Maven Explains: How Stress Affects Milk Supply
As we continue to recognize National Breastfeeding Awareness Month with Maven, I have been thinking back to my breastfeeding and pumping days. I breastfed both my kids beyond the 12 month mark, but I also pumped almost exclusively when I went back to work after a short maternity leave. As I have shared before, my breastfeeding (and pumping) experience was both physically and mentally challenging, especially at the beginning, with both kids. Ultimately, I came to really enjoy the experience. Particularly the feeling of closeness with my babies; it served as inspiration for founding Mitera - wearing beautiful, comfortable and functional clothes during and after pregnancy is not just about fashion, but it's about instilling confidence and empowerment.
Though my breastfeeding experience ended up being positive, like many moms, I experienced a host of issues including engorgement, wrong latch, sore and cracked nipples, mastitis, being shamed in public for breastfeeding- just to name a few. But one thing that I worried about the most was my milk supply. I remember after traveling to Japan and Australia with my then three month-old, my milk supply seemed to have disappeared. I also had supply issues when I returned to work full-time.
Lactation consultants that I sought help from explained that there were a lot of reasons why my milk-supply dropped during these times, including dehydration (from travel), sleep deprivation (what could I have done about that??), a pump not strong enough to empty my breasts, being away from my baby (well, I was working), etc. I always suspected, but had never been given a straight answer (Googling on this topic provides confusion) that STRESS – the stress of becoming a parent (holy s...t, I am a mom!), worrying about every little thing (is he pooping enough? Is he breathing?), traveling on a 16-hour flight with a newborn, going back to work as a 'glowing new mom,' ready to bounce back and contribute as a productive team member, and of course not being able to find anything chic, professional and functional to wear to the office etc., - can have a major affect on your milk supply.
So I decided to invite Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and a practitioner on Maven to shed light on the issue of stress and milk supply and provide practical recommendations as to what we can do about it.
What are some helpful ways for moms to combat stress related low milk supply?
· Ask for help
· Outsource: meals, cleaning, caring for older children
· Have a “nurse in” - spend a couple of days cuddled up in bed or on a couch nursing frequently
· Set up stations that include: water, snacks, diapers and wipes, reading materials, remote controls, phone, all within arms reach.
· When you and your baby are together, nurse as much as possible.
· Comfort is key so vary your positions When you are nursing, your body releases love hormones, which can relax you. If life is stressful find the tools that help to reduce stress.
These can include:
· Relaxation techniques
· Exercise – mommy and me classes or solo classes
· Support groups such as La Leche League, Breastfeeeding USA, local support groups where you can be with other moms
One of the biggest concerns breastfeeding moms have is whether or not they make enough milk. What factors into milk supply? Does stress have an effect on supply?
Viola, mom to her first baby Giuseppe, lived in the mountains of Italy in the 1930’s. Her neighbor, Maria, had a baby boy several months younger than Giuseppe. Maria came to Viola in tears, heartbroken that her husband had been fatally shot in a hunting accident.“Viola, Marco is starving. My milk has dried up. Giuseppe is a healthy boy. You have good milk. Please, please,” she pleaded, “feed my Marco with your milk. I have nothing. It all disappeared.” And that is how Viola became a wet nurse for Marco. The stress of losing her husband was more than Maria could endure and her body shut down.
This is an extreme case of stress. However, everyday life has stressors that can impact new families. Many studies have shown that stressful life events can cause premature weaning. The question is: does stress lower milk supply or does the life situation affect breastfeeding regularity, thereby causing low milk supply and early cessation of breastfeeding? Many mothers report a reduced milk supply upon returning to employment away from their babies. If you are stressed because of working and needing to pump while away, be sure to have a good quality pump. Make “friends” with your pump. As opposed to seeing it as the enemy - see your pump as a bridge to your baby while you are away. Many stressful situations can actually reduce the time the mom and baby are together breastfeeding.
What are some stressors?
· Becoming a parent
· Giving birth
· Difference of varying parenting styles
· The many, often conflicting, voices of extended family, friends and health care team
· Returning to work
If breastfeeding is challenging you can seek the help of an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant). IBCLCs, including myself, are available for appointments on Maven.
Maven, the digital clinic for women. No need to go to the doctor’s office for everything, especially after you’ve just given birth–Maven gets your pregnancy questions answered with video appointments from qualified health providers whenever, wherever. Maven gives you access to all the prenatal and postpartum support you need–think post-birth support from a doula, breastfeeding advice from a lactation consultant, nutritionist consults, even therapy from the comfort of your home. www.mavenclinic.com