The most stressful job in the world may actually belong to you, breastfeeding and breast pumping mom.

Motherhood can throw even the most prepared women a few curve balls. That’s why experts around the world know the importance of a good support system. But even the strongest spouse or family and friends can’t protect you from every trying situation.

Some stress is inevitable, yet there are times when life’s events seem overwhelming. Postpartum hormone imbalance or depression causes a great deal of stress for the new mother and her family. While loss of appetite, inability to sleep and moodiness are all very publicized symptoms of being “stressed out,” nursing mothers need to be aware of how stress can affect the nuts and bolts of breastfeeding.

The Cause

New parents are often taken by surprise at how demanding this new little person is of their time,” says Carol McShane, a lactation consultant in Elkhorn, Wis. “How this impacts the breastfeeding relationship varies from mother to mother, depending on how well she is able to adapt to various levels of stress in her life. The most common thing we see is a decrease in milk supply, along with a feeling of frustration on the part of the mother because the baby nurses so frequently. Stress can also inhibit the milk ejection reflex or ‘let-down.’”

Karen Cebenka, of Delaware City, Del., knows this all too well. After her son was born, Cebenka returned to nursing school. Juggling the demands of home and classroom, she spent her lunches pumping breast milk. With one hand holding the pump and the other hand holding her lunch, Cebenka spent one half-hour each afternoon trying to extract as much milk as possible. “I was always stressed about producing enough milk,” Cebenka says. “I will never forget the one time … another student was also pumping, and we went into the room together. She had the same pump. She pulled that pump down and filled it in minutes. It took me a half-hour to get half of what she got in minutes.”

The Cure

“Because everyone deals with stress in varying ways, as well as the fact that some people have better coping mechanisms in place, prior to the birth of the baby, the situation causing the stress may seem minor to outsiders,” McShane says. “Then again, some women’s milk supply will not be affected even when there is an event of great magnitude that has occurred.”

Without question, breast feeding and breast pumping mothers need a support system during stressful situations to avoid low milk supply.  If you are away from family, find a La Leche League group or ask the hospital where you had your baby for a local breastfeeding and/or breast pumping group. Don’t suffer with stress or effects of postpartum alone.

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