Skip to content


How Does Breastfeeding Really Affect a Mom's Mental Health?

by Vannessa Rhoades 30 Aug 2023
How Does Breastfeeding Really Affect a Mom's Mental Health?

Breastfeeding offers numerous benefits. It’s an excellent way to foster your child's overall healthy growth and development, can help form a stronger bond between you and your child, enhance your baby’s immune system, and gradually reduce stress levels. Breastfeeding can also provide some important mental health advantages – but it may not be the best choice for every mother. Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between breastfeeding and maternal mental health.

Expectations Around Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is often touted as the optimal method of feeding your baby. While it is true that breastfeeding offers numerous developmental benefits, society tends to fixate on the notion that it is the sole way for a mother to care for her child. This creates external pressure to breastfeed, even in cases where it may not be physically feasible.

Though well-meaning, these societal expectations around nursing can significantly impact a mom’s mental well-being and emotions surrounding the process. Irrespective of what others in your life may assert, it is essential to recognize that breastfeeding should not come at the expense of your mental health. Forcing yourself through it can have negative repercussions for both you and your baby. Every mother has the right to choose how they nourish their baby. If, for any reason, you decide to opt for formula feeding, that choice is perfectly acceptable. Just be sure to collaborate with your pediatrician to ensure your baby receives the necessary nutrition for healthy growth. 

The Medela Freestyle Flex Double Electric Breast Pump is designed to fit your active lifestyle: its light, compact size and rechargeable battery offer the flexibility to express wherever and whenever you like, with no compromise on pumping performance.


The Positive Impact of Breastfeeding on Mental Health

The effects of breastfeeding and mental health vary from one mother to another. Furthermore, these effects can differ for the same mother across different pregnancies. As a result, the relationship between breastfeeding and mental health becomes intricate and multifaceted. The impact a mother experiences is often influenced by a range of factors, including their milk supply, the ease of nursing, and the support system provided by friends and family. Let’s examine some of the positive impacts connected with  mental health and breastfeeding

Improved stress response

There is a strong connection between nursing and reduced stress levels, particularly related to the stress hormone cortisol. One study involving 10 breastfeeding and 10 non-breastfeeding women found that lactating women had significantly lower levels of cortisol, plasma ACTH (another hormone related to stress), and glucose (sugar in the blood) in response to exercise compared to non-lactating women. Additionally, lactating women had lower levels of basal norepinephrine (a third hormone involved in the stress response). These findings indicate that nursing mothers have reduced levels of stress-related hormones in their bodies.

Enhanced self-confidence in parenting abilities

Breastfeeding can significantly enhance a mother's self-efficacy, ultimately benefiting her mental well-being. While this effect may be particularly pronounced in first-time mothers who may have initially felt apprehensive about the transition, it can occur with mothers of any newborn. This boost in self-confidence plays a vital role in safeguarding a mother’s psychological health, as self-efficacy has an inverse association with postpartum depression. 

Lower risk of post-partum depression

The initiation and duration of breastfeeding play a significant role in preventing postpartum depression. Research has revealed that late initiation of breastfeeding is linked to prenatal depression, while shorter breastfeeding duration is associated with postnatal depression. Another study demonstrated that early breastfeeding is connected to a reduced risk of developing postpartum depression. In a smaller analysis conducted in 2014, it was observed that women who exclusively breastfed for more than three months following childbirth exhibited a significant decrease in postpartum depression scores. This same analysis also highlighted that women who expressed dislike for breastfeeding had a higher risk of developing postpartum depression at two months.

Longer nocturnal sleep 

Breastfeeding has also been linked to alterations in the sleep and wake cycles of both the mother and the infant, which can contribute to reduced fatigue in the mother and potentially prevent symptoms of depression. A study examining the sleep patterns of postpartum women immediately after delivery revealed that breastfeeding women slept, on average, 2.6 hours longer than those who bottle-fed. In a longitudinal study involving first-time mothers, it was observed that at one month postpartum, mothers who exclusively breastfed experienced significantly greater nocturnal sleep compared to mothers who used formula during the night. The study further found that mothers who used formula at night experienced nearly three times the amount of sleep loss compared to exclusively breastfeeding mothers.

How Does Breastfeeding Really Affect a Mom's Mental Health?

The Negative Impacts of Breastfeeding on Mental Health

The flip side to all this is that if breastfeeding becomes challenging and latching is difficult, it can negatively impact your mental well-being. New mothers who face latching difficulties may experience frustration and a sense of inadequacy in providing for their infants. Although it may feel like a grueling struggle, there are steps you can take to address latching issues. Seeking assistance from a lactation consultant and exploring different breastfeeding positions can help new moms overcome these challenges.

Some new mothers feel sad or uneasy after breastfeeding, which is called dysphoric milk ejection reflex (D-MER). It's not fully understood why this happens to some women and not others, but many doctors think it has to do with how the body responds to hormones released during breastfeeding. There are several signs that may indicate you are experiencing D-MER:

  • Feeling frustrated after breastfeeding
  • A general sense of unhappiness
  • Feeling uneasy or uncomfortable during breastfeeding

Although these emotions typically fade shortly after a feeding, they can contribute to an overall feeling of anxiety and apprehension toward breastfeeding. These negative sentiments may also extend beyond nursing, affecting other aspects of parenting and potentially leading to aversions. Additionally, some mothers may actually experience higher rates of depression, along with feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed, as a result of breastfeeding. It is crucial to recognize that experiencing these negative emotions does not make one a bad parent.

To provide the best possible care for your newborn, it’s best to get help from licensed professionals and consider joining a support group where you can connect with other mothers who are facing similar experiences. Remember, you’re not alone: about one in five women encounter some form of maternal mental health disorder, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). By seeking help and connecting with others, you can find reassurance and support along your journey.

It is also important to take proactive steps to prioritize your mental health, especially if you have any risk factors. Some of these risk factors include:

  • History of mental illness or mood disorders
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Traumatic birth experience
  • History of trauma
  • Experiencing depressive symptoms throughout pregnancy
  • Lack of a support system
  • Strained marital relationship
  • Low self-esteem or body dysmorphia
  • Financial difficulties
  • Medical difficulties with your baby
  • Babies who are prone to colic or fussiness

Being aware of these risk factors can help you take appropriate measures to support your mental well-being during the postpartum period. Seeking professional help and building a strong support network can be beneficial in managing these challenges effectively. Remember, taking care of your mental health is just as important as caring for your baby's well-being.

How Does Breastfeeding Really Affect a Mom's Mental Health?

The Takeaway

Breastfeeding and a mother’s mental health have a complicated relationship, with the possibility of both positive and negative impacts influenced by various factors. Certain challenges that may make breastfeeding impossible can lead to internal conflicts between desires and feasibility. While working with a lactation consultant may help some moms overcome the physical hurdles, using formula may be necessary for others to ensure adequate nutrition for the child. Regardless of the feeding method, it is essential to remain supportive, loving, and attentive to the evolving needs of the baby. Seeking accurate medical advice and avoiding shame are crucial. 

Remember, breastfeeding does not define your parenting ability. Neglecting your mental health can have long-term consequences for the bond and development of both mother and baby. Embrace individuality and avoid trying to please everyone. Each parent's journey is unique, and alternative feeding methods can still foster a healthy bond and support your baby’s development.

Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. Please contact your health provider if you have any medical questions or concerns about your child or yourself.

Shop All Breastfeeding Supplies


Join Our Mailing List

Sign Up for exclusive updates,
new arrivals & insider-only discounts
Prev Post
Next Post

Thanks for subscribing!

This email has been registered!

Shop the look

Choose Options

Recently Viewed

Edit Option
is added to your shopping cart.
this is just a warning
Login Close