Breastfeeding can be such a loaded topic, right? For something that’s supposed to be natural and just part of daily life as a mother of a baby, it can definitely cause a lot of stress!
Not only are there some really damaging and annoying societal conversations (people who say “breast is best” or shame parents for using formula…), but breastfeeding can also cause anxiety.
*And* to add more difficulty to the mix, it’s not actually physically straightforward for a lot of women. A lot of new moms have a hard time learning how to nurse their baby, have latch problems, issues with pain, etc. So if you’re experiencing anxiety while breastfeeding or the logistics around feeding your baby are stressing you out, you’re in the right place.
This isn’t easy. In my practice, I see a lot of women who are anxious about breastfeeding their baby or are experiencing high levels of shame because it’s not going well. Seriously, this problem is way more common than you think. There’s nothing—I repeat nothing—wrong with you. Promise.
The below list is intended to explain why breastfeeding can cause anxiety so that you can feel informed, validated… and normal.
You would think that milk supply wouldn’t be an issue. We usually think that breastfeeding is supposed to be this natural thing where your body instinctively knows what your little baby needs, right? But even though it’s a natural function, it doesn’t always go smoothly. A lot of women have an undersupply or an oversupply of breastmilk. That first one can be especially stressful. You might notice yourself worrying about whether you’re going to produce enough milk and stressing about what to do if you don’t. And that brings me to my next point…
The societal pressures never stop. Especially for women. Before you have kids, you’re expected to check a bunch of—quite frankly—stupid boxes. Be thin, be pretty, be “successful” (but not too successful), find an ideal partner, etc. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that there are tons of ridiculous expectations put on women during early motherhood. Many revolve around breastfeeding which can certainly bring out anxiety. Here are some of the most common pieces of bullsh*it advice that you’re totally allowed to just block out and ignore:
- “Breast is best! You should only feed your baby breastmilk and never formula.”
- “You should breastfeed your baby until they are X age. Not a second earlier and not after that either!”
- “You shouldn’t breastfeed in public.”
- “Don’t ever drink alcohol while breastfeeding.”
- “Formula is bad and you shouldn’t give it to your baby.”
Yeah. No to all of this. You know what’s best for you and your baby. You get to decide how you’ll feed him/her.
Ugh. Yet another way that women experience physical pain right? Periods, pregnancy, birth, birth recovery… and now this too?! Breastfeeding doesn’t always hurt but it often does. Some women experience latch difficulties, cracked nipples, or their baby is too rough. That can bring on anxiety because feeding time physically hurts! If this is describing your experience, know that there are many lactation consultants that can help—either with education online, a class or an in-person consultation.
Perfectionism has a way of ruining everything! This is a sneaky one because most perfectionists are already dealing with high-functioning anxiety. If this is one of your tendencies, you might think you’re doing yourself all kinds of favours, but you’re not. All you’re doing is creating unrealistic expectations for yourself… which leads you to feeling angry when you fall short. (And cue the depression that follows!)
If you have these types of tendencies, this is how your perfectionism might show up when it comes to breastfeeding:
- “I have an undersupply. I’m a failure.”
- “I’m just not getting the hang of this! Isn’t this supposed to come naturally?”
- “I’m probably doing this wrong.”
- “Am I eating all the right things to ensure that my milk is perfect?”
- “My breasts have changed and I’m not sure if I like how they look.”
Body image anxiety.
Why do body image issues have the reputation of being exclusively a teenage issue? As women at any age, it’s so hard to ignore beauty standards or not compare ourselves to others. Anxiety is what drives these kinds of issues because you’re worrying about being perceived as good enough and you’re using mental energy to think about potential steps you plan to take to change yourself. With pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, a lot changes! That can be really triggering for a lot of women. This might sound like:
- “How am I going to get my body back?”
- “Every time I breastfeed, I’m faced to look at a part of my body that has changed so much.”
- “Worrying about what I can and can’t eat to ensure safe/healthy milk is reminding me of restrictive diets/disordered eating issues from my past.”
Feeling touched out.
Anxiety can be triggered when both emotional and physical needs aren’t met. That includes physical, personal space and control over your own body. The very nature of breastfeeding can feel like it violates both of those things. If you’re feeling anxious because your baby always needs your body, that’s a fairly common reaction. (Even if others aren’t always talking about it.) Sometimes you just feel touched out!
Baby health anxiety.
A lot of women struggle with health anxiety as their child’s health is practically in their hands. As kids grow up, health anxiety manifests as worrying about them getting a bad diagnosis, contracting a bug, or getting really sick. This can start as early as the first days after they’re born. If breastfeeding is causing anxiety or you have anxiety while you’re breastfeeding, it could be because you’re worried about passing something to your baby, triggering an allergy because of something in your milk, or feeling overly cautious about the glass of wine you had with dinner and worrying if it’s out of your system. So yeah, if you’re feeling anxious during feeding times, there’s a good reason for that!
Breastfeeding is one of the many, many things during motherhood that can trigger anxiety. If this topic hits close to home, don’t feel ashamed or as though something is “wrong” with you. While underrated—and under discussed—breastfeeding can be challenging in many ways.
If breastfeeding has been a struggle for you, reach out and get support! I lead a team of perinatal therapists at The Canadian Perinatal Wellness Collective. Even just a few sessions with a therapist can dramatically improve your experience in motherhood. And for some DIY mental health care, check out my anxiety workbook for moms. This tool is a great starting point to get clear on where anxiety comes from and the impact it can have.