difference in how you manage stress. Exercise can relieve stress. It releases endorphins into your body, which are natural feel-good chemicals.

Avoid drugs and alcohol. These substances can make things worse, plus they can enter your breast milk and pass to your baby.

Stress Relievers

When you find yourself feeling stress, walk away from the situation if it's safe to do so. Put your baby in their crib (even if they cry) and go into another room and take a few moments for yourself.

Better yet, go outside and take a walk. Go alone if someone else is available to care for the baby, or if that is not possible, take the baby with you in a stroller or carrier. They may be soothed by the fresh air and motion also.

If a walk isn't an option, take some slow deep breaths. Concentrating on inhaling and exhaling can help to calm you down.

Sharing your feelings with a friend, your partner, or another family member might make you might feel better. You can also discuss your feelings with a healthcare provider or mental health professional.

Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression

Some amount of stress, fear, and anxiety are normal after childbirth as you adjust to life with your new baby—especially in the first few weeks, when many new parents can experience baby blues.

If extreme sadness, guilt, or anxiety persists, though, that can be a sign of postpartum depression. Other symptoms include anger, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, mood swings, or panic attacks. Talk to a healthcare provider if you experience these symptoms.

If you need it, there are treatment options that are safe and effective for breastfeeding parents and their babies. Feeling overly stressed or depressed is nothing to be ashamed of, and if you feel this way, you're not alone. Ask for help, so you can get back to feeling more like yourself again as soon as possible.

A Word From Verywell

Breastfeeding can be a challenging and stressful situation—especially for first-time parents. But if you are aware of the most common stressors that you might experience while breastfeeding, you can be prepared to tackle them.

Remember that your decision to breastfeed is a good one and will benefit your baby in a number of ways. But if it does not work out, that is fine too. Fed is best.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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