Making the Mind-Milk Connection
Many new moms find themselves feeling a broad range of emotions about their new role and the responsibilities that go along with it. Combined with the regular stressors and responsibilities of life, it’s easy to see how we can begin to feel overwhelmed.
First things first, postpartum depression is quite common, affecting an estimated 1 in 5 moms. If you’re frequently feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or cry frequently, talk to your healthcare provider. You can also reach out to the National Postpartum Depression Hotline at 1-800-PPD-MOMS for support. There is help and treatment available.
Even in the absence of clinical depression, the stressors of motherhood are very real. It’s not always easy to take time to nurture your mental health, but self-care and managing your stress are important for both you and your baby and may even help your milk supply.
While breastfeeding can sometimes feel like yet another task on the never-ending list of things to do, it can actually help you relax. And it’s not all in your head. When you breastfeed, your body releases the hormone oxytocin. Its purpose is to help your milk flow (or let down), but it can also help you feel calm and relaxed. So take advantage of it to bring some Zen to your day - it just might take a little shift in mindset. Put your feet up. Get a glass of tea or water. Put the phone down. And just be with your baby. We get it. It’s easier said than done when you’re looking at a mound of laundry or stack of mail, but your future self will never regret being fully present for this time together.
Making the mind-body connection can also help pumping moms. No one’s better at multi-tasking than a mom! But responding to your annoying co-worker’s email while you’re pumping might not be the best idea for your milk supply. Here’s why: Oxytocin (the let-down hormone) is a conditioned response. That’s why when you hear a baby cry, you might leak a little milk. Your body is conditioned to produce oxytocin based on triggers. Balancing a budget: not a trigger. Baby crying: trigger. Dirty dishes: not a trigger. Smelling baby’s head: trigger… you get the idea. Trying to recreate all the feels you have when breastfeeding can help you during a pumping session. It can trigger oxytocin production and help express more milk. So try watching a video of your baby or smelling some of baby’s clothes or blanket during a pumping session.
Conscious relaxation can also help. Several studies have linked relaxation therapy before or while pumping to an increase in milk yield, and one study has even linked it to higher milk fat. Although more studies are needed for conclusive evidence, given the overall health benefits of relaxation therapy and the constant stress new mamas have, it can’t hurt to give it a try. So practice some deep breathing, visualization, or muscle relaxation. Listen to soothing music or find a meditation app if that’s your jam. Do whatever brings you calm - you might surprise yourself.
Another trick that we love is making the rounds on the internet –socks on your pump bottles! No, really, it’s a great idea… sometimes we mamas can get all up in our heads about pumping. Worrying about producing enough milk can create a vicious cycle of anxiety. So prevent some of that worry with this simple tip: put baby’s socks over your milk collection bottles when you pump. Covering them up keeps you from tracking how quickly the bottles fill up. Give your tired eyes and busy brain a little break!It’s sometimes easier said than done for busy moms, but making your mental health a priority can make for a happier, healthier mom and baby.