When we get scared, stressed or anxious, our body’s natural response is to increase production of adrenaline to prepare for “fight or flight”. Unfortunately this can inhibit oxytocin, which is the hormone that causes mother’s milk to “let-down” or flow freely from the breast. Now, and always, it’s important for nursing mothers to try to relax since we know this is best for both mom and baby.
In primitive terms, imagine you’re a cave person and you’re breastfeeding your baby. Suddenly, a sabre tooth tiger jumps out behind you. Your body protects itself and your baby with an instinctive response shouting “LADY! GET UP AND RUN!” Instead of “just relax and continue to feed your baby.” Needless to say, in a life threatening situation like this it would not be normal to simply sit and breastfeed your baby – you stress and you run. The reduction of milk supply is a normal biological response to stress.
In most cases, our modern stressors aren’t actually life-threatening (even though it feels that way sometimes). The good news is there are some small self-care steps nursing mothers can take to encourage the let-down reflex and keep that milk flowing!
Touch. While many of us are sheltering in place or safer at home, we have a unique opportunity to spend more time with our little babe and our partner. Lay down with your baby skin-to-skin for a few minutes. Gently rub your collarbone, or even better, ask your partner to rub your shoulders for a few minutes before you start nursing or pumping. Any positive touch will help your body relax and release oxytocin. If you are pumping, using a hands-free pumping bra will free up your hands to allow you to massage while pumping.
Warmth. A little warmth goes a long way in encouraging let-down. Products like Lansinoh Therapearls or Pariday TendHer Cooling Breast Soothers can be applied to the breast for a minute or two before nursing or pumping.
Music or white noise. Put on any form of white noise or music that you find soothing. The more relaxed you are, the better the let-down results. Baby will probably like the music as well!
Scent. You know how certain smells can remind you of experiences? If there are particular scents you find soothing – like lavender or vanilla – keep them nearby. Sometimes just smelling your baby’s sweet head will do the trick. Avoid the diaper end though ;-)
Laughter. It really is the best medicine. Laughter decreases your body’s adrenaline levels, and many have found that watching a funny movie while pumping can increase their milk output.
Deep breathing. When you are stressed do you find your breathing gets shorter and shallower? Rhythmic breathing is a core part of many mediation and yoga practices as it promotes relaxation.
Follow these steps:
- Empty the lungs of air
- Breath in quietly through the nose for four seconds
- Hold the breath for a count of seven seconds
- Exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for eight seconds
Repeat this up to four times.
You can even do this while breastfeeding as the “whoosh” noise may be not only soothing to you, but also to your babe.
Moms supporting moms, The Simple Wishes Sisters