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Breastfeeding and Stress

It’s no secret that breastfeeding can be a tricky proposition, but managing the stress of it all might just be the hardest part. For some women, the mere thought of nursing their baby results in anxiety; external input—from books to blogs to well-meaning bystanders—can only add to it. But the amazing thing about the human body is that it knows a good thing when it feels it, and breastfeeding, if the physiological reactions it produces are any indication, is one of them.

Nursing triggers the release of oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, which means it can actually help alleviate stress brought on by other factors, say, work drama or family demands. But what about unease associated specifically with breastfeeding?

Unfortunately, the actual act of nursing is rarely seen in action, which means new moms miss out on important visual cues that can benefit the learning process. Lactation consultants see clients with a variety of issues, but fear of not producing enough milk due to nerves seems to be one of the most pointed.

“A mom who is stressed may find it difficult to feed as frequently as a newborn baby requires—the less milk that is removed the less will be produced over time,” says Beth Shulman, a registered nurse and board-certified lactation consultant. “On the other hand, the more she breastfeeds the more oxytocin is released, allowing for excellent supply and helping to reduce stress.”

What’s good for mom is usually good for baby, too. Studies have shown that infants display lower stress levels (measured by indicators like blood pressure, heart rate and temperature control) after breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding. “I see [breastfeeding] as much a part of the baby being connected to the mother as it is nutrition,” says Shulman. And that alone is a pretty calming idea.

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