If you’re a working mom of an infant and haven’t felt stressed at least once in the last month, then are you sure you were born on planet earth?
There is no shortage of things to stress about as a working mother, and breastfeeding is usually one of them. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers continue breastfeeding for at least 12 months after giving birth, and after that for as long as mother and baby desire. The World Health Organization recommends contining breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.
Breastfeeding isn’t easy for a lot of us; I hired two different lactation consultants, used a breast shield, frequently cried, and almost quit. My daughter is now one, and I’m still breastfeeding. But I probably wouldn’t have continued if it weren’t for realizing this one thing: stress is bad for breastfeeding.
To have a better experience than I initially did, women should take these six steps:
1. Understand why stress is bad for breastfeeding.
Jamie O'Day, a registered nurse and certified lactation counselor says, "Stress can negatively affect breastfeeding and subsequently your supply [of mother's milk] and the bonding experience with your baby." Why does that happen? When a baby begins to nurse ,the brain releases prolactin and oxytocin, which in turn cause women's milk ducts' to open. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is also released from the brain and can interfere with a mother’s oxytocin and prolactin production. While frequent nursing is key to producing regular milk flow, stress hormones are also a factor.
If you're pumping, you can stimulate oxytocin, the hormone that triggers the let-down reflex in your breast, by looking at a photo of your baby or keeping a piece of their clothing near you so that you can smell the baby's scent. I've personally tried the photo tip, and it worked wonders for me.
2. Acknowledge your stress.
As mothers, we are often on the go, and it can be hard for us to contemplate the fact that we’re stressed. But as new mothers, we're experiencing many stressful life events. If it takes you more than 30 minutes to fall asleep when you're in bed, then that’s usually a sign of stress, as is low energy, feeling overwhelmed, headaches, and moodiness or irritability. The first step to change is always realizing that a change needs to be made.
3. Get a good night's sleep.
A good night of quality sleep (eight hours for most people) instantly makes us feel better. As parents, we’re not always on the receiving end of uninterrupted sleep during the bodies’ best time to sleep (10pm-2am). But when you are heading to bed, try these three simple things for a better night’s rest: Make sure your bedroom is completely dark, get rid of clutter in your bedroom, and turn down the temperature. Our body temperature needs to drop to induce sleep, so a cooler room helps pave the way for better sleep.
4. Enlist help.
There is nothing wrong with getting help. You have many stressful life events—not least of which is having a new baby. Between your other stressors and worrying about your breast milk, it's no wonder your stress hormones omnipresent.
Asking for help doesn’t make you a bad mother; in fact, it can do the opposite. It can reduce stress, make you more efficient, save you time, give you more money, and help you give back in your preferred way. Feeling stuck and unhappy in your career? Work with an experienced career coach. Need help making your mornings simpler? Hire a stylist to put some outfits together, so you can save time when you're getting ready. You can also ask your pediatrician for a referral or see if they have a lactation specialist who works with breastfeeding women in the office. In fact, some parents choose to hire make in-house lactation consultants to help them breastfeed on a timetable that works best for the breastfeeding mothers.
5. Create your self-care box.
Just like we have a toy box filled with items that make our infant stop crying, it’s a good idea to have a special place with everything that energizes you and speaks to your purpose. Try doing and putting the following things in your box:
1) Write down three songs with notes on how they make you feel. Make a point of listening to those songs when you recognize that specific feeling.
2) Your favorite picture of your infant.
3) A picture symbolizing your favorite memory.
4) A funny quote about breastfeeding.
5) The nicest thing someone has said to you in your career.
Consult your box when you feel stress or depression setting in.
6. Increase your milk supply.
Stock up on oatmeal and water to help increase your milk supply. Check out recipes using the #1 Meal planning App; there are lots of ways you can incorporate oatmeal other than for breakfast, like cookies, smoothies, and burgers. Try adding different fruit or nut butter to alter the taste if you're looking for variety. Milk production is all about supply and demand, but don't freak out if you're not able to pump or breastfeed all the time. The morning is usually the most productive time for pumping and when the breasts have the most milk. Focus on getting the mornings down pat, and move forward from there.
Stress can be a sound springboard to bring about lasting change. Hopefully, you're now now closer than you were before to less stress and a better breastfeeding relationship.