Lactation consultant explains how meditation helps with breastfeeding (and how to do it)
There’s no doubt that parenthood can be stressful, and the early weeks, whilst learning to feed your baby, can be a time full of self-doubt and confusion. It makes sense then, that using relaxation tools such as guided meditation at this time, can help you to cope with the rollercoaster of parenting and can provide moments of peace and self care. You may also be surprised to hear that using relaxation tools can have a positive physiological effect on lactation itself as well as your relationship with your baby. Read on to find out more, and get tips on how to fit in meditation as a new parent.
Your brain and lactation
One of the key hormones that your body needs to produce milk is oxytocin. Oxytocin is a chemical message sent to the squeezing cells in your breasts that triggers your milk to let down. Oxytocin also creates feelings of love and safety and helps us to connect with others. It flows best when you are calm and relaxed.
When you’re stressed or fearful your brain takes you into a survival mode called the sympathetic nervous system. Within this system your body automatically makes changes to keep you safe. This is also called the fight, flight, freeze response. As the stress hormone cortisol rises, your brain reduces the production of oxytocin, which can impact on your body’s ability to let-down your milk. Knowing this can be an extra stress, I understand! But this knowledge gives us the opportunity to seek out small ways to relax into breastfeeding moments. The good news is that just holding, smelling and feeding your baby is often enough to reduce stress and get those feel-good hormones flowing. The research shows us that those who use relaxation tools for breastfeeding, do have improved breastfeeding outcomes.
What the research tells us
Studies from the 1980s and beyond have shown us that Mothers who used relaxing music or guided meditations whilst expressing milk, produce significantly higher quantities of milk with a higher fat content, than those who do not use relaxation tools. A more recent study showed that Mothers who listened to a breastfeeding relaxation track twice a day whilst feeding their baby, had less cortisol in their milk and had babies who took in more milk, grew faster and slept for an average of 72 minutes a day longer than the control group who didn’t listen to the meditation track. More research is needed, but the small number of studies that we do have, point towards positive outcomes for breastfeeding parents who use meditation or other relaxation practices.
Connection & self-belief
Meditation is connecting, and as you go within, you often connect more deeply with your own instincts and desires which can be so useful during a time that is often filled with conflicting messages and overload of information. Using meditation to connect with your own inner parent, will help you to sift through which information and guidance is helpful to you, and which is not. This may start to give you more confidence in the abilities of you, your body and your baby.
As you head out of the sympathetic nervous system and into your default autonomic nervous system (the parasympathetic nervous system), as well as feeling more calm, social interactions will become easier. You may feel a desire to connect more deeply with your loved ones . This helps you to bond with your baby and tune into what they need. Your baby will also benefit from the flow of feel-good hormones and be more relaxed themselves. This in turn will help you both with learning how to breastfeed - it really is a learning process.
Fitting it in
If you meditated before children you may have been able to sit quietly in complete silence for many minutes or even hours. This simply isn’t possible for most parents. The trick is to find little moments of your day to fit in mini-meditation practices. Listening to a short track whilst feeding or expressing can work wonders. Simply focussing on your breath before latching your baby on, can reduce any pain you may be experiencing or help you and your baby relax a little before you start. Setting intentions for yourself during nap times can work well. Give yourself 15 minutes of meditation time before you tackle the housework or check your messages. The key is little but regularly, to make a difference that you can feel.
In our modern world, stress and parenting often go hand in hand and knowing that stress can affect breastfeeding can cause added guilt. But I encourage you to move away from that mindset and work on using simple and easy tools such as short meditations or breathing exercises to alter your experience. Apps such as the Nourish app have some wonderful examples and if in doubt, reach out to a practitioner who can guide you.
About the author
Anna Le Grange is Mum to 3 and a lactation consultant, paediatric nurse and mindfulness teacher. Currently studying an MSc in Positive Psychology, she is passionate about helping new parents have a calm and connected breastfeeding experience, whilst looking after themselves and getting any support they might need. Anna is founder of the Mindful Breastfeeding School which teaches parents and professionals mindfulness, relaxation and positivity lactation support.
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