There is so much to worry about when becoming a new mom that we sometimes forget to check in with ourselves because we are putting everyone else first, including the new baby. It is beyond important to check in on your mental state of mind, for your health, as well as your children’s health.
Your mental health directly impacts your child in a multitude of ways. Women who struggle with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders, PMADs for short, often have lower rates of attachment to their child that can effect the child’s brain development. I want to express the importance of your mental health and your ability to breastfeed your child. There is a direct link to mental health and breastfeeding outcomes, and so it is highly important to put effort into your mental health.
How does mental health effect breastfeeding?
Mental health & breastfeeding are both effected by hormones! I’m going to try and simplify this all in a non jargon way. First, oxytocin is a hormone our body naturally produces. This hormone is correlated with breastfeeding let down, feelings of attachment and feelings of love. The opposite would be cortisol. Cortisol is an interesting hormone that is in relation to many things, but for the sake of simplicity, we will focus on it as a stress hormone. Stress hormones cause you to tense and prevent your body from relaxing, thus it is associated with anxiety, depression, and many other health issues. Stress can prevent your body from relaxing enough to initiate a let down by blocking oxytocin release and uptake. Mothers also who exhibit depression or anxiety symptoms during pregnancy or early postpartum are likely to have lower oxytocin levels, which also directly effects breastfeeding.
Why are all these things important?
Mental health and breastfeeding are connected. If a mother, during pregnancy or directly postpartum, is having PMAD symptoms, this is a great time to try and get help. This help will allow the mom to be more successful during her breastfeeding journey, and encourage her to deal with the stress hormones to help those love (aka oxytocin) hormones rise. Also, oxytocin promotes attachments, bonding, and love, which means it helps decrease that stress hormone. Double win! This is one of the many reasons it is stated that breastfeeding can help prevent PMADs. Breastfeeding is not a full proof plan that you will not suffer from a PMAD, but it can help prevent or decrease the symptoms.
What to do if you are pregnant or a new mom who plans to breastfeed?
1. You need to become attune to your body and mind. Don’t be afraid to take notes, use a app to keep track, or meditate on it. This will help you become aware if things feel different.
2. There are online Edinburgh screenings you can do to see if you need to talk with a professional.
3. Call or seek help! Ask your doctor/midwife, ask a friend, go to the Postpartum Support International (PSI) website for a search, do a Google search, call the PSI hotline, or ask your doula.
4. Create your support group. This is needed even if you don't think anything is wrong, as we all need support as moms. A friend list (of like minded people), family, doula, midwife, doctor, therapist, organizations, support groups, and the list goes on!
5. Keep on monitoring! There is new research coming out regarding PMADs popping up after weaning (again due to those darn hormones). It is important that we keep monitoring ourselves so we can be the moms we want to be!
PSI website: www.postpartum.net
Online Edinburgh: http://www.fresno.ucsf.edu/pediatrics/downloads/edinburghscale.pdf
Nicole M. Coleman, LMHCA, CLC