The World Health Organization continually works to promote the benefits of breastfeeding to new mothers. While breast milk is commonly known for its nutritional value, your breastfeeding journey can also have some effects on your mental well-being.
According to the CDC in the United States, most babies receive at least some breast milk in their first year of life. This gives more and more information to go through and learn how far the benefits of breastfeeding can reach for both mom and her breastfed baby.
Breastfeeding and Mental Health: What’s the Scoop?
Breastfeeding plays an important role for any new mom. Since it is such a personal experience, it can have either a positive or a negative effect on maternal mental health. The duration of breastfeeding can also play a role in how it impacts your mental well-being.
If you were determined to breastfeed but were unable to, whether it was due to a personal or health reason, there can be some negative emotions and other long-term effects that linger with you.
This is where getting adequate maternal education on breastfeeding and mental health resources can play an important role in what your next step should be.
Psychological Effects of Breastfeeding for Mom
There are many psychological benefits of breastfeeding. When a mom begins to build up her milk production, her body goes through a process of creating hormones that begin to affect both her physical and mental processes.
Here are a few ways that breastfeeding affects a new mom’s mental health
- Can lower the risk factor of postpartum depression
- Breastfeeding can work as a natural anti-inflammatory which helps to lower the maternal stress response, as well as help regulate blood pressure.
- Longer duration of your breastfeeding journey can have a significant decrease in negative mental health issues such as postpartum depression, anxiety, and stress.
- Enhanced slow-wave sleep to help you make the most of the sleep that you get in that newborn stage.
- The skin-to-skin contact you get during the breastfeeding relationship helps to give off calming vibes reducing stress and promoting a strong bond between mom and baby
- Oxytocin's role in breastfeeding has shown a variety of health benefits in new moms.
One of the most underrated yet vitally important factors in a mom’s successful breastfeeding journey include supportive family members. Having this resource on your side can set you up for not only success in breastfeeding but also on your mental health journey throughout this phase of life.
Psychological Effects of Breastfeeding on Babies
Breastfed babies not only receive nutritional benefits from human milk, but they also gain a variety of psychological effects as well that can have a positive impact on them in their first few months of life, as well as further down the road.
Some of the psychological benefits of breastfeeding in babies include
- Exclusive and longer duration of breastfeeding has shown several positive impacts on a baby’s cognitive development.
- Breastfeeding has also been shown to support a positive aspect in regard to a baby’s emotional development and temperament.
- Since breast milk is more individualized based on mom and baby, it has been shown to promote benefits in brain development which can then affect a baby’s neurological system later in life.
- Successful breastfeeding also builds a strong bond between a new mom and her baby, helping build the child’s mental health with a sense of security and comfort. The oxytocin that was mentioned above for new moms also occurs in babies, giving them the same feelings of love and connection!
The overall health of infants, both physically and psychologically, can be positively affected by breastfeeding, not only in the short term but also later in life.
While there are many benefits of breastfeeding, there are some instances that mothers and their new babies can struggle, and it’s important to remember that as long as you are trying to ensure your baby gets proper nutrition and love, you are doing a great job!
If you find yourself trying to breastfeed and are experiencing depressive symptoms or other mental health struggles, be sure and reach out to your family health provider, postpartum doula, or a local support group of other moms.
Everyone can have significant differences in their journeys, and it’s important to remember you are not alone and that reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness or failure.