July 3, 2023 by Marjorie R. Rogers, MA (English), Certified Consultant
According to the CDC, about 83% of American infants are breastfed at some point in their early lives. But very few of these infants are breastfed exclusively.
In fact, CDC studies have shown that only about 45% of infants are breastfed exclusively through their first three months. And that number drops all the way down to about 25% when it comes to infants who are breastfed exclusively through their first six months.
Are you trying to decide whether to breastfeed your baby? If so, you might want to learn more about the connection between breastfeeding and mental health.
Breastfeeding your baby exclusively or at least some of the time might work wonders for your mental health. But it could also impact your mental health in negative ways, too.
Check out our guide on breastfeeding and mental health below and put it to good use when you’re deciding if you’d like to breastfeed your baby.
How Breastfeeding Can Improve a Mother’s Mental Health
If you’re on the fence about breastfeeding your baby, you should kick things off by learning about how it might be able to improve your mental health. You might be more likely to begin breastfeeding your baby after hearing about the positive impact it can have on your mental health.
For starters, breastfeeding your baby might be able to help improve your mood on a daily basis. It might also be to bring your stress levels down.
There are some people who have gone as far as to refer to breastfeeding as a “stress buffer” for those mothers who are entering the postpartum period. It doesn’t eliminate all the stress associated with this period. But it may be able to make it more manageable overall.
Breastfeeding your baby might also have other positive effects on both your mental health and your health as a whole. For instance, it may reduce feelings of anxiousness. It may also lead to an increase in the breastfeeding hormones oxytocin and prolactin. This can both play a key role in helping you to get a better sleep when you have a new baby.
As if all that weren’t enough, some studies have suggested that breastfeeding your baby might make you a happier and more confident person overall. All of these benefits of breastfeeding and mental health should be taken into account when you’re considering how to feed your baby.
How Breastfeeding Can Improve an Infant’s Mental Health
At first, you might only think of the positive benefits of breastfeeding and mental health as it pertains to you. But believe it or not, breastfeeding might also have a positive impact on the mental health of your infant during the first year of their life.
For starters, breastfeeding your baby can help to improve your connection with them. They’ll feel more of a closeness to you when you’re breastfeeding them on a regular basis, and it can help to improve their mental health.
Some studies have found that breastfeeding your baby might improve their mental health in other ways as well. For instance, it might help make them less aggressive in their younger years. It might also eliminate any antisocial behaviors that they might display otherwise.
The simple act of breastfeeding might also increase your baby’s cholecystokinin hormone levels. The spike in this hormone can help your baby to feel more relaxed and reduce their pain levels when they’re still on the younger side.
There has even been some research done that has shown that breastfeeding your baby might decrease their chances of developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s one more thing to keep in mind as you consider breastfeeding your baby.
How Breastfeeding Can Hurt a Mother’s Mental Health
While there does seem to be a positive connection between breastfeeding and mental health for mothers, you might also find that breastfeeding may have a negative impact on it at times. It’s something you should remember as you set out to decide if breastfeeding is right for you.
More specifically, you should give thought to what might happen if you can’t breastfeed your baby for one reason or another. Not all mothers are able to produce enough milk for their babies. Some also struggle to find the right times to breastfeed their babies.
Studies have shown that mothers who fall into these categories might feel more anxious than those who choose not to breastfeed in the first place. They might also suffer from postpartum depression at higher rates.
You shouldn’t necessarily allow these potential downsides of breastfeeding stop you from doing it. But you should be acutely aware of how not being able to breastfeed your baby could wreak havoc on your mental health.
How Breastfeeding Can Hurt an Infant’s Mental Health
If you’re unable to breastfeed your baby with ease at all times, it could take a toll on their mental health before long. There may be times when your child grows agitated and even angry when they’re not able to get the nourishment they need from your breasts.
When this happens, it can leave both you and your baby feeling frustrated. It could also send both of your stress levels skyrocketing. For this reason, you might want to keep tabs on how breastfeeding goes during the first few weeks of your baby’s life and make adjustments accordingly.
How to Make the Most of Breastfeeding Your Baby
Have you decided that you would like to breastfeed your baby after hearing about the positive impact it can make on both your mental health and the mental health of your baby? Then you’ll want to work to make the absolute most of this experience.
First and foremost, you should do your research on breastfeeding your baby long before they arrive. The sooner you can start doing your homework on breastfeeding, the better off you’ll both be.
Shortly after giving birth to your baby, you should also enlist the services of a lactation specialist. They’ll be able to give you tips on how to breastfeed your baby in the right way.
They’ll also be able to offer troubleshooting techniques. If, for example, you find yourself unable to get your baby to latch onto your breast, they can give you information on how to get it done.
In addition to doing these things, you should also make the most of breastfeeding by getting your hands on the proper equipment. You should purchase a portable breast pump and any other equipment you might need to put yourself in a position to enjoy success while breastfeeding.
But above all else, you should get ready to embrace the experience of breastfeeding. You won’t enjoy doing it every single time. But you should soak it all up and remind yourself of the positive connection between breastfeeding and mental health early and often.
What to Do If You Can’t Breastfeed Your Baby
If you aren’t able to breastfeed your baby for one reason or another, you won’t be able to take advantage of the connection between breastfeeding and mental health. But this doesn’t mean you can’t still find ways to connect with your baby while feeding them during the first year of your life.
Your doctor should be able to recommend the right formula for your baby. They can also show you the best ways to feed your baby so that you’re able to continue to connect with them in spite of the lack of breastfeeding.
Additionally, there are so many other techniques you can use for improving your baby’s mental health that don’t have anything to do with breastfeeding. You should give these techniques a try and see if they’re able to yield positive results.
You should work on your own mental health throughout this process, too. It’s possible for you to keep your mental health in a good place without having to rely on breastfeeding hormones.
Understanding the Connection Between Breastfeeding and Mental Health
As you’ve seen here, the connection between breastfeeding and mental health is a strong one. You can improve your own mental health and your baby’s mental health by breastfeeding.
But even if you can’t breastfeed, you shouldn’t feel like all hope is lost. What’s most important is that you focus on ways in which you can improve your mental health and your baby’s mental health. Even if that doesn’t involve breastfeeding, you can still make a strong effort to do it.
Find more useful mental health tips by browsing through more of our blog articles.
About Author (Marjorie R. Rogers)
The inspiring mum of 6 who dedicates her time to supporting others. While battling with her own demons she continues to be the voice for others unable to speak out. Mental illness almost destroyed her, yet here she is fighting back and teaching you all the things she has learned along the way. Get Started To Read …