For many mothers, breastfeeding isn't as easy or simple as people have made it out to be. Instead, it can be painful, time consuming, and just down right complicated, leading many nursing mothers to stop breastfeeding before they'd initially intended to. According to Reuters, however, a new experiment suggests that relaxation therapy may help breastfeeding moms and their babies by lowering stress levels and boosting how much babies eat and sleep.
According to Reuters, researchers in Malaysia found that mothers who nursed while listening to recordings designed to promote relaxation ultimately reported feeling less stressed than women who didn't hear the audio. As a result, the women who listened to the recordings were found to have produced milk with lower levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, than mothers in the other group. What's more, babies nursed by mothers who heard the recordings were reported to be sleeping longer, eating more, and experiencing higher weight gains than those nursed by women who didn't listen to the relaxation recordings, Reuters reported.
"The results suggest that a simple relaxation tool — in this case a meditation relaxation recording — was able to reduce maternal stress during breastfeeding, favorably affecting breast milk volume and/or composition and positively influencing infant sleeping behavior and growth," Reuters reported the study's lead author, Universiti Putra Malaysia infant nutrition specialist Nurul Husna Mold Shukri, said in emailed comments. "Although we only tested one type of relaxation intervention, it seems likely that anything that makes a mother feel more relaxed might have similar effects."
As part of the study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a total of 64 new moms were given what researchers called "standard breastfeeding support." This included educational material like pamphlets and booklets on breastfeeding as well as information about lactation consultants, health clinics, and breastfeeding support groups. Thirty-three of those 64 moms, however, were also given a relaxation therapy audio recording with instructions to play it while nursing. According to an overview of the study found in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the relaxation therapy recording provided was "a modified audio-guided imagery protocol designed for breastfeeding mothers."
When checking in with participants at the two week mark, researchers reported finding lower levels of cortisol in the breastmilk that was produced by the moms tasked with listening to the recording, Reuters reported. Babies nursed by those moms were also reported to be sleeping an average of 82 minutes more a day than babies belonging to moms in the other group. At three months, Reuters reported that researchers found babies nursed by moms who listened to the recording drank, on average, 8 ounces more than others.
This isn't the first time researchers have found that relaxation audio or imagery can benefit nursing moms. A study published in 1989 by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that mothers with premature infants in newborn intensive care units who were given a 20-minute recording of relaxation and visual imagery techniques produced 63 percent more milk than those who didn't get the tape. That tape, by the way, was reportedly later recreated by the study's lead author and then made available for free online.
While there's no shame in opting not to breastfeed, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommend that babies be breastfeed exclusively for at least the first six months of their lives. But again, breastfeeding can be hard. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that while 83 percent of moms in the United States started to breastfeed, only 57 percent were still doing it at six months. What's more, the agency found that 60 percent of mothers reported not breastfeeding for as long as they had intended to.
Of course, there are a number of different reasons why a mother may choose to stop breastfeeding — and relaxation therapy recordings certainly won't serve as a fix for all of them. However, they may be an effective means of attempting to address anxiety and stress when nursing. And if you can listen online for free... why not give it a try? Because if there's anyone who deserves a bit of guided relaxation it's new parents.