Being Stress Resilient While Breastfeeding

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I’ve worked with expectant moms for a quarter century. I can spot a new mom-to-be from a mile away. There is a lot of wonderment with new mommies. They have lots of questions and are unsure if they are doing everything right, fear what they identify as shortcomings and put lots of pressure on themselves. So although motherhood is exciting, there is often stress, fear and anxiousness that come along for the ride.

We can prep and plan for months leading up to the delivery but sometimes, it is what it is. For someone who likes control (like myself), it can be disappointing if your birthing plan doesn’t go as intended. I tell my clients this and relay this message as well when it comes to breastfeeding. Yes, it’s natural and it’s been happening since humankind started but it may not be as easy or go as you’d hoped. This is when a great stress resilience toolbox comes in handy.

Did you know that stress can impact breastfeeding? It can influence the “let-down reflex” and high levels of stress may decrease your milk supply. To set yourself up for success, deep (letting go) breathing and releasing tension from the body can move you in the right direction. I would also say a good night’s sleep but who am I fooling? Sleep is often a sacrifice when you have a newborn.

Not only is having a new little one stressful because you really have no idea what you’re doing or you’ve just added a new human being to your existing offspring, there are varied reasons for stress. Perhaps you had a high-risk pregnancy. Maybe you’ve had a long and/or difficult birth experience. You may be in pain from the delivery and this is translating to tension and unease in the body when you’re breastfeeding. Maybe there is pain with breastfeeding (soreness to engorgement - gotta love cabbage leaves for this one). When we have pain, it’s hard to relax. Better believe that baby can pick up on this when you’re trying to feed them. Your body internally moves into fight or flight mode. The last thing it wants to do is breastfeed. It’s just trying to survive. If the plan was to have a natural childbirth with no medications, one to two pushes and out comes the baby but your plan goes awry, I’m here to tell you...don't beat yourself up, don’t feel guilty, don’t ruminate that it’s your fault!!! It’s not and just move on. Be flexible in your expectations! Believe me….after creating a birthing plan of tranquility and then finding myself in labor for 32 hours, being flexible is key.  Sometimes joy takes over and you forget about the frustration, tiredness and overwhelm when you are introduced to this little magical baby!  Remember this and find the bright spaces in life when stress appears. You can know all there is to know but when you experience it firsthand and it becomes emotional, you better have some great coping skills to propel you forward.

Find the bright spaces in life when stress appears! Click To Tweet

As I mentioned, there are a variety of reasons why stress may exist and I can’t list all of them. I’d still be writing next year! Here are a few.

  • Lack of confidence/unknowing.  All new moms feel this way.
  • Am I doing it right?  Again, all new moms wonder this. You'll feel comfortable and confident soon!
  • Is my baby getting enough milk?  Work with a lactation educator from the SAS HCC if you have questions.
  • My partner isn’t helping or supporting me and I’m exhausted.  Talk to your partner ahead of time admitting to a new way of being, new schedule and how you’ll work together.
  • I’m exhausted and can’t get 2 minutes for a shower.  It happens….lack of sleep is stressful so try to sleep when the baby sleeps, get a quick shower when baby drifts off. Plan to have a family member or friend help out even when you think you can do it all.
  • My aunt, mom, grandmother, sister (you fill in the blank) criticized me for breastfeeding or not breastfeeding the way they did.  Criticism from a stranger is one thing and some people are not emotionally intelligent when they make comments. Family member comments are hurtful because they are family. Tell them you appreciate them trying to help but you are doing it your way as they probably did when they were in your situation. OR if you are so stressed that you will snap, just walk away!
  • Financial concerns for childcare costs.  It seems overwhelming initially as you look at all the costs for this little person but break it down in small pieces and know that others who have less seem to make it work. You aren’t the first to have a baby.
  • Social media comparisons to the “perfect mom”.  No one is gonna put a screaming baby on social media or show greasy hair and spit up on their face. Just know that the minute they post their perfection, they put their device down and return to a messy household, a colicky baby, dirty diapers and a dog who has ultimately pooped on the floor because they want attention.

While there can definitely be breastfeeding issues like getting baby to latch, tongue-tie, lack of milk volume and more, know that if you are trying your best, that is all you can do. Having support around you through providers, lactation specialists, family and friends is key. The greatest leaders in the world don’t do it all. They simply surround themselves with experts. Do the same and don’t beat yourself up and cause more frustration and stress. Be patient, give yourself time to recover (this includes your body that just took 9 months to prep) and relax when you can. Here are a few stress management techniques.

Talk with someone should you need to share feelings and recognize that lots of hormone changes are taking place and can create lots of emotion. Recognize when “baby blues” are more than just the blues. If you have extreme sadness, anxiety, anger, loss of interest, panic attacks or hopelessness, seek help. It could be postpartum depression.

Lastly, breastfeeding provides tailored nourishment to the baby but if you have complications where you’ve tried everything and have also sought out breastfeeding assistance with professionals in the field and it’s still not working, let it go. If baby isn’t latching because of tongue-tie, maybe you purchase a breast pump and feed the baby your milk through a bottle. If you aren’t making enough milk, you supplement. If it’s just not happening at all, don’t feel guilty or ashamed. The best mom you can be is one who takes care of herself, lets go of things she can’t control and is one who simply loves her baby and gives them safety, security and affection. Your baby can feel that! Added bonus, learning these skills while pregnant can help provide baby more oxygen and is helpful during the birthing process (and those pesky people in elevators who have you trapped and try to give you advice or touch your belly)!

The best mom you can be is one who takes care of herself, lets go of things she can’t control and is one who simply loves her baby and gives them safety, security and affection. Click To Tweet
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About Author

Celeste Cooper-Peel, ND, MA, MCHES, CWHC, E-RYT

Wellness Manager

Celeste has been in the science, health and wellness field over twenty-five years. She began as a research chemist with a concentration in genetics and nutritional biochemistry. After working in the medical field, she saw the need to follow a path of proactive wellness and prevention. After receiving her Masters in Health Education, she ventured into the mind/body world receiving training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Yoga. Shortly after, she received the 2003 Wellness in the Workplace Award for a large health system in the state of Virginia. In 2004, Celeste joined SAS Institute, Inc. and continues to be passionate in her position overseeing Wellness. She believes curiosity and collaboration bring insight and new ideas which bring out the best in everyone from team members to those who are making healthy lifestyle changes. Believing that the body knows how to heal if given the proper tools, Celeste earned certifications in Aromatherapy and Essential Oils, Classical Chinese Medicine and Homeopathic & Naturopathic Medicine. She earned her Doctor of Naturopathy degree in 2020. Celeste is a published author, wife and mother and practices what she preaches and teaches. She is a nationally recognized Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) and has advanced certificates in Integrative and Functional Nutrition, Genetics and Genomics. She is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) with the National Yoga Alliance, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Instructor, Certified Wellness and Health Coach (CWHC) and Certified Yoga Therapist (CYT). Follow @ccooperpeel on Twitter and Instagram.

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