Does Stress Impact Breastfeeding?

Stress is one of the biggest causes of a decrease in breast milk production among new moms, but it's also a common occurrence. To help you navigate the world of parenthood, we'll cover everything you need to know about the impact of stress on breastfeeding.

What is Cortisol, and How Does it Affect Your Body?

Cortisol is the stress hormone within your body. It's released by the adrenal glands and is meant to help your body prepare for the fight or flight response. It's also used to regulate your metabolism, stabilize your blood pressure and blood glucose, and keep your immune system strong. While cortisol is beneficial in certain quantities, higher than normal cortisol levels and extended periods of stress isn't healthy. Too much cortisol in the body for too long can cause issues with your health.

How Does Stress Affect Your Nursing Baby?

Cortisol can be passed down through your breast milk, and studies have found that this can directly affect your baby. Specifically, some studies found that higher levels of cortisol in breast milk can increase fussiness and colic. However, the increase in fussiness may also be because your newborn can sense your stress levels. More research is needed to determine these relationships.

What's more, there doesn't seem to be an indication of long-term effects of secondhand cortisol, so when your stress decreases, so will your baby's. It's also important to understand that cortisol and stress aren't going to affect the nutritional content of your breast milk.

The Impact of Stress on Your Milk Supply

The biggest relationship between stress and breastfeeding is the impact cortisol has on your milk supply. There are a few primary ways that stress can impact the care of your baby in regards to nursing, which are outlined below.

How Stress Affects Your Milk Supply

One thing that is known is that stress from your life can affect breastfeeding in regard to your milk supply. Stress can lead to higher levels of prolactin, which is a hormone that's responsible for milk supply and production in the body. For some women, this means that stress may make it difficult to produce enough breast milk for exclusive breastfeeding. While supplementing with formula is important if this is the case, finding out your stressors and learning tips and tricks to help you relax can help increase your milk supply again.

Other mothers may find that stress affects their let-down or the amount of milk that comes out of their breasts during nursing. Usually, when your little one begins to nurse, they start suckling. This stimulates your body's production of oxytocin, which helps widen milk ducts and helps your milk flow more freely. When you're feeling stressed, oxytocin may be inhibited, so the breastfeeding experience is negatively affected.

Can Stress Impact the Quality of Your Milk?

Stress isn't going to affect the quality of your milk, but it will make it difficult to maintain a strong milk supply. Plus, when you feel overwhelmed, you may not be caring for yourself as much, which can lead to undereating and dehydration. This can indirectly affect the quality of your milk, as it will be less saturated with vitamins and minerals since you're not eating enough. If you're struggling, talk to your healthcare provider about stress management and proper nutrition.

Ways to Help Boost or Maintain Breast Milk Supply

Even when breastfeeding moms are feeling stressed, there are a few things to help ensure breastfed babies are getting enough milk. The following tips can help you create a strong supply and demand to make breastfeeding easier.

Find the Perfect Latch

A strong latch can help your baby get the most milk out of their nursing sessions. Everyone has different preferences, so play around with a few different breastfeeding positions to see what works best for you. You may need to lay your baby down or use the cradle hold. Try things until you find something that works.

Feed Your Baby More Often

If you really want to focus on breastfeeding, try increasing the frequency of feedings. More feedings can stimulate higher milk production, so don't be afraid to add a few extra nursing sessions. During each, make sure your breasts are emptied, either by your baby or through the use of a breast pump. Completely emptying the breasts can help encourage stronger milk production.

Encourage Oxytocin Release and Let-Down

To stimulate oxytocin release, try to create a calm and comfortable breastfeeding environment and minimize stressors. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or gentle massage, can further enhance oxytocin production. Skin-to-skin contact with the baby, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in positive affirmations can also contribute to a positive emotional state, which can also help establish a strong let-down.

Talk to a Lactation Consultant

Mothers struggling with milk production can talk to a lactation consultant to determine the cause and get professional help with improving supply. Ask for references from your doctor or a nearby medical center to find a trusted consultant in your area.

Avoid Using Formula

Breastfeeding works on a supply-and-demand basis, so when you feed your baby with formula, you aren't triggering milk production. Try to breastfeed as much as possible, even if you feel like you're not producing much milk. However, supplement with formula if you're not producing enough milk to adequately nourish your baby.

Pump a Little Extra Milk

When your baby doesn't want to nurse anymore, try using your breast pump. Pumping can help encourage milk production, which is a great way to combat high levels of stress. Wearable breast pumps can be used to help you maximize efficiency throughout your day, or you can use another type you're comfortable with.

Avoid Crash Diets

To maintain optimal health for both you and your baby, it's important to give your body the nutrients it needs. Therefore, while you may want to try and shed unwanted pregnancy pounds, you need to avoid crash diets. Crash diets can disrupt your milk supply and decrease the nutrients available to your nursing baby. Instead, focus on eating a balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated directly impacts women's health and the quality of breast milk. Breastfeeding increases fluid demands, and maintaining hydration levels ensures efficient lactation, which prevents issues like fatigue and headaches. Good hydration also supports the production of nutrient-rich breast milk, promoting a healthier breastfeeding experience for both mother and baby.

Try to Focus on Immune Health

Breastfeeding places increased demands on the immune system, and maintaining a strong immune response during this time is important for you and your baby. A strong immune system helps mothers ward off illnesses and infections, ensuring a resilient and healthy postpartum period. Moreover, a robust immune system contributes to the protective qualities of breast milk, enhancing its ability to provide essential antibodies and nutrients to the nursing baby.

How to Reduce Stress Levels as a New Mom

Many new parents feel stressed when they're adapting to the changes that a newborn brings, and that's okay. New mothers face a lot of changes during this time, and stress happens. To help you breastfeed your baby without issues, consider some of the following tips for managing stress.

  • Take the time to learn about your stressors
  • Remember that hormonal changes can lead to higher levels of cortisol
  • Try to exercise regularly
  • Take a baby and me, exercise class
  • Practice deep-breathing techniques
  • Make an effort to get out of the house
  • Build a support team
  • Join a breastfeeding support group
  • Go for a walk around the neighborhood
  • Carve out time for yourself, even if it's just 15 minutes per day
  • Take a bath
  • Sleep as much as possible
  • Be aware of signs of anxiety and depression
  • Address any signs of postpartum depression
  • Consider working with a midwife
  • Get help from a lactation consultant
  • Try yoga or meditation
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Read a book
  • Watch your favorite movie
  • Stay off social media
  • Get some extra rest (whenever you can)
  • Ask for help with your newborn
  • Be patient, kind, and gentle with yourself
  • Seek professional help


It's completely normal for breastfeeding mothers to feel some degree of stress and anxiety. The important thing is to try and listen to your body and meet the needs of your new baby while staying as calm as possible. If you have any questions or concerns during the process, don't hesitate to contact your doctor or pediatrician. To help you support a healthy breastfeeding journey and get the support you need to deal with stress, don’t forget to get your free breast pump through insurance from Byram Healthcare. Connect with one of our specialists today to learn more or get started with your order.