Experts Explain How Exactly Stress Affects Your Milk Supply

by Sarah Bunton

The desire to breastfeed can be a bit of a catch twenty-two. If you want to breastfeed, but your milk supply might not be enough, this can cause you concern. But, as a million of well-intentioned people have probably already told you, worrying may be counter-intuitive and tax your body even more than it already has been. Whether your fears are based in a hypothetical future or a very real present, you might be surprised to learn about how stress can affect your milk supply. As it turns out, some of the stories and imparted wisdom your older relatives told you actually have a grain of truth to them.

Have you ever heard of that concept that if someone tells you to not think about cats, then you suddenly only think of cats? That's the best way I can think to describe the breastfeeding supply struggle, personally. Though I desperately wanted to defy the odds of my connective-tissue disorder, my son ended up having to find nourishment from a bottle instead. The intense pressure during that time was some of the worst stress I've ever experienced, and I was convinced it affected my milk supply, and the constant stress of not being able to directly breastfeed probably affected my supply even more. I'm sure I'm not the only who has been caught in this vicious cycle: worrying about one part of the breastfeeding process, then worrying that the stress is hurting my milk supply, and then worrying even more.

So if you're wondering about the effects of stress on your milk supply, check out what these experts had to say. It might inspire you to pick your battles and learn not to sweat the small stuff as much — anything for the sake of more breast milk, right?


Stress Can Inhibit Let-Down

The let-down phase of breastfeeding is an important one. According to Parents, let-down is, "a reflex that happens when nerves in your breasts are stimulated, signal the release of oxytocin (a hormone that prompts tiny muscles to contract,) squeezing milk into the ducts."

So how does your state of mind affect your ability to produce and release breast milk? "Stress can impact supply as part of the 'let-down' response of milk is related to hormones," Leigh Anne O'Connor, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, tells Romper. "Hormones can be effected by stress. More importantly it is important to understand what is stressing the parent." If you are struggling to find the source of your stress, it never hurts to get input from a medical professional.


Hormones Change Milk

Your stress doesn't just have an impact on you — it can change the composition of your breast milk, too. "When you experience stress, your body responds by releasing cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine," as reported on Ameda Direct, which is part of the greater biomedical and life sciences database, Medline. Though your milk supply may not be directly affected in terms of production, the actual supply of breast milk itself is. In a study from Behavioral Ecology, Dr. Katie Hinde, an evolutionary biologist, found that the milk supply of stressed mothers contained a high concentration of cortisol, the stress hormone. Though further research is needed, studies thus far seem to show that increased levels of stress in breastfeeding mothers results in stress hormone-filled milk. Again, if stress is impacting your daily life in a negative way, you can always seek out help from your doctor.


Anxiety Inhibits Ability

As a friend of mine once put it, your mind can be your own worst enemy when you're trying to breastfeed adequately. Getting caught up in your thoughts can do more than just affect your mood. "Stress and anxiety can impair a mother's milk ejection reflex," Rebecca Agi, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, says to Romper. "When my clients feel stressed or anxious, I always recommend deep breathing, putting on some relaxing music, and nursing in a quiet room." If you're still feeling an uncontrollable amount of stress, anxiety, or depression, don't hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional who can guide you through a safe and healing process.

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