Pediatricians and government organizations recommend that mothers breastfeed for at least the first six months; following this guideline can boost immunity, and it may protect a child from problems like asthma, obesity, and diabetes later on in life.
Unfortunately, stress is a major obstacle for a lot of moms (both new and seasoned, alike!).
Sent home with a newborn, alone, and expected to go back to normal life while still maintaining the care of that new little bundle of love is stressful. When a baby doesn’t latch on properly, gets gassy, or doesn’t seem to be gaining weight like we think they should, we moms stress even more. Sadly, all this stress is perpetuating a cycle.
Lactation classes and support can be stressful, too. You don’t exactly feel like your normal self when there’s a complete stranger watching you nurse. Sure, they’re there to help, but that doesn’t always ease your anxiety.
Then there are those who don’t even have lactation support after leaving the hospital – often because the resources simply aren’t available in the area. These areas are infamous for being widely unsupportive of nursing moms; still banning moms from stores for nursing, and even having extended family members who do not support breastfeeding, as a whole.
Lack of support and a fussy, hungry baby, the hope of successfully breastfeeding can seem like one great big joke. A new study suggests that listening to relaxation therapy while breastfeeding could combat both of these issues, along with many others that new nursing moms experience.
“The results suggest that a simple relaxation tool – in this case a meditation relaxation recording – was able to reduce maternal stress during breastfeeding, favorably affecting breast milk volume and/or composition and positively influencing infant sleeping behavior and growth,” Nurul Husna Mold Shukri, lead author of the study and an infant nutrition specialist at Universiti Putra Malaysia in Selangor said by email. “Although we only tested one type of relaxation intervention, it seems likely that anything that makes a mother feel more relaxed might have similar effects.”
For their experiment, researchers offered 64 new moms information packets and pamphlets on breastfeeding. Information on how to obtain assistance through a lactation support group or lactation specialist was also included in the packet.
A little more than half of the moms (33) were also given audio recordings to listen to while nursing. These recordings encouraged deep breathing exercises and provided positive messages on breastfeeding and baby-mother bonding.
Mothers who listened to the audio recordings while nursing reported lower stress levels than those who were simply given information upon leaving the hospital. After two weeks, they also had lower levels of cortisol in their milk, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published study.
The effect could also be seen in the babies. Those who had mothers in the audio group slept, on average, 82 minutes longer each day than the infants in the control group. At three months of listening to the audios, babies from this group also drank about 8 ounces more milk than the babies in the control group.
Study authors did not find any marked long-term differences in babies or their mothers, but study authors say that the location of the study (Malaysia), culture (breastfeeding is more common there), and the small scale of the cohort could have had an impact.
Still, Dr. Valerie Flaherman, director of the medical center newborn nursery at the University of California says the results give a new perspective to breastfeeding; it indicates that stress is a potential barrier that must be dealt with in order to increase the breastfeeding rates in America.
“Mothers are often anxious and stressed in the first weeks after birth, and infant weight change has been shown to be associated with maternal anxiety,” Flaherman, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “These results show that reducing maternal anxiety with a simple audio recording has the potential to improve infant growth.”