If you’re a busy new mom – we know, that’s redundant – you know that taking time to pump multiple times a day can be stressful. Moms are master multitaskers – feeding time may also be utilized for catching up on emails or eating or working – and these 15-20 minute windows become very important. A common concern that breastfeeding moms have is that their baby is not getting enough milk. This is normal! You are newly responsible for the nourishment of a very tiny person who doesn’t really care about your schedule. The good news is, if your baby is healthy and gaining weight, your milk supply is likely fine. It is important to note, though, for busy mamas trying to accomplish a million things in a day, all the stress can actually make it harder to feed your baby! Stress is the number one killer of breastmilk supply, especially in the first few weeks after delivery1. This is why experts stress how key mental health is for properly caring for a baby, especially when it comes to breastfeeding.
The Benefits of Meditation for Breastfeeding Moms
There is a psychological component of breastfeeding, and the amount of stress, fear or anxiety you are experiencing can impact the amount of milk you produce while pumping. This happens because stress hormones can interfere with oxytocin, the hormone that causes the breast to deliver milk2. When the body is relaxed and oxytocin is released, it promotes feelings of love and bonding and is shown in some research to lower stress. Mindfulness meditation helps the body to relax and is an effective strategy to encourage the letdown reflex.
Mothers and lactation professionals alike sing the praises of meditation for boosting milk supply. In addition to being helpful for a healthy letdown reflex, meditation can lower cortisol and adrenaline levels in your body and boost dopamine and melatonin3. A small, but interesting experiment published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that mothers who get breastfeeding support that includes relaxation therapy may have babies who eat and sleep more than women who don’t4. All from some mindful “me time”!
Meditating While Pumping to Improve Breastmilk Production
In another study5, women who listened to a relaxation tape while pumping for twenty minutes a day had a 63% increase in milk production compared with the control group. Mindfulness meditation leads to the release of oxytocin6, a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain that can reduce stress, stimulate bonding, and most importantly to breastfeeding mothers, stimulate milk supply. Meditating during your pumping session can boost your relaxation, breastmilk production and your mood.
How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation
- Choose your environment. Think about a cozy, quiet place where there are no distractions or interruptions. Pick a place that feels comfortable and safe, where you can detach.
- Get comfortable. Wherever you’re sitting, find a comfortable seat that gives you stable support. Make sure you are in a position you can stay in for a while.
- Set a timer. Mindfulness meditation is about frequency, not length. As you develop your practice your meditations may gradually get longer, but 5 to 10 minutes a day is a great start.
- Settle your mind. It may take some time to settle in and turn your attention away from everything going on in your life. Keep in mind, meditation may feel unfamiliar or strange at first. This is normal! Take a moment to acknowledge these feelings when they occur and then shift your focus to your body.
- Practice deep breathing. Close your eyes (or leave them open if you prefer – this is your practice!) and focus your attention on each inhale and exhale. As you exhale, imagine you are expelling stress from your body. Begin to lengthen and deepen each breath.
- Focus on the present. If you notice your mind start to wander, try tuning in to your surroundings instead of tuning it out. Pay attention to what you feel, hear and smell in the present moment.
- Notice your sensations. Scan your body from head to toe as you breathe in and out. Choose a part of your body to focus on. Does it feel pleasant, unpleasant or neutral? Notice any tension you may be holding and practice letting it go.
- Return to your breath. Any time you get sidetracked by internal or external distractions, go back to observing your breathing. Return your focus back to each inhalation and exhalation.
- When you’re ready, gently open your eyes (if they’re closed). You have officially meditated! The most important step here is to be kind to yourself. Like any exercise, meditation takes practice. The more you practice mindfulness meditation, the more likely you are to reap the rewards.
Reminder – though stress can impact breastmilk production, it is not the only possibly cause. It is best to consult with your physician or lactation specialist if you have concerns about low milk supply.